There are certain beliefs or opinions in football that seem to have been ingrained in the sport over the years. One such saying is that the best players often do not make the best managers, and one only has to look as far as Bobby Moore for a case in point.
Another (almost) truism is the school of thought that the best coaches often do not make the smoothest of transitions into managers. This theory communicates the idea that there is more to football management than knowledge and coaching ability alone, and that being a ‘Number Two’ is a whole different kettle of fish to being a ‘Number One’.
History has shown us that some men have carved out well-known and rewarding niches for themselves as assistants or coaches, but have then failed miserably after being given the chance to take charge in their own right.
Great Number Twos Who Failed
At face value maybe one of the most famous cases of this phenomenon is that of Peter Taylor, Brian Clough’s partner in crime at Derby and Nottingham Forest. The two men worked (almost) side-by-side with great success and reward at both the Baseball Ground and the City Ground, after initially cutting their teeth together at Hartlepool United.
Although theirs was a true partnership, with Taylor said to be the expert in identifying the players while Clough moulded and refined them, there was no doubt that in each of the clubs they worked in there was only one person in their partnership who was ever going to be the manager.
What is sometimes forgotten is the spell they spent at Brighton and Hove Albion and the temporary split between them that this period created.
After the famous twosome left Derby County under a cloud in the autumn of 1973, they did not remain unemployed long. Somewhat surprisingly they accepted posts at Third Division Brighton and Hove Albion and worked together until the end of the 1973-74 season.
It is arguable that Brain Clough’s heart was never really in the job at the Goldstone Ground, however, and when Leeds United came calling in the summer of 1974 in their search for a replacement for Don Revie, he did not hesitate in handing in his resignation to Brighton Chairman, Mike Bamber.
Peter Taylor, did not wish to follow Clough to Elland Road, though, and elected to stay at Brighton and take over as manager. The two men fell out over the affair and consequently worked apart for the next two years with middling success.
Clough famously lasted forty-four days at Elland Road before moving onto Nottingham Forest, while Taylor narrowly avoided relegation in his first full season in sole charge at Brighton before agonizingly missing out on promotion the following season.
In the summer of 1976, the two were reunited with Taylor joining Clough at Nottingham Forest as Assistant Manager, and the rest is history.
Years later Taylor would have a second crack at solo management when he came out of retirement and returned to Derby County. This also did not end well, with him lasting a season and a half before leaving the club on the brink of relegation in April 1984.
That a man can enjoy so much success as part of a management team, yet achieve so little when calling the shots himself, is one of the quirks of football. Yet the case of Peter Taylor is far from unique.
Brian Kidd spent a decade working at Manchester United alongside Alex Ferguson, (as he was then) including eight years as his direct assistant. The success enjoyed by the club during this time was immense, and Kidd was rightly lauded for the part he played in coaching the players individually and as a team.
Despite seemingly having a job for life at the right-hand of Sir Alex, Kidd too chose to branch out on his own, and similarily to Peter Taylor, failed to enjoy any semblance of success. Kidd lasted less than a year as manager of Blackburn Rovers.
The cases of Peter Taylor and Brian Kidd are perhaps extreme, yet there are many other instances of relative and real failure that can be called upon.
In 1982 Bobby Robson was installed as England manager following 13 years of success at Ipswich Town. His first team coach and right-hand man for the last four of those years was Bobby Ferguson, and together they built a wonderful side that won the UEFA cup and twice finished runners-up in the old First Division.
When Robson left for the call of Lancaster Gate, he recommended his assistant as his replacement and Ferguson then occupied the Portman Road hot-seat for the next five seasons.
Unfortunately, this period coincided with financial restraints and the break-up of the great Ipswich team of the early 80s. Relegation was suffered in Ferguson’s fourth season in charge and dismissal came a year later.
Finally, it could also be argued that Colin Harvey of Everton also falls into the category of coaches who perhaps learned from hindsight that they were better off ‘assisting’ than ‘managing’.
When the late Howard Kendall decided to vacant the managerial post at Goodison Park for the first time in 1987 for pastures new in Spain, Colin Harvey seemed the natural choice to replace him.
Perhaps following the tradition of near-neighbours Liverpool in appointing from within, the Everton board saw Harvey as a ready-made replacement for Kendall. Kendall’s shoes were very big ones to fill, however, as Everton were the reigning league champions at the time and had won four trophies in the previous four seasons, with several near misses to boot.
Liverpool had been the side to beat over the previous dozen years or so and had racked up almost a score of trophies in that time, but now it finally seemed that Everton were getting their noses in front.
With Harvey working tirelessly by his side, Kendall had transformed Everton into arguably the best side in Europe. Harvey was an innovative and deep-thinking coach who had helped to shape the Toffees into a machine that was capable of both grinding teams down and blowing them away, as the situation dictated.
As manager, Harvey lasted a little over three seasons and could finish no higher than fourth in the table with a single (losing) FA Cup final defeat to his name before being sacked early in the 1990-91 season to make way for the returning Kendall.
In a rather strange twist, Harvey then agreed to take up his previous role as Kendall’s assistant.
Great Number Twos Who Succeeded
Despite these stated failures, not every former coach has failed to make the step-up to manager a success, of course. Perhaps one needs only to look at the aforementioned example of Liverpool in the 1970s and 1980s as a case in point.
Firstly Bob Paisley stepped up after 20 years coaching to become Liverpool’s most successful manager ever, and then when he finally retired he was replaced by his assistant, Joe Fagan, who promptly went on to win three trophies in his first season in charge.
Managers Who ‘Stepped Down’
ever, there have been occasions when the reverse has also been true. This relates to the rare occurrences when an established manager for some reason or another ends up taking a two position after having previously established himself as a manager in his own right.
Some classic examples here that spring to mind are those of Terry Venables and Harry Redknapp. Whatever one’s opinion may be of either of these distinguished gentlemen, it is probably a fairly universal thought that neither man’s talents ever lay in being a number two. Terry Venables was probably more of a ‘hands-on’ manager than Redknapp, and certainly was an excellent coach, but both were fundamentally managers rather than assistants.
Yet both men took on positions as assistants long after they had established themselves as managers, and both stints unsurprisingly ended badly in a certain degree of acrimony.
Redknapp had been the manager of Bournemouth for eight seasons before Billy Bonds and West Ham tempted him to give up his life on the south coast for the Assistant Manager’s job at Upton Park.
Two seasons of working together with Bonds came to an end with Redknapp moving into the manager’s seat and Bonds leaving the club. The details and intricacies concerning Redknapp’s appointment and Bonds’ departure have been a cause for conjecture and dispute ever since, but the two life-long friends have not spoken since.
Similarly, Terry Venables’ decision to accept the role of assistant to Steve McLaren when he was in charge of England was surely not one of his best. In his autobiography, Venables states that he was keen to become involved with England again following his own time in charge of the national side between 1994 and 1996, as he felt he had unfinished business, but quite how he thought it would work with him having to play second fiddle to a man almost twenty years younger than him with twenty-five years less managerial experience is a moot point.
Perhaps it can be summarized that the differences in the positions are wide-ranging and varied. Although a Venn diagram relating the roles and responsibilities of each position would no doubt show a certain overlap, there are certain qualities and skill sets that seemingly do not always transfer between the roles.
In order for a team to be successful, it needs to be prepared individually and collectively. Players need to be coached and trained as well as motivated and man-managed. Tactics need to be spot-on and communicated to the players. In addition, there is a myriad of other responsibilities to be undertaken.
It is arguable that in this day and age it is perhaps asking too much for most people to possess this complete skill-set and so it is not surprising that some are more suited to certain roles than others.