Visionary minds, ruthless streaks, and one introvert - football managers through the decades

A fascinating new book by Corkman Tim Healy has tracked the evolution of football management from the first secretary managers — who knew nothing about the game but were appointed as a bridge between directors and the ‘riff-raff’ who played it — to the influx of ex-players into coaching jobs in the early 20th century, and onto the modern superstar bosses at a time when wages paid remains the best indicator of success. Larry Ryan got his views of some of the gaffers and themes that left a lasting impression.
Visionary minds, ruthless streaks, and one introvert - football managers through the decades

THE INNOVATOR: Herbert Chapman

“Chapman was an extraordinary person. Denis Hill-Wood, the director of Arsenal didn’t say he could have been Prime Minister, he said he should have been Prime Minister.

“He made so many revolutionary changes, all of which became part of the game. For example, he was the first manager to give a team talk. And he had extraordinary success while seeming to treat people in a very decent way.”


“What he achieved was extraordinary as England have proved ever since. He came up with a tactical plan, a way to play that was different from what clubs were doing at the time; the Wingless Wonders. And he stuck by that through rocky moments when the press were down on him.

"Subsequent England managers, when they came under pressure, started responding to the press demands. But Ramsey was his own man.”


Guttman was described as the original Jose Mourinho. Long before we heard of three-year cycles, it was he who advised “the third year is fatal”. He kept on the move, holding 25 management jobs and winning two European cups with Benfica.

“If you were asked to pick who you’d have dinner with, dead or alive, you’d pick Guttman. In a way he was the Roy Keane of his day. As a Hungarian international, he once nailed dead rats to the doors of travelling officials because he deemed the team hotel unsuitable.”

THE GREATEST: Johan Cruyff

“His influence to this day on the way football is played is extraordinary. The best decision Barcelona ever made was making Cruyff manager. Attendances were down to 20,000 when he took over, but he changed completely the way the club did things.

“It was never the great players that drove the evolution of management. Carlos Bianchi, the most successful ever manager in South America, was a phenomenal goalscorer, but Cruyff is the best example of a superb player who was a fantastic manager.”

BEST OF THE IRISH: Patrick O’Connell

The joke played well on Twitter this week: “What if Wenger has been investing Arsenal’s transfer budget in Bitcoin all this time?”

Patrick O’Connell might have captained Manchester United, won Real Betis their only LaLiga and led Barcelona to success, but perhaps his key contribution in Catalonia was a shrewd financial move that saved the club.

“He stayed on after war broke out which was hugely appreciated in Catalonia. In 1937, Barca went on this tour to America, underwritten, bizarrely, by a Mexican basketball player.

“They made a lot of money on the tour because they were a big attraction and it secured the club. Something like $15,000 dollars, big money in 1937. O’Connell and the club secretary made the decision to wire the proceeds to a Paris bank account rather than keep it in Spain, where it would been taken by Franco.”


Another Irish success story, at least if you allow the Granny Rule. Jimmy Hogan was born in Burnley to Irish emigrants. Interned in Austria during the war, it was there he made his greatest impact, working alongside Hugo Meisl.

“Some argue he was among the best managers of all time. I don’t think he was ever a manager. But he was a great coach. He wanted the game played a certain way, which was anathema to the way people in England wanted it played. Jimmy Hogan wanted the ball played on the deck, snappy passing, ball moving quickly.

“When Hungary wiped the floor with England in 1953, the first thing they said was we owe everything to Jimmy Hogan, he taught us how to play football.”


When Wolves were shocked in the FA Cup by Mansfield in 1929, Major Frank Buckley paraded the team in full kit through the town to “to let supporters see what a lot of rubbish you are”. First man to break into a run was threatened with the sack.

“Guttman studied psychology and a lot of what Shankly did came, not from reading about psychology, but through his own personality. He tried to sign Lou Macari from Celtic, lost out to United, and told the players he only wanted him for the reserves anyway.

“Danny McGrain told how Jock Stein once picked on a couple of Celtic’s senior players and absolutely bawled them out of it. And McGrain and Kenny Dalglish were sitting there thinking, ‘if he treats the superstars like this, what will we get..’. But it was all a setup.

“Alex Ferguson picked up a lot from Stein. He was reputedly found rehearsing one of his ‘hairdryer’ rants.”

THE ODDITY: Bob Paisley

“There are not too many introverts among the great managers. Whereas Bill Shankly was pure charisma, had that extraordinary magnetism, Paisley was the total opposite.

“Phil Thompson said he hadn’t the confidence to do a team talk. He didn’t really want the job and his main worry was talking to the press.

“He was a most humble modest man but knew his football. Knew how a team should be set up, knew which players could do the job he wanted them to. And he just got someone else to do the team talk.”


“Even the most apparently benign of managers have a ruthless streak, a hard edge when they needed it. Busby at United was inherently a gentleman but there was a lack of empathy that meant he mistreated players who had outlived their usefulness.

“Ian St John is very harsh too on how Shankly treated him in the end, a player who’d helped make Shankly the man he was.

“You only have to look at Ferguson. Any player who he felt couldn’t serve him any further was just out the door without hesitation.

“But one of the most important things missed about Ferguson and his legacy is that he was single-handedly responsible for the change of ownership of Manchester United, with the Rock of Gibraltar business. And the jury is still out on whether that change will good for the club in the long-term.”


“As a coach, I think Mourinho is very good. His record shows that. As a person, he seems obsessed with himself. His treatment of Luke Shaw was nothing short of disgraceful.

“What’s worse is he is allowed to. You don’t have his own board of directors or the PFA or anyone in the FA stepping in. When the guy finally has a good game after being treated pretty badly, Mourinho puts it down to him being on the same side of the field so he could tell him what to do.

“It’s total bullying of a young lad who had an horrific injury.”


Arsene Wenger is a relic of the era when the boss looked after everything, including how much players got paid.

“All that has changed, with good reason. A lot of the transfer dealing was less than above board. And now there is so much money involved.

“In England, Southampton were one of the first to bring in a model that the manager’s role was to work with the team, nothing else.

“Conte, who I think is really good, has the problem at Chelsea, where he seems less than enthused with the players being brought in.

“Whereas, Guardiola at City has a perfect setup because of his record. He is reporting to people who he has worked with before who know him inside-out. They may well do the transacting, but he’s deciding who they buy and sell.”


As his title suggests, Healy has noted that even the greatest gaffer invariably encounters the sack somewhere along the line.

“Well, if it could happen to Cruyff at Barca... As the writer Jimmy Burns summed up well, he was given his marching orders like a part-time lavatory attendant who had overslept; the man who’d brought them more honours and trophies than anyone in their history.”

That’s Right: You’re Fired - How Football Management Evolved over 125 Years by Tim Healy is published by Ballpoint Press, €14.99

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