From Goalmouth to Dugout
The transition of goalkeepers into professional management has historically been something of a rarity in football.
Nuno Santos, who is in his fourth season of a very successful spell as boss of Wolves, may represent the pinnacle of the goalkeeper-turned-gaffers in the modern game, but there are a surprising number who have made the move into the managerial hotseat.
This week’s Sparta Spotlight look at some of the others in our line of work have made the foray into management at the elite level, with varying degrees of success.
Acknowledging Nuno Santos segues nicely into our first example in the form of one of his predecessors at Molineux, Walter Zenga.
An Italian international with over fifty caps for his country and sixteen years at Inter Milan, his managerial career has been somewhat more dispersed, even with two decades in the profession.
His first top job was at New England Revolution and has had spells at nineteen different clubs in six different countries since 1998, with his longest spell at a club being just two seasons, directly contrasting his playing days.
After jaunts in Italy, Saudi Arabia and Romania to name a few, Zenga was the surprising choice to take the reins from Kenny Jackett at Wolves in the summer of 2016 and only lasted until the October of the same year.
Four defeats in five in September and October of the 2016/17 season meant Zenga was sent packing with Wolves 18th in the Championship in a short spell even by his standards.
Whilst his former English employers have enjoyed accelerated progression since his departure, Zenga has suffered the sack a further three times, most recently by Cagliari in August of this year.
The route of a goalkeeper into management may be perceived as an unusual one and Nigel Adkins was enjoying his role of physio at Scunthorpe United before an unlikely managerial opportunity presented itself at Glanford Park in 2006.
Adkins was a reliable stopper in the lower echelons of the Football League throughout the 70’s and 80’s, predominantly with Wigan and Tranmere, but it is his managerial exploits will be what he is predominantly remembered for.
After taking Scunthorpe from League Two into the Championship, Adkins dropped down a division to manage Southampton before again taking a club two promotions.
Controversially sacked by the Saints (and replaced by Mauricio Pochettino) after a decent start on their return to the Premier League, the former goalkeeper never enjoyed the same success and was unable to keep Reading in the Premier League in 2013 following his appointment shortly after his Southampton dismissal.
Since then he has had an ill-fated spell at Sheffield United before two years at Hull City, deciding not to renew his contract with the club past its 2019 expiry.
Arguably the best manager in Norwich’s recent history, Mike Walker, the father of fellow goalkeeper Ian, was potentially the inspiration behind Bryan Gunn’s disastrous appointment at the club years later.
Making over 400 appearances for Colchester United, the Welshman started his managerial career at Layer Road in 1986 and was bizarrely sacked with the club at the top of the Fourth Division.
This would be to Norwich’s gain and after taking charge in 1992, Walker led Norwich to 3rd in the inaugural Premier League season, qualifying for European competition for the first time in their history.
It was in the 1993/94 UEFA Cup campaign where he masterminded the famous victory over Bayern Munich in the second round.
However, he left Carrow Road in 1994 after falling out with Chairman Robert Chase and became manager of Everton. Walker did not fare as well as he did in East Anglia and was sacked after ten months in charge.
Walker’s managerial career fizzled out after an unsuccessful second spell at Norwich and one year in charge of APOEL in the 2001/02 season.
The second Italian international on this list, Dino Zoff is rightly held in the highest regard for his playing and managerial exploits.
Zoff was the oldest ever World Cup winner in 1982, as well as winning the inaugural European Championships with Italy in 1968 but he also was a ‘golden goal’ away from winning Euro 2000 as manager of his country.
Notwithstanding his club achievements, he would still be the most successful on this list, winning a cup double with Juventus in his first season as manager, of course following a highly decorated playing career with the Old Lady.
Zoff had three stints as manager of Lazio and was in fact the man who brought Paul Gascoigne to the Italian capital. He has been on record stating that not getting the best out of the maverick Englishman was ‘the biggest regret’ of his career.
His final manager’s job was a caretaker role with Fiorentina at the back end of the 2004/05 season and saved the Florence outfit from Serie A relegation.