What happens when club legends return to manage their old sides?

Xavi, beware! Barcelona boss will hope to repeat the success of idols Guardiola and Cruyff as a playing legend returning to the dugout… but Pirlo, Solskjaer and Souness have shown it isn’t always a fairytale

  • Xavi will be aiming to bring success back to Barcelona as their new manager 
  • The club legend has taken to the dugout after the sacking of Ronald Koeman 
  • Pep Guardiola and Johan Cruyff, both stars at the Nou Camp, enjoyed success 
  • Andrea Pirlo and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have endured struggles at their old clubs  
  • Here, Sportsmail takes a look at how coaches fared after coaching former sides 

It’s a well trodden path in football. The managerial merry-go-round often sees a coach sacked, and a desire to bring back a feel-good atmosphere at a club. This may see them turn to a former player, but this leads to mixed results historically.

Xavi is the latest to step into the breach, having taken the reins at Barcelona. His playing days there were trophy-laden, and he has turned his meticulous attention to detail to the dugout as he looks to bring glory back to the Nou Camp. 

With Ronald Koeman, another Catalonia old boy, axed, the pressure is on Xavi to form a winning project. He may look to previous examples of legends returning to their old stomping ground – with Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane leading the way.

Here, Sportsmail takes a look at what happens when club greats step into coaching for their former sides, as well as the major successes and failures.

Xavi has returned to Barcelona as manager and will be expected to bring the glory days back

During his playing days at the Nou Camp, he won countless cups as a silky central midfielder


When Frank Rijkaard left Barcelona in 2008, Pep Guardiola was chosen as the man to replace him. His appointment, unsurprisingly, was met with a wave of optimism. 

His predecessor was responsible for transforming the club from a base for frustration and underachievement to a powerhouse over five years, and Guardiola stepped up knowing full well that he had big shoes to fill.

During his time with the B team the previous campaign, he became renowned for his tactical prowess and ability to mould players into potential superstars. Having also won six league titles and a European Cup as a player, Guardiola was a popular man.

Pep Guardiola won the Champions League in 1992 and added six league titles to his collection

Just a year on from his hiring, he led Barcelona to the Champions League trophy in 2009. Their journey across all competitions saw them play stunning passing football, christened ‘tiki-taka’, and they became one of the greatest ever club sides.

The LaLiga title and the Copa del Rey also followed, helping them to their first major domestic treble, and Guardiola was not done there. Two more league triumphs followed, as well as a second Champions League victory, again over United.

He may have only been able to win the Spanish Cup during his final season, but Guardiola left for a brief sabbatical with his head held high. Indeed, he was responsible for his team’s breath-taking fluid nature, and the silverware as a result. 

Having taken over as boss, Guardiola brought further success to the club and remains a legend


The cruel nature of football was laid bare for all to see when Frank Lampard was sacked by Chelsea. He led his old club to a fourth-placed finish, and the FA Cup final, in his first season but was axed after a dismal run of form.

In total, his spell at the helm lasted just 18 months. He departed with the side ninth in the Premier League, and in the midst of a run of just one win in five league matches. During his second season, they were briefly top of the table.

He did not sign any players for his first year in charge as a result of Chelsea’s transfer embargo. However, the next summer, Lampard splashed out over £200million on seven big signings, including Kai Havertz and Timo Werner.

Frank Lampard is Chelsea’s all-time record goal scorer and clinched 11 major titles at the club

As a player, the now 43-year-old remains Chelsea’s all-time record goal scorer, having netted 211 times between 2001 and 2014. He also made 648 appearances in total, winning 11 major trophies – including four Premier League titles.

He began his managerial career at Derby. His one season in charge, the club reached the Championship play-off final but lost out to Aston Villa. Soon after, Chelsea came calling – and he performed admirably before falling victim to poor results. 

Now reportedly on the shortlist for the Norwich vacancy, Lampard is widely expected to return to football in the very near future. His work at Stamford Bridge has placed him in good stead, and laid the foundations for their future success. 

