10 Great Football Players Who Flopped As Coaches

Just as an accomplished actor isn’t always successful behind the camera, an exceptional footballer’s brilliance doesn’t always translate into a successful coaching career.

These are individuals who have showcased extraordinary abilities on the football field. Yet, when they traded their cleats for a coaching whistle, their performance wasn’t as impressive.

We’re going to discuss 10 such instances where famous football players didn’t quite succeed in their coaching roles. But don’t be disheartened – there are valuable lessons to be learned from these experiences as well.

1. Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona, a name synonymous with football glory, had a less than stellar coaching career. His exceptional performance as a player, leading Argentina to the 1986 World Cup championship, did not translate into similar accomplishments when he took over as the coach of the national team from 2008-2010.

Critics persistently questioned his tactical prowess while his team selections often perplexed both experts and supporters.

His attempts to revive the fortunes of multiple clubs, such as Al-Wasl and Fujairah in the UAE, also fell short.

The exceptional talent he displayed on the pitch did not convert into equivalent coaching abilities, reinforcing the belief that extraordinary playing skills do not necessarily lead to triumphs in team management.

2. Gary Neville

Even with his accomplishments on the field, Gary Neville did not achieve the same level of success in management.

Some may remember Neville’s time as manager for Valencia CF in Spain, which unfortunately did not go well.

He was in charge for only four months before his tenure ended. A lack of experience and a misunderstanding of the Spanish football culture were evident.

Gary Neville
Player CareerOutstanding
Coaching StintUnsuccessful

Neville has shown brilliance as a sports analyst, possessing a unique ability to break down matches and provide in-depth analysis.

However, this expertise did not translate smoothly into coaching. Knowing tactics is one aspect; deploying them effectively is something entirely different.

If one is curious as to why he could not mirror his success from his playing career in management, it’s likely due to a deficit in the essential interpersonal skills and cultural awareness needed to effectively lead a foreign team.

3. Alan Shearer

Discussing Alan Shearer, one can’t help but note the parallels with Gary Neville when it comes to their coaching careers. Performing at an elite level on the field does not always ensure success in coaching.

Carefully examine Shearer’s short tenure as the boss of Newcastle United.

  • Even though Shearer was an impressive striker, he was unable to prevent Newcastle’s relegation during the 2008-2009 season.
  • His coaching record was less than stellar – out of his eight matches in charge, he only claimed victory in one.
  • Following this disappointing stint, Shearer has not returned to coaching, perhaps acknowledging that outstanding players don’t always make exceptional managers.

Football, as a sport, is intricate; excellence on the field doesn’t necessarily translate into achievement off it. It demands strategic brilliance and leadership abilities that might exceed the capabilities of even the most talented player.

4. Tony Adams

Tony Adams, a highly regarded defender and leader during his playing career at Arsenal, has not seen the same level of success in his coaching career. His tenure at Granada is a prime example, where he was unable to secure even a single victory.

One might expect that his strong defensive capabilities and leadership skills would naturally translate into a successful coaching career, but this has not been the case. Coaching requires a different set of abilities, which Adams seems to be lacking.

His tactical knowledge was questioned as Granada’s defense consistently allowed goals, indicating a lack of organization and discipline on the pitch.

This suggests ineffective training sessions under his guidance. Despite having a competent squad, Adams was not able to motivate them to reach their full potential.

His time at Granada serves as a stark lesson that great players do not always become great coaches, reinforcing the unpredictable nature of soccer.

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5. Ruud Gullit

Ruud Gullit’s shift from being a professional footballer to a coach hasn’t been quite as successful as some might have predicted, considering his exceptional performance on the field.

The strategic brilliance he exhibited during his playing years appeared to fade when faced with the stress of coaching.

Several factors played a role in this unexpected development:

  • Inconsistent team selection and formation: His unpredictable choices led to confusion among squad members, culminating in mediocre performance.
  • Failure to enforce discipline: His hands-off approach did not align with the stringent requirements of football at the apex level.
  • Poor communication with players: He had difficulty expressing his plans in a clear manner, leading to tension within the squad.

Despite these hindrances, Gullit’s love for football cannot be disputed. It’s a clear indication that a triumphant career as a player doesn’t necessarily equate to being a successful coach.

6. John Barnes

The shift from player to coach wasn’t as successful as John Barnes might have anticipated, in spite of his stellar career on the field.

