The Top Ten Managers that started as an assistant….

Thinking of Man City assistant Mikel Arteta becoming Arsenal Coach

The old saying goes a great coach doesn’t mean a great manager by Dan Smith

Take Steve McLaren as an example. He would be mocked by most fans for his record, yet most players who have worked with him speak of him being some sort of genius when it comes to tactics. Some people are simply comfortable on the training pitch but not with all the other hassle that comes with being in sole charge.

I made it clear I think the Kroenkes are looking for the cheap option, but to be fair, they have put a set up together behind the scenes where maybe they strictly want just a coach.

The criteria might be for the Spaniard to carry on doing what he was doing at City and let others worry about recruitment, contracts etc. Essentially the days of Arsene Wenger controlling every aspect are over.

Let’s look at some names who managed in the Premiership but started off as an assistant coach.
I’ll give you 10 examples rating from worst to best (it is easier to find worse to be honest!).

Paul Clement
A bit like Arteta, the feeling was that Clement has surrounded himself with so many top names as assistant manager at Chelsea, Real Madrid, PSG and Bayern Munich that he would be able to be a great boss in his own right.

He’s at the Championship level having been sacked by Derby and Swansea but has done enough to keep being offered jobs.

He could take the easy way out and work with Carlo Ancelotti again. Let’s be honest not a bad manager to have writing you a reference.

Carlos Queiroz
Sir Alex Ferguson felt it was always important every few years to freshen up his coaching team. Yet the success he had in the later years of his life he claimed was down to the ability of Queiroz who took a lot of the training.

Players were genuinely gutted when he left, with a young Ronaldo claiming him to be a father figure but how could he say no to Real Madrid then Portugal? Neither was successful.

A top manager (Ferguson) who puts a lot of his success down to the assistant and predicts he will be a great boss one day. Sound familiar?

David O’Leary
It might sound weird saying this now, but when David O’Leary refused to follow George Graham from Leeds to Spurs, he was predicted to be the next big thing in management. Leeds had great young talent and were expected to wrestle the dominance away from Man United and Arsenal.

Unfortunately, the whole club, including how the manager conducted himself, got carried away with the hype – especially their route to the last 4 of the Champions League.

In reality they had yet to win anything, but naively guaranteed the banks they would keep qualifying for the CL to pay off loans. It’s a financial situation the club are still trying to recover from. How much he overspent was a stick to beat him with but due to mismanagement by the board, he and his players never got to finish this project.

Nuno Espirito Santo

One of the few goalkeeping coaches to make it as a manager at the top level, doing his apprenticeship at Malaga, then in Greece. The reputation he built up in Europe was harmed by not winning anything at Porto.

To be honest, he might not have been given a chance at Wolves without their strong connections to Jorge Mendes who had several Portuguese nationals, including Nuno, as clients. Still, to get his team playing with the style of football he has, shocked many – leading him to even be linked with the Arsenal job.

Martin Jol
Kind of been overshadowed by the likes of Harry Redknapp and Poch who took Spurs into the Champions League. Back though when Spurs were……Spurs, he was the first coach in the Premiership era to suggest they could be a force.

Then manager, Jacques Santini, was rightfully concerned when his sporting Director insisted in bringing in his fellow countrymen, so no one was surprised when Jol ended up in charge. He changed the style of football at the Lane and famously – if not for a dodgy lasagne – would have finished in the top 4.

It’s often forgotten, most likely due to his failure with the national team, that McLaren has won trophies as a manager, the Dutch title with Twente, while also winning Middlesbrough’s only silverware and taking them to the UEFA Cup Final. Yet his overall record seems to contradict the reputation he has as a coach.

So many who have worked with him describe his methods as being ahead of its time, which is why he’s probably been given too many opportunities at this point to prove himself.

It’s worth considering though in Holland and Germany where managers do their work on the training pitch and leave other issues to other departments, he seemed more comfortable.

Andre Villas Boas
Knew Jose Mourinho from the age of 16. Their friendship meant when the latter became manager, he would take his buddy with him.

Naturally It would lead to Boas constantly being compared to his countryman, especially when he went unbeaten at Porto, winning 4 trophies including the Europa League. It was this reputation that got him the Chelsea then Spurs jobs.

His man management seemed to be an issue in England especially at Chelsea where maybe he was naïve, thinking he had the backing of Roman Abramovich to break up its powerful dressing room. He rebuilt his reputation with trophies in Russia and is now in France.

Di Matteo
If someone from this point won us an FA and Europa League in May, he goes down as a legend. Well that’s what Di Matteo did, going one better by winning Chelsea’s first ever Champions League.

Where he was smart was (assuming he was in the post only till the summer) he told the dressing room what they wanted to hear. The likes of Terry, Lampard and Cole who had been frozen out by the previous regime were yet again allowed to manage the dressing room. In the short term it worked.

David Wagner
With Klopp making a name for himself throughout Europe, Huddersfield went by the theory if they employ his assistant, surely he will have some of Klopp’s hidden secrets. Which is essentially what we are doing regarding Pep Guardiola and Arteta.

The difference is Huddersfield don’t have the resources we do to have made their vacancy enticing for everyone.

Wagner won the hearts of the Terriers with his personality, against the odds winning promotion and keeping them in the topflight. He worked on not even the biggest budget in the Championship yet alone the Premiership.

Perhaps he returned to Germany once he realised he had taken the club as far as he could. Something tells me he will be back in England one day.

