Premier League: 20-year collapse in Managers who played for their club

In this article, we look at the extent to which top-flight clubs still look to former players to manage their club.

There are recent high-profile examples of former players taking over the managerial reigns at the top level – notably Tim Sherwood at Tottenham and Ryan Giggs at Manchester United. Still, as our analysis will show, these two examples are very much against the general trend.

Of course, managers that have a successful history at a club usually enjoy at least a period of goodwill from fans – and along with a familiarity with the clubs set-up and area, could make a manager more likely to return.

Graeme Souness, George Graham, Peter Reid…

We start our analysis at the end of August 1992 and look at five year intervals. In 1992, 9 of the 24 managers (the league shrinks to 20 in all other data points) had played for their club they managed. Examples include George Graham at Arsenal, Peter Reid at Manchester City and Graeme Souness at Liverpool (see below for link to report and data table).

Mgr and club w/title

Charting the decline in ‘managers with previous’

Five years on, in 1997, this had shrunk to 7 out of 20 (35%). In 2002, it had fallen further to 4 (20%), and in 2007 it was a 5 (25%).

Of course, a key trend over this period was the significant increase in foreign managers which followed the -influx of players from overseas.

Mgr Nation w/title

In 1992, all managers were from the UK and Ireland, whereas in 2012, 7 out of the 20 were from elsewhere.We intend to return to the topic of manager nationality in future analyses.

At the start of the Premier League, there was only a small pool of overseas players that had played at a club but, by the end of August 2012, the only two Premier League managers that had played for their clubs – Roberto Di Matteo at Chelsea and Roberto Martinez at Wigan – were themselves part of the overseas influx. The full report looks in more detail at other potential drivers.

Rock bottom

In 2013, for the first time ever, no manager in the Premier League had played for their club previously. We compare end August in each year, but the drop to one occurred as Di Matteo left Chelsea in November. The figure fell to zero when Wigan were relegated with Roberto Martinez and were replaced by Cardiff (Malkay Mackay), Hull (Steve Bruce) and Crystal Palace (Ian Holloway) – none of whom had played for the clubs they managed.

Outlook and Conclusions

For the start of the 2014/15 season, Garry Monk is the only Premier League Manager to play for his club and at 40-1 to be sacked next, his outlook is relatively healthy.

Does this decline matter? It’s not clear whether fans value having a manager with playing pedigree, nor whether that would lead to a higher level of success. These could be questions for further research. Still, seen as an indicator of progression from playing to managing at the top level of club football, it suggests that  for  the vast majority of clubs, former players have not been developed sufficiently to take over the managerial reigns.

For fuller analysis and conclusions,  thoughts on related research questions and detailed tables of managers, see the full report in our publications section.

Notes for Editors

If you’d like to cite this analysis, please cite the source as “Football Economics”, or see the full report for contact details for the media.