The tactical astuteness that was a significant advantage during his playing days didn’t necessarily evolve into efficient managerial abilities.

His stint at Celtic is a prime example, marked by inconsistency and lackluster outcomes. A lack of strategic acumen and failure to motivate his team were noticeable problems.

It is not to suggest that Barnes lacks an understanding of soccer; his commentary work certainly contradicts that.

Yet, there’s a clear distinction between comprehending the game and effectively coaching it. As has been seen in many such cases, shining on the field is not a guarantee of triumph from the coaching area. It’s an entirely different aspect of the sport.

7. Roy Keane

Transitioning from the discussion about Barnes, we now focus on the career of Roy Keane. Keane’s playing career was filled with exceptional performances – his leadership and determination in Manchester United’s midfield secured his place as a legend. Yet, his coaching career has not been as stellar.

His role as a coach at Sunderland began promisingly with a promotion to the Premier League, but ended prematurely due to subpar results.

His period at Ipswich Town only emphasized his struggles in management – he was unable to translate his success as a player to his role on the sidelines.

To provide a clearer understanding, here are some critical points:

  • Keane’s aggressive style, which was a key factor in his success as a player, possibly hindered his coaching career.
  • Strained relationships with players and staff often overshadowed the team’s accomplishments.
  • Despite experiencing some initial triumphs, he was unable to maintain consistency throughout his managerial career.

In the sport of soccer, it is not guaranteed that excellent players will become excellent coaches, and Keane serves as a prime example of this paradox.

8. Paul Gascoigne

Transitioning topics, we now examine the fascinating career of Paul Gascoigne, a personality who has experienced a rollercoaster of highs and lows both on and off the football field.

In his prime as a player, Gazza was nothing less than extraordinary: with proficient ball control, superior vision, and a knack for scoring goals. His performances for England in the 1990 World Cup secured his place as one of football’s legends.

However, when it came to coaching, his success did not mirror his playing career. His management tenure at Kettering Town in 2005 was brief, lasting only 39 days.

He battled with discipline issues and was unable to translate his exceptional on-field comprehension to effective leadership off the field.

This serves as a prime example that not all high-performing players can transition into successful coaches.

9. Gianfranco Zola

Shifting focus to Gianfranco Zola, we see an individual who has not only left an indelible imprint as a notable athlete but also played a significant role in sports administration. However, his journey in coaching didn’t quite strike gold.

  • His time leading West Ham United was plagued by instability, which ultimately led to his termination.
  • Despite an initial surge of success at Watford, he failed to sustain the progress and stepped down following a series of defeats.
  • His short time at Cagliari culminated in relegation.

These episodes suggest that the role of a manager is distinctly different from that of a player. It demands tactical prowess and the ability to manage players effectively – areas Zola found challenging despite his exceptional skills on the pitch.

Hence, the adage that stellar players don’t always transform into successful coaches rings true!

10. Clarence Seedorf

Looking at Clarence Seedorf, it is clear that his accomplishments as a player have not been replicated in his managerial career.

Despite his exceptional talent and understanding of the game, his success on the field has not translated into success as a manager.

Team ManagedWin Percentage
AC Milan50%
Shenzhen FC33.3%
Deportivo La Coruña33.3%

His time at these clubs was brief, not lasting longer than a year. The struggle he faced was implementing his own game strategy into the team, a crucial aspect for any manager.

Even though he is known for his strategic mind from his time as a player, applying this to management has proven difficult for him. This demonstrates that being a top-tier player does not automatically equate to being a successful manager.


These football icons might have failed to impress as coaches, echoing the adage, ‘the cobbler should stick to his last.’

The challenge of transitioning from playing to coaching is not an easy one and not everyone is able to make it successfully.

However, this list should not dishearten you; it merely demonstrates that being a star player doesn’t always mean you’ll be a star coach.

Achievements on the field do not always guarantee triumphs in managing the game from the sidelines.

Manuel Esposito

Hello everyone! My name is Manuel and I've recently got my PhD in Sport and Excercise Science at the University of Portsmouth. I'm raised and born in New York, and I've been a big fan of soccer my whole life. Soccer is the reason why I got my PhD in Sport and Excercise Science, and my goal with this blog is to help you improve your soccer techniques, strategies, and knowledge!

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