Failing In Sir Alex Ferguson's Footsteps: The Manchester United greats who have struggled as managers

Matthew Crist by Matthew Crist / 21 November 2018, 13:15

Sir Alex Ferguson is one of the most successful football managers in the history of the game and during his 27-year reign at Manchester United brought unparalleled levels of success to the club.

So, why have so many of those who played under him struggled to emulate a mere fraction of his achievements?

Of course, when you’ve won 38 trophies, including 13 league titles, two European Cups and five FA Cups it’s perhaps unfair to compare the achievements of others against such an exceptional record.

Even so, with so much of United’s past glory based around the likes of Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce, Roy Keane, and Mark Hughes it’s somewhat surprising that none of these have gone on to enjoy a decent level of top-flight success let alone lift a major trophy in their time as managers.

When Jaap Stam was appointed Reading manager in the summer of 2016 he became the 31st former Sir Alex Ferguson player to venture into professional management, both at club and international level, no doubt inspired by having worked under the Scotsman; but for many, their accomplishments can be described as average at best.

By far the busiest of Fergie’s former employees has been Steve Bruce who has notched-up well over 850 games in charge of eight clubs since retiring from playing in 1999, including Birmingham, Wigan and Sheffield United but after leaving Aston Villa earlier this year had a win percentage of just 38%.

Another one of Fergie’s favourite sons is current Southampton boss Mark Hughes who, despite being one of the most fearsome characters in his playing days, has struggled to make a name for himself as a top-flight boss.

Having left Old Trafford as a player in 1995 Hughes has managed six clubs as well as the Welsh national side, racking up well over 600 games but boasts a win percentage of just 37.6% and now finds himself one of the favourites to be the next Premier League managerial casualty.

Then there’s “Captain Marvel” himself, Bryan Robson, who played 345 games for United in a career which saw him win two league titles and three FA Cups, not to mention the European Cup Winners’ Cup, but after hanging up his boots and going into management he struggled to emulate such success.

Robson managed 468 games with four league clubs, not to mention the Thailand national side, and despite playing under United’s greatest manager ever for so many years has a win ration which stands at just 36%.

Meanwhile, fellow United maestro Roy Keane has also failed to replicate his onfield reputation in the dugout and despite his earning a role as Martin O'Neill's number two with the Republic of Ireland, somewhat suspect spells at Ipswich and Sunderland have seen him with only a slightly better win rate of 38.7% at club level.

Of course not all of these former players have managed at the very best clubs in the land with the resources, riches and reputation enjoyed by the likes of Manchester United and only 10 of the 31 players who have graduated to become managers have taken charge of English top-flight clubs.

But when it comes to those former Reds who have fared the best in management the majority are from overseas and players who arrived in English football during the 1990s and 2000s; with the exception of Gordon Strachan, who won 82 of his 272 games as a Premier League manager and whose league and cup success at Celtic gives him a win ratio of 42%.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær enjoyed a terrific initial spell at Molde before a short-lived stint at Cardiff appeared to stall what appeared to be a promising career in management, while Henning Berg has a 45% win percentage after spells with Legia Warsaw and Videoton among others.

However, by far the most successful is former French defender Laurent Blanc who has a proud win percentage of 66% during his spells with Bordeaux, Paris Saint-Germain, and France, along with a league and cup double with Bordeaux and his three glorious years at Paris Saint-Germain set him apart from the rest.

Indeed, along with Strachan, Blanc is one of only two former United players to win a major trophy – if you exclude Paul Ince and Darren Ferguson’s Football League Trophy wins – while his 66% win percentage even eclipses that of Alex Ferguson himself who ended his career with a 58% win rate.

And while the sheer number of former United players following him into management speaks volumes about Sir Alex Ferguson as a leader and man motivator, it is probably fair to say that their successes have been relatively thin on the ground.

In terms of longevity, win percentage, and trophies won, there are only really a handful of players who have achieved successful careers and with respect to the likes of Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce and Gordon Strachan, the only former player whose record would suggest he had a genuine chance of staking a claim as a future United boss would be Laurent Blanc.

His impressive numbers, in terms of both win ratio and trophies in the cabinet, as well as being able to live up to the expectations and demands of a such a huge club as PSG, which is expected to deliver time-after-time, surely make him the most successful?

So barring something of a resurgence from the likes of Gary Neville, who found out the hard way how difficult club management can be at Valencia, or Ryan Giggs - whose two wins from four as interim United boss gives him a 50% Premier League win ratio - it appears the apprentices are still some way behind the master which they served under.

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