Why you don’t need to have played for a club to manage them

Martin O'Neill turned out to be quite good for Celtic. Picture: Neil Hanna
Martin O'Neill turned out to be quite good for Celtic. Picture: Neil Hanna
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“I don’t think he would be the right man for Celtic. I think Celtic need somebody that knows the way Celtic play. I don’t think him [Rodgers] going to Celtic is of benefit to Celtic. I think Celtic need someone in post there who knows what’s required. I think you need someone who knows the club, knows the expectations and knows the expectations of supporters.”

That was the opinion of former Hearts and Hibs assistant manager Billy Brown when asked on BBC Sportsound whether he thought Celtic should appoint Brendan Rodgers. According to Brown, Rodgers wasn’t qualified for the job in the same manner that Malky Mackay was because he has no connection to the club - other than following them when he was younger.

To be fair to Brown, he’s not alone in this regard. Even on the same BBC Sportsound programme, Derek Ferguson believed Celtic needed to bring back former captain and manager Neil Lennon because the club needed some passion. Every time there’s a managerial vacancy at any club, fans pine for ex-players to come back and recreate former glories, and often these are the guys who’re the bookmakers favourites to get the job.

The idea that a manager needs to have played for a club to understand how to manage it is deeply flawed. Case in point, every name you’ll read in this article from this point forward.

READ MORE - Celtic: no preferred candidate for manager’s job


Alex Ferguson (Aberdeen & Manchester United)

Fergie had a somewhat nomadic career but it was spent entirely north of the border, playing for six different clubs across 17-year stretch, never lasting more than four years at one destination. Surprisingly, this didn’t stop him from winning, firstly, three league titles, five cups and one European trophy with Aberdeen, whom he never played for, and then winning 13 English Premier League titles, nine cups and three European trophies at Old Trafford. Imagine what he could have achieved if he was a proper Manchester United man.

Brian Clough (Derby & Nottingham Forest)

Cloughie played for only Middlesbrough and Sunderland during his playing days and would later go on to win the Second Division (Championship) with Derby before lifting the top flight crown two years later. Having enjoyed that so much he then thought he’d do it again, leading Nottingham Forest to promotion and then the 1978 First Division title before winning consecutive European Cups.

Jose Mourinho (Porto, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter)

The Special One was the exact opposite during his playing days, featuring sporadically for lesser Portuguese sides over a distinguished seven-year career. Hiring him as manager is a license to win titles, as he’s done it eight times with four different clubs in four different nations. It would seem never having played for Real Madrid didn’t stop him from understanding what a big game Barcelona was.

There’s also Helenio Herrera, Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Marcello Lippi among countless others.


Claudio Ranieri (Leicester City)

Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)

Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham Hotspur)

Manuel Pellegrini (Manchester City)

Louis Van Gaal (Manchester United)

Ronald Koeman (Southampton)

Those are the managers from each of the top six clubs in the English Premier League, otherwise known as the Greatest League In The World (trademark). In fact, it’s curious to see Southampton in there. Remember the uproar when they sacked a good, honest English boss in favour of Pochettino who was, in the words of The Independent, “an Argentine best known among English fans for fouling Michael Owen in Sapporo at the 2002 World Cup”? Nigel Adkins, who Poch replaced, was recently binned by Sheffied United.


Derek McInnes (Aberdeen)

Tommy Wright (St Johnstone)

Jim McIntyre (Ross County)

McInnes was mostly known in Scotland during his playing days for a five-year spell at Ibrox, much to the chagrin of a small group of narrow-minded Dons fans when he was first hired. Wright spent most of his career as a back-up keeper south of the border, and McIntyre played for numerous Scottish clubs but not Ross County. All three have won Scottish cup competitions, which is no easy feat when you’re managing a club outside of Glasgow, while McIntyre was named Manager of the Year this season.


Martin O’Neill

Wim Jansen

Gordon Strachan

Even at Celtic there are three great examples despite the club having a tendency to appoint ex-players. O’Neill is similar to Rodgers in that he’s a Northern Irishman with no affiliation with the club other than a liking for the team in his youth. The other two are hardly all-time greats, though Jansen did achieve what a succession of Celtic-minded men couldn’t by stopping Rangers from winning 10-in-a-row, and Strachan won three league titles before being replaced by former Celtic captain, and ‘the inventor of The Huddle’, Tony Mowbray.


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