After just one season in management, Chelsea hired Lampard as coach for an 18-month spell


The ‘baby-faced assassin’ is now visibly worn down by the rigours and pressures of the Manchester United job. That glint in his eye still remains, but there can be no denying that the wolves are at the door and he looks truly out of his depth.

It is a far cry from his playing days at Old Trafford. He joined in 1996 for a fee of just £1.5million, having made a name for himself as a formidable poacher at Clausenengen and Molde. With United, he quickly picked up where he left off.

As a result, he was handed his affectionate nickname. And he lived up to his ‘assassin’ moniker, with 126 goals arriving in his 366 appearances. Infamously, he scored a last-gasp winner in the 1999 Champions League final.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hit the winner for Manchester United in the 1999 Champions League final

Despite this, it came as a surprise to see him handed the job on a caretaker basis after Jose Mourinho’s sacking in December 2018. Desperate to rediscover the ‘glory days’, the board looked to a United man through and through to help out.

The impact was remarkable. The club became a winning machine, picking up valuable points in the top-flight and beating Paris Saint-Germain in yet more late drama to progress against the odds in the Champions League. 

He was then appointed permanently, but what has followed has been a rollercoaster ride. Finishes in third and second were undoubtedly positives, but the failure to win a trophy has led to frustration. Now, the tension is mounting even further.

Now in the dugout, Solskjaer is under increasing pressure in the midst of a horror run of results


The typically silky, and metronomic, figure of Andrea Pirlo in Juventus’ midfield was a crucial reason behind their success between 2011 and 2015. During that time, they won four consecutive Serie A titles, as well as one Coppa Italia trophy.

Just two years after he left for New York City FC in the twilight of his playing career, his old club returned and hired him as their new manager. He was the man selected to succeed Maurizio Sarri, despite his stark lack of coaching experience.

His work on his coaching badges was diligent and intelligent. He described his philosophy as being heavily centred around the use of the ball and possession, as well as an exploitation of the wide areas. However, it did not work out like this.

Andrea Pirlo was a crucial reason behind Juventus’ success in 2011 and 2015 before leaving

Despite listing Johan Cruyff, Pep Guardiola, Louis van Gaal, Carlo Ancelotti and Antonio Conte as influences over his preferred style of play, his Juventus side were often stunted and lacking in fluidity. Eventually, results took a tumble.

In January 2021, Pirlo won his first trophy in charge, with a 2-0 victory over Napoli arriving in the Supercoppa Italia. Two months on, though, Juventus crashed out of the Champions League with Porto triumphing on away goals in the last-16.

A Coppa Italia trophy arrived before the end of the season, Pirlo’s second in the hot seat, and Juventus secured a fourth-placed finish in Serie A after beating Bologna, earning them Champions League football. Five days later, Pirlo was sacked. 

Despite his lack of experience, Pirlo was hired as manager and was sacked after a mixed term


It has been quite the career in the dugout for coaching veteran Carlo Ancelotti. Now the Real Madrid manager, he is one of world football’s greatest success stories, and he enjoyed a glittering time at AC Milan on both sides of the touchline.

There, he was part of one of the best ever sides of all time at the end of his career between 1987 and 1992. He won two league titles and two European Cups, and this taste of victory has spurred him on to target success in his other jobs.

Ancelotti began his managerial career with Reggiana and Parma, another former club, but endured a rocky spell at Juventus. Sacked after two years without a trophy, AC Milan opted to then hire their former player to transform their fortunes.

Carlo Ancelotti won two European Cups and two league titles during his time as a Milan player

He proved himself capable of adapting his tactics to bring the best out of his players. Pirlo was transformed into a deeper playmaker, while forwards Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi formed a formidable strike partnership up front.

With all the jigsaw pieces in place, Ancelotti and Milan won the Champions League twice, in 2003 and 2007, and also reached the final in 2005. There, they were made to suffer heartbreak on penalties against Liverpool, despite leading three nil. 

Bizarrely, Milan were able to win Serie A just once, in 2004, with the top-flight title proving elusive despite Ancelotti also helping Kaka to blossom into a brilliant player. In May 2009, the now 62-year-old submitted his resignation and stepped down.