Jose Mourinho
No wonder to this day the Spurs manager talks highly of the late great Sir Bobby Robson. He was originally hired purely as an interpreter to help the Englishman learn the language. Yet he charmed Sir Bobby so much that when he didn’t need him anymore, he made him his assistant.

There are a couple of documentaries which show this is the moment where Jose started a journal of everything he was learning. He simply listened and wrote things down, essentially teaching himself. It’s a classic example that you don’t need to be an ex professional to learn about the game. If he still has that book it would be worth a lot of money.

Anyone else you can think of?

Dan Smith


  1. Arteta to Arsenal is a done deal. Ignore any news which implies he’s a smokescreen for any other head coach

  2. Was Unai Emery the Head Coach at Arsenal or the Manager?
    If Unai was head Coach who was the Manager?
    Was there a Manager?
    If Mikel Arteta is to be the Head Coach who now is Arsenal Manager?
    Is the position of Manager dead at Arsenal?
    Or is Josh Kroenke the new manager Manager at Arsenal
    who has appointed Mikel Arteta as his head Coach?
    Do we need a manager?
    Is the “Head Coach” the new name for the old “Manager”
    Is it just a name change, a paradigm shift or both a name change and paradigm shift?

    1. The phrase too many cooks spoil the broth springs to mind.
      I prefer the old method of command. Chairman (other shareholders) collectively the board.
      Then Manager who appoints
      His staff (namely 1st team coaches,assistant manager, reserve team coaches,physios, scouts etc.)

  3. As regard to Arteta being a done Arsenal deal, but I will say nothing is sure until it’s made sure. But is there a doubt cast on Arteta becoming the next fulltime head coach of Arsenal?

    1. Wrong,the reason in England only in the last few years there’s been a distinction between manager and coach is because if the introduction of sporting directors,in Europe and the rest of the world clubs have been using sporting directors for decades unlike the UK.

  4. WHAT I THINK IS THAT, APOINTING OF NEW MANAGER FOR ARSENAL IS DONE DEAL BUT IT MIGHT BE CONFINDENTIAL.EVEN THOUGH I WANT THAT NEW APOINTED MANAGER TO SELL THE TWO FORWARDS IN JANUARY Laca and auba and than hunt for new sharp forward ( Martinelli and Eddy would be in assisting contents. And again he should sell Luis and Sokratis to buy RB Lepzing defender with Saliba( ROB and Kostatinos will help also the back line.

  5. Who was Arteta before man city signed him,obviously there must be something special about him, Even before emery came I wanted Arteta and I would prefer him over any other available experienced manager right now.The fact that he will sign a 3 and half years contract is a prove that the club is viewing him as a young coach who may stay here for long.All the best Mikel

  6. Here are some fun facts.
    Emery managed 700 games before coming to Arsenal.
    Arteta has managed just one game…which he lost.
    Emery actually achieved the highest win rate of any Arsenal manager ever.

    1. Oh well then! Those totally relevant stats so exhaustively researched, proves beyond all doubt that Arteta will lose every single game. Just as Emery MUST have been our best ever manager! NOT! IN BOTH CASES! SILLY BEYOND BELIEF!

  7. Not EPL but Zidane is a great example of why it should be someone from the club, assisting a top coach as he was for Ancelotti. To make sure he is ready with CL experience on the bench, dealing with stars in the team…Too bad Henry made money choice at Skysport when Arsene offered him to coach U23, join as assistant and take over with next generation!

    That’s past though but Zidane present example highlights trend, Guardiola at Barca and others before him. In EPL Lampard, Ole are on that club DNA trend, looks like Everton found his club’s favorite, that passion!

    Today we need a top manager with experience, Ancelotti happens to only one available/free today.

    1. Ancelotti isn’t available/free today.
      He’s heading to Everton.

      Potentially Everton v Arsenal on Saturday with two new coaches..
      Lets see who luck shines on

  8. I cannot see ANY relevance in this article, as NONE of the listed coaches are Arteta. In life – and if you want to be irrelevant you can find millions of lists aof all sorts of things that are also of no relevancde whatever for the simple rreason that NOT ONE of them is the person you are writing about, in this case Artata. What possible relevance can such as Clement, O;Leary have to Arteta? I will tell you; NONE! Guess what? Every single person on the planet is an individual and can be quite easily compared to all sorts of other non relevant folk, such as those who have a nose, two eyes, can breathe and if you want to be silly, even to other totally non connected ex coaches. Get real and either write about something that is RELEVANT,in this case to Arteta, or do not write at all!

    1. You do yourself no credit with your final line Jon. Dan Smith took the time to write this article, criticise it by all means but no need for rudeness at all.

      1. Free speech Martin and the plain truth , not foul language expressed, can hurt. Surely the trick is to write something of relevance, which is what my post was all about? I do not read this site to read irrelevant nonsensical fantasy and I suggest nor do most others. If you want only sanitised half hearted comments, try the Vicarage. I have, as you well know, often praised Dans article and also criticised some. That is free speech MARTIN. Plain speaking is not abuse, though rudeness has its place, in making some people reconsider what thy have written, albeit within limits.

        The sad fact is that Dan can often write brilliant and relevant articles and I for one do not wish to see people not achieve their potential through lazy writing. Shades of Ozil and how his own laziness(in playing) has ruined his career. DAN WILL HAVE READ MY COMMENTS AND HOPEFULLU TAKEN SOME OF WHAT iSAY ON BOARD FOR THE FUTURE. I do not ask him to like me, but just to listen to honest fan opinion.

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