Heart of Football

Should You Ever Go Back To The Future?

Show me a tribe of supporters calling for the manager’s head and I’ll show you the same tribe wishing they could turn the clock back and reappoint the coach they hounded out. Although, they’ll swear blind that they never slagged them off in the first place and it was all the other so-called fans.

But whether or not the manager’s position became untenable through poor results and/or performances or their sacking was so ludicrous and irrational that even [insert sadistic dictator here] would look a little sheepish, is it ever a good idea to go back to the future?

One could be respected and admired, in normal circumstances, should they hold their hands up and admit they were wrong and try to rectify their mistake by reinstating a former employee. But as we all know, football can rarely if ever be associated with normal circumstances.

There are, of course, a litany of reasons why someone may decide to return to their former employers – the desire to match or better your previous achievements; to write your own ending, as it were; to stick it to the man and prove they were wrong to dismiss you; it turned out the grass wasn’t greener after all; or simply that you long to return to your comfort one, where you feel you belong.

Conversely, there are many reasons why one might never wish to darken the doorstep of a former club ever again – the severing of ties the first time around was brutal enough, not to be repeated; the personnel and vision of the club has changed, and it is no longer an attractive proposition; the potential backlash of the fanbase; or simply…bugger ‘em!

It seems every time a manager loses their job, the rumour mill starts up and throws out repetitive suggestions linking the same managers with every vacant post going. Zinedine Zidane is going here and there, Rafa Benitez is available again, anyone for Neil Warnock? Anybody? No?

A couple of recent examples of potential returns:

Frank Lampard – Chelsea
The prodigal son returned in 2019 to manage the club for which he made over 400 appearances in his playing days. He managed a season and a half for The Blues which saw a bit of a rollercoaster of form in the first season but ultimately ended with Champions League qualification and an FA Cup final appearance. His second season spiralled into self-destruction, however, and he was replaced by Thomas Tuchel. Now, it seems, after the questionable departure of Tuchel and the tumultuous tenure of Graham Potter, that Frankie-Baby is back with more than a whiff of “give it Giggsy ‘til the end of the season”.

Mauricio Pochettino – Tottenham Hotspur
The Argentinian ace gave Spurs arguably their most successful period in recent memory. They still didn’t win anything, come on its Spurs! But from 2014-2019, off the back of an impression year in charge of Southampton, Poch treated Tottenham fans to a League Cup final, the emergence of academy starlet Harry Kane into the first team, Champions League qualification and subsequently a Champions League final appearance and a second-place finish in the Premier League for the first time ever. Not to mention a period of dominance over their fierce rivals Arsenal. Since he was sacked a mere five months after effectively being the second-best team in Europe that season, his return has been craved by many a fan. It’s just not the same under Jose Mourinho or Antonio Conte, I guess…

Now let’s look at some actual returns, the results are…varied:

Jose Mourinho – Chelsea
Probably the most obvious. Ah, remember The Special One? Back in 2004, José Mourinho was the next big thing. Unless you asked him, he was the current and indeed only big thing; the best thing since sliced bread; God’s gift to football management. To be fair, it was hard to argue against him. Coinciding with the kickstart of the Abramovic Era, Mourinho bought Chelsea some absolute superstar players and b(r)ought two Premier League titles, an FA Cup and three League Cups. He returned to the club in 2013, finished runner up in the UEFA Super Cup and added another Premier League the following season. Not an abject failure by any stretch but the magic sparkle was no longer there, and he left by mutual consent the next season.

Eddie Howe – Bournemouth
Already part of the furniture for The Cherries during his playing days, Howe got Bournemouth out of League Two and was such an attractive prospect of a young coach that he had clubs practically throwing their keys into a bowl to try and get him to work for them. He resisted for a while and finally succumbed to the flutters of Championship club Burnley. I don’t know why either! He ultimately decided Burnley wasn’t for him (who could blame him…!) and returned home to Bournemouth. From there he proceeded to turn Bournemouth from a League One club into a solid Premier League fixture in three years. How stayed eight years in total, winning ‘Manager of the Decade’ in 2015. That’s about as legendary as it’ll ever get at Bournemouth.

John Coleman – Accrington Stanley
One for the real football fan here. The club that wouldn’t die, Accrington Stanley (who are they?) began their restructure into the club we know today in 1995 and appointed John Coleman in 1999 when they were in Northern Premier League. What followed was a somewhat meteoric rise back to the Football League. Steadily in League Two, and after some internal disputes, Coleman left the club in 2012. After flirting briefly with Rochdale, Southport and Sligo Rovers, Coleman made his return to Stanley in 2014 and continued where he left off, getting the club promoted to League One. Much like Howe at Bournemouth, John Coleman is about as legendary as you’ll get in Accrington.

Paul Ince – MK Dons
Well, what can you say about Paul Ince that hasn’t already been said? One of the rare breeds to play for both Manchester United and Liverpool and had a warrior-like bandage so bloody it became a lyric in a song! While at Milton Keynes Dons in 2007-08, he managed the splinter club of the old Wimbledon FC to the League Two title and the Football League Trophy. Riding on the crest of a very brief wave, he was approached by Blackburn Rovers and became the first black British manager in the Premier League. He was sacked after six months (which was standard for the early years of Venkys’ ownership of Rovers) after a woeful start and returned to MK Dons soon after. His second stint at The Dons was about as successful as his Rovers one and he departed at the end of the season.

Harry Redknapp – Portsmouth
A braver man than most, Redknapp crossed no man’s land twice. He became manager at Portsmouth in 2002 following his initial start as Director of Football, winning the Division One title and promotion to the Premier League. After a string of disagreements with the owner, Harry rather naively skipped along to Southampton a few weeks after exiting Fratton Park. The “Judas” jeers dissipated after a while when Redknapp’s replacement was swiftly shown the door at Portsmouth and having become rather disillusioned at St Mary’s, Harry skipped along back to his “spiritual home” and not only kept them in the Premier League but also won the FA Cup in 2008 and was given the Freedom of the City. Quite the triumphant return…until he was wooed by Tottenham Hotspur.

The list could go on and on. Examples are aplenty both in the English leagues and abroad: Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool, Kevin Keegan at Newcastle United, Fabio Capello at Real Madrid, David Moyes at West Ham, Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane at Real Madrid…seems to happen a lot at the Santiago Bernabéu doesn’t it?

Ask yourself if you would welcome a former manager back to you club. Who do you wish has never left and would one day return to save your team? Who do you wish had never set foot within 100 yards of the stadium in the first place, let alone ever come back?

It’s a fine balance between the old adages of ‘never say never’ and ‘never go back’. But if football didn’t have these little quirks and twists in the plotline then would it be quite as fun?

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