While their coach, he extracted the best from his stars and won the Champions League twice


It was quite the first job for Zinedine Zidane in coaching. Despite holding no past experience in management, he was appointed as the manager at Real Madrid, and tasked with helping them to become the winning machine they once were.

He played for the club between 2001 and 2006 after signing for a world record fee which stood for eight years, and won the Champions League in 2002 after scoring a jaw-dropping goal against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park. 

However, when he took charge in 2016, he stepped into a vastly different world. Zidane had managed the club’s B team for the past two years, but the speed at which he brought about success surprised everybody at the Bernabeu. 

Zinedine Zidane remains an all-time football great and enjoyed great success with Real Madrid

Stepping in to replace Rafa Benitez in the middle of the campaign after his sacking, Zidane took Madrid to Champions League glory. To top it all off, he then won the competition twice more, earning a truly unprecedented hat-trick. 

Soon after, the all-time legend resigned, but was tempted back for a second spell. Building on the top-flight title from his first full season at the helm, Zidane won LaLiga once again in the 2019-20 campaign, as well as the Supercopa de Espana. 

The curtain came down for the second time in his coaching career at the club after he, again, resigned from his role. Off the back of a trophyless term and failure to win LaLiga on the final day, Madrid said they would ‘respect’ his decision.

Across two spells in charge, Zidane won the Champions League three times before resigning


Liverpool were mired in crisis when Kenny Dalglish quit as manger of the champions in early 1991, and it took them the best part of three decades to wrestle back their glory days. Graeme Souness, a club legend, fell victim during this period.

Souness was a former team-mate of Dalglish, and was hired to help correct the situation at the end of the 1990-91 season. During his playing days, his combative style in midfield helped the club win five league titles and three European Cups.

His three years spent in the dugout were more disappointing, though. They won the FA Cup in 1992, but Souness failed to transform his charges into title contenders and they finished in sixth. From there, their fortunes never improved.

Graeme Souness won five league titles and three European Cups during his time at Liverpool

Ian Rush, John Barnes and Steve McMahon found themselves at the rear end of their careers, and even the progression of talented prodigies Steve McManaman and Jamie Redknapp wasn’t enough to help Liverpool push for trophies.

The first year of the Premier League saw the club experienced the same pain and disappointment as the previous campaign, and patience among supporters eventually snapped. In the 1993-94 season, a winter collapse spelled the end.

A defeat at the hands of Bristol City in the FA Cup third round proved to be Souness’ final game in charge. The setback at Anfield triggered him to submit his resignation. 

Souness fell victim to the club’s trophyless spell, and stepped down after an FA Cup defeat


The late, great Johan Cruyff may very well be the most influential figure in the history of football. He was the architect, after all, of ‘Total Football’, and revolutionised a truly stunning style of play which future managers have adopted and adapted.

He moved to Barcelona in 1973 and spearheaded the charge to their first LaLiga title in 14 years. He later created the ‘Dream Team’ which won the their maiden European Cup in 1992, and Pep Guardiola, one of his players, continued his traditions. 

In total, Cruyff clinched four league trophies at the helm, and it is doubtful that the club – and Guardiola – would have achieved their current success without him paving the way. In short, he is one of the best ever managers to grace the sport. 

Johan Cruyff is one of the sport’s most influential figures and dazzled in his Barcelona stint

He was the man responsible for introducing rondos in training, and also demanded changes be made to Barcelona’s La Masia academy. An emphasis was placed on producing talented players with access to an impressive education. 

With 11 cups to his name, Cruyff was the most successful manager in the club’s history for a spell, bit was later surpassed by Guardiola. He was also the longest-serving boss at the Nou Camp, having been in charge for eight years.

However, in his final two seasons, he failed to win any trophies and also fell out with chairman Josep Lluis Nunez. Eventually, he was sacked from his position. 

The architect of ‘Total Football’, Cruyff (L) laid out the traditions several coaches have followed

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