The modern game had largely done away with player-managers before Vincent Kompany was appointed at Anderlecht. Soccer 360’s Samuel Bridges sets out some past examples where it worked — and where it didn’t…
Ruud Gullit – Chelsea, 1996-1998
Once football’s most expensive player and an all-time Milan great, Ruud Gullit was once European football royalty. Now better known for his punditry and much sought-after Icon card on EA’s FIFA Ultimate Team series, the Dutchman, who finished his playing days at Chelsea in the mid-1990s, was promoted from player to player-manager after just one season with the Blues.
The former PSV Eindhoven midfielder had an instant impact, bringing home the FA Cup on his first attempt to end a run of 26 trophy-less years at Stamford Bridge. He also bought future club great Gianfranco Zola to West London. However, a rumoured fall-out with then-owner Ken Bates led to his sacking in 1998, leaving fans agitated. Evidently, the likes of Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte can testify that the Chelsea hot-seat has never been easy to hold down.
Graeme Souness – Rangers, 1986-1991
An all-time great for Liverpool, Rangers and the Scotland national team, Graeme Souness arrived at Ibrox at the end of his glittering career and was instantly handed the managerial reigns after arguably the worst period in the club’s history. Not much was expected but three League titles followed, ending Celtic and Alex Ferguson’s Aberdeen’s dominance of the Scottish game.
Although Souness was only a regular in the starting XI for the first two of his five years in charge, his influenced helped attract big names such Terry Butcher and Mo Johnston, which in turn eased the club’s reliance on him on the field. However, Souness’ successes didn’t go unnoticed and he returned to Liverpool, this time as a manager, but his glory with Rangers was not replicated.
Kenny Dalglish – Liverpool, 1985-1991
The man who Souness replaced in the Liverpool dugout was always going to be a tough act to follow. King Kenny is arguably the best-loved figure in Liverpool’s history, being at the forefront of success as a player and as player-manager. Dalglish was handed the dual role after Joe Fagan resigned in the aftermath of the Hysel stadium disaster of 1985, an event which saw English clubs barred from continental competition for five years, meaning the European Cup was not a target for the Scot.
However, Dalglish did return three League titles in his time as the Anfield side’s coach, including their last League triumph in the 1989-90 season. Resignation in 1991 ended his first managerial spell with the club, but he can still be frequently seen attending games at Anfield today.
Gianluca Vialli – Chelsea, 1998-99
The second Chelsea player-manager on the list, Vialli replaced Ruud Gullit after his sacking in 1998 and instantly returned two trophies as a player-manager, the League Cup and Cup Winner’s Cup.
The following year the former Juventus man led Chelsea to a third placed finish, their best result in 29 years. But it wasn’t all plain sailing for Vialli after a dressing room bust up led to his resignation just five games into the 1999-00 season.
Ryan Giggs – Manchester United, 2014
Although more of a symbolic gesture than anything else, Ryan Giggs was briefly player-manager for his one and only club, Manchester United, at the end of the 2013-14 season, after David Moyes’ sacking. His Scottish predecessor had left him with little to play for, so the Welshman promoted youth players such as James Wilson and Tom Lawrence to the first team, while also giving himself an occasional run-out before calling time on his career at the end of the season.
Giggs, currently Wales manager, has yet to work in an official capacity for the club in a managerial role since retiring, but the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer suggests that he may get a proper chance eventually.
Attilio Lombardo – Crystal Palace, 1998
Signed in a shock transfer from Italian giants Juventus in 1997, Attilio Lombardo was handed the reigns as manager just one year later after Steve Coppell was promoted to director of football. However, it didn’t end well for the Italian, with Palace relegated at the end of the season, although his replacement Terry Venables kept him as a player.
Lombardo returned to his native Italy with Lazio in 2000, but he would head back to England later in his career, in 2010 as part of Roberto Mancini’s backroom team during his successful tenure as Manchester City boss.
Steve Gritt and Alan Curbishley – Charlton, 1991-1995
If one player-manager is hard to get your head around, then how about two at the same time? Steve Gritt and Alan Curbishley were appointed as co-player-managers by Charlton in 1991 when then-manager Lennie Lawrence resigned. Interestingly, the move worked out well for the Addicks, as the pair discovered the likes of Lee Bowyer and John Robinson, which laid solid foundations for the club.
Curbishley was given the sole manager role after partner Gritt left in 1995, and he continued their strong start, eventually establishing Charlton as a Premier League club.
Dennis Wise – Millwall, 2003-2005
Chelsea great Dennis Wise joined second division Millwall in 2002 and was offered a promotion to player-manager in 2003 when Mark McGhee resigned. Although Wise’s appointment was considered as penny-pinching by unhappy fans at the time, Wise led the club to a bittersweet success story.
The former Leicester man bought the club to their first ever FA Cup final in 2004, becoming the first team outside of the top flight to reach the final in 12 years, although it was lost to Manchester United. As United had already qualified for Europe via their League position, though, Millwall were granted entry to the UEFA Cup preliminary rounds, although they were eliminated by Hungarian side Ferencvaros. Although it didn’t end in trophies, Wise’s term is fondly remembered, as it put the club back on the map of English football.
Mark Hughes – Wales, 1999-2002
Although Mark Hughes remained as Wales manager until 2004, the former Manchester United striker only hung up his boots in 2002, featuring for Southampton, Everton and Blackburn Rovers in the Premier League while coaching his national side. Hughes was initially drafted in on a temporary basis beside fellow legend Neville Southall, but his coaching cohort left a few months later and Hughes was kept on a long-term basis.
Now better remembered for leading Manchester City into their era of mega riches, the former Southampton gaffer was the first noteworthy example of someone acting as coach of one side while playing for another, with former Milan man Keisuke Honda operating a similar dual role in 2018, playing for Melbourne Victory while coaching the Cambodia national team.
Vincent Kompany –Anderlecht, 2019
After a decade of success and unbridled affection at Manchester City, Vincent Kompany decided to make his own path out of the club and return to his native Belgium with Anderlecht, but as a player-manager, ta rarity in the modern era of football.
It was thought that his unique blend of experience with world class coaches such as Roberto Mancini, Manuel Pellegrini and Pep Guardiola, mixed with his strong leadership on the field, would lead to a new era of dominance from the Belgian side, but exactly the opposite happened. The worst start to a League season for the club in 21 years led to a change in approach. Simon Davies, who followed Kompany from City, would take charge of the team on matchdays, while Kompany remained as manager and team captain.