Wednesday, 24 Jul 2024

Football’s Evolution: The Decline of Player-Managers

By Fin Pardoe

Modern football management is an ever-evolving craft, characterized by ruthless decision-making and swift replacements. The recent sacking of Thomas Tuchel by Chelsea exemplifies this trend. In this cutthroat industry, player-managers have become a rarity, especially at the top level of the game. The days of successful player-managers like Kenny Dalglish and Ruud Gullit seem to be fading away.

The Era of Player-Managers

During the 80s and 90s, British football witnessed several successful player-managers who achieved both on and off the pitch. Kenny Dalglish, for instance, won the league and FA Cup in his first season as player-manager for Liverpool in 1986. Graeme Souness, Glenn Hoddle, and Ruud Gullit also tasted success while managing Rangers, Swindon, and Chelsea respectively. These individuals not only led by example on the field but also molded their teams according to their tactical vision.

At lower levels, player-managers were even more common, with Dennis Wise achieving success at Millwall, reaching the FA Cup final in 2004 as a First Division club. However, not all player-managers were successful, which is inherent in the sport. Some thrived, while others faltered.

The Demise of Player-Managers

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In the Premier League, player-managers have become increasingly scarce. Adam Lallana’s recent appointment as a player-manager at Brighton is a rare occurrence, with the last permanent player-manager in the Premier League being Gianluca Vialli at Chelsea from 1998-1999. While the idea of a player-manager can still hold influence on the pitch, the demands placed on modern-day managers make it challenging to balance both roles.

Today, Premier League managers must hold a UEFA Pro Licence, a qualification that requires significant time and effort to achieve. Many players simply do not have the time to pursue coaching badges while still playing at a high level. The growing complexity of the game, both tactically and physically, further limits the number of eligible player-managers.

The Burdens of Modern Football Management

Managing a football team today involves overseeing training, media responsibilities, contracts, and scouting. With such demanding responsibilities, managers have little time to focus on their own fitness and development. The pressure and scrutiny that come with the position make it even more challenging for a player-manager to cope with the dual roles effectively. Recent experiments with player-managers, such as Wayne Rooney at Derby and Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht, have yielded mixed results at best.

In 2019, Kompany stepped down as player-manager after a dismal start to the season for Anderlecht. Similarly, Rooney relinquished his playing duties at Derby after two defeats in his joint player-manager role. These failures underscore the immense pressure and responsibility faced by players and managers in today’s game. The global attention football attracts adds to the weight on their shoulders.

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The Future of Player-Managers

While the player-manager role may still have a place in football under the right circumstances, the dwindling number of successful examples suggests that it is an increasingly challenging proposition. The demands of modern football management leave little room for players to adequately fulfill both roles. The spotlight on managers is unforgiving, and failure to deliver results quickly can have severe consequences.

As Adam Lallana takes on his interim role at Brighton, it remains to be seen whether the mitigated responsibilities of a player-manager will yield positive results on the pitch. However, the increasing demands and pressures of the game make it highly unlikely that player-managers will make a notable comeback in football.



Q: Who was the last player-manager in the Premier League?
A: Gianluca Vialli at Chelsea from 1998-1999.

Q: Why are player-managers so rare in modern football?
A: The demands of modern football management, including the need for a UEFA Pro Licence and the intense pressure on managers, make it difficult to balance playing and coaching responsibilities.

Q: Are there any recent successful examples of player-managers?
A: Recent experiments with player-managers, such as Wayne Rooney at Derby and Vincent Kompany at Anderlecht, have not yielded significant success.


Player-managers, once a common sight in football, have become a dying breed. The increasingly complex nature of the game, coupled with the demands placed on modern managers, make it challenging for players to juggle both roles effectively. While the role of a player-manager may still have its merits, the pressure and responsibility that managers face today make it nearly impossible to fulfill both roles successfully. As football continues to evolve, the era of the player-manager seems to be a thing of the past.

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Image: Wekkuzipp via Flickr