Back in 1999, Norwegian striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came on as a “super-sub” for Manchester United in the UEFA Champions League final fixture against Bayern Munich and scored a last-minute winning goal in injury time to lead the Red Devils to victory, sealing the historic treble for his club. Twenty two years later, he finds himself as the manager of the same club, struggling to steer and stabilise a team whose season can be described only as erratic and inconsistent so far.
Ole’s predicament has thrown the age-old debate of football wide open: Do good football players make the best managers? Over the last decade, the trend of major league footballing clubs employing former players or club legends as their managers (or ‘head coach’ as they are called in Europe) seems to have increased dramatically in comparison to the early days of the sport.
“I think one of the main drivers behind this trend is the success Pep Guardiola enjoyed upon retraining to Barcelona as manager,” says Ryan Baldi, a professional sportswriter. “Then, of course, there was the case of Zinedine Zidane winning three Champions Leagues in a row with Real Madrid despite little prior coaching experience. I think now every club appointing a former legend is hoping to repeat this success, but Guardiola and Zidane are irreplaceable anomalies.”
Ryan believes that expectations while hiring a former player as the manager vary from club to club. “I do believe that returning legends are afforded a greater degree of patience due to their playing history with the club,” he said. “Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, for example, would surely have been sacked recently – and possibly even sooner in his tenure – were it not for his legendary status at Old Trafford, not to mention the fact he was hardly qualified for the role in the first place. The same is true of Frank Lampard and probably Mikel Arteta, although in the latter case it looks as though Arsenal’s patience might be rewarded.”
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