The last week in football has seen the return of two managers to their previous stamping grounds. The first came as Liverpool parted company with Roy Hodgson after less than six months in the job, and replaced him with “King” Kenny Dalglish, under whom Liverpool won three league titles over 15 years ago.
The second was a return after just 14 months of Darren Ferguson to Peterborough United following his sacking by Preston North End nearly two weeks ago. Under Ferguson Peterborough went through the most successful spell in their history as the son of Sir Alex guided the midlands club from League Two to the Championship.
In both these examples there are two correlating factors. Firstly both clubs were, arguably, at their peak under their now returning managers; and secondly, in both instances the club did not sack the manager. In Dalglish’s case the Scot resigned from his post at the Anfield club, while Ferguson parted with company with Chairman Darragh MacAnthony via mutual consent so as to take the Preston job in November 2009.
It is highly unlikely that a club would re-hire a manager they had previously sacked or had parted company on less than friendly terms with. But this brings about the question, is it ever a good move to bring back the man under whom your club achieved its greatest feats? A prime example of this was seen as Paul Ince returned to MK Dons following his sacking by Blackburn Rovers midway through the 2008/9 season. Under Ince the club gained promotion to League One and won the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. However he was unable to rekindle the kind of performances the club had achieved under his first spell in charge and left in the summer of 2010.
It should be noted that both Liverpool and Peterborough have sunk below the heights at which they were at when Dalglish and Ferguson roamed the corridors of their respective clubs, but this is not to say that they will have the ability, wherewithal, or the correct players at their disposal to achieve what they previously did.
We need only look at the current Liverpool side to see that few of them would have been players that “King Kenny” would have chosen if he had the choice. Such examples of this include Paul Konchesky at left-back, Lucas in midfield, and David Ngog up front.
It is often said that you should never go back, and although this something often bounded around it seemed to have little effect on Ferguson as he made his decision stating that “People say you never go back, I don’t believe in that.” Although he may have good reason to hold this opinion, as much like his father, Ferguson has an air of confidence and self-belief about him at all times, it is not because these managers do not have the ability. After all, who is in better knowledge of their qualities than their previous clubs and chairmen?
The real reason that a manager should never return to their previous club is that far too often the decision is based on a romantic idea or memory of their time in charge, and not in fact based on a sound footballing decision. This was all too obvious in Dalglish’s case when he was asked, following his sides loss to Manchester United in the FA Cup, how it felt to be back, his face lit up, his eyes were gleaming, and he responded simply with “Brilliant.”
Furthermore, those chairman that know of their managers ability’s expect a far quicker transformation than they did under the managers first spell in charge, and often this bar is pushed too high too soon due to due to unrealistic expectations.
Therefore, it seems that managers return due to fond memories of previous success, while chairman hire them due to the expectation of once again great outcomes; and when neither of these wishes are fulfilled, it can be a lonely place for a once great figure at a club, now finding themselves ridiculed or ignored all together by those who once sang their name from the terraces.
However, if there were ever two footballing names that are likely to succeed where others have before failed, they are likely to be Dalglish and Ferguson