Football Manager Pointing at Drawn Tactics

How Do You Become a Football Manager?

For many people, becoming a football manager is something of a dream job. It provides an opportunity to play a hugely pivotal part in the success of a team, without having to be any good at actually kicking the ball. It may be a challenging and stressful occupation but for those that are interested in such a route, the negatives are outweighed by all the potential joy and success it can bring.

There are a few different routes into management unlike other roles in football, such as refereeing, where you have to start low down and gradually work your way up. Football management is quite a unique position in this sense as you do, quite often, find individuals with next to no experience handed jobs at a relatively high level. This is something you would struggle to find any examples of across most industries.

Here are the main routes into management, and as you will see, most (but not all) of them require prior experience as a professional footballer.

The Big Name Into Good Job Route

Modern 3D Football Stadium

It is extremely difficult to immediately land a well-paying management job if you have not enjoyed an extremely good career as a player. Good players who are keen on a management role end up with a lot of clout and club owners are regularly willing to take a punt on them. There appears to be some thinking that some of a player’s footballing ability will at least partly transfer over to a management position.

You can perhaps understand some of the thinking behind it too. Top players will have played on some of the biggest occasions with some world-renowned managers so they will have plenty of knowledge to pass on. Additionally, such players are likely to command a great deal of respect and may even be admired by the players now under their leadership. Being a good manager requires more than this of course but it is still a decent start. They will also have shown an ability to handle a great amount of pressure, which transfers well to the role of manager.

Recent examples of players benefitting from this kind of approach include Steve Gerrard, who bagged the Rangers post (Scottish Premiership) for his first senior management gig, while fellow ex-England star Frank Lampard went to the English Championship to take charge of Derby. It is not just a British thing either, Roberto Mancini secured the Fiorentina job in the same year he hung up his playing boots and famously, Johan Cruyff returned to Ajax to fill the vacant management position at his former club.

In other cases, you have former players handed high-profile jobs having only some assistance management experience under their belt. Gary Neville’s quite bizarre appointment by Valencia is one example while Thierry Henry’s disastrous spell at Monaco is another. You also have Gianfranco Zola who, after a fairly brief stint as assistant manager for Italy U21, moved back to England to take up the hot seat at West Ham.

In all instances, every player mentioned above won numerous international caps and numerous trophies. A big name goes a long way in football so it is possible to secure a top-tier or second-tier job with no full management experience whatsoever. A little bit of work as an assistant or youth team coach can help but even this is far from essential. In 2009, Alan Shearer was once given the daunting task of keeping Newcastle up when deep in a relegation battle despite zero experience whatsoever! Those eight matches still represent his only foray into the world of management.

The Big Name Into Modest Job Route

Blue and White Empty Stadium Seats

Not all great players are luckily enough to land a top management job shortly after their playing days are over. Although there are plenty of examples of this, there are also some instances of players getting less illustrious jobs to kick-start their managerial careers. Take Paul Ince for example, capped 53 times for England, his first managerial job was at Macclesfield Town when the club was bottom of League Two. Incidentally, this is the same club where two-time Premier League winner Sol Campbell started off.

You also have Ole Gunnar Solskjaer whose first proper job in charge saw him head to the Norwegian league, where he was manager of Molde, a former team of his. Perhaps the best example, however, comes courtesy of none other than the iconic Edgar Davids. The former Ajax, Milan and Juventus midfielder, capped 74 times by the Netherlands, ended up managing Barnet between 2012 and 2014 during a player-manager stint. It almost goes without saying that is an extremely rare sight to see a player of his calibre in the dugout for a fifth-tier fixture.

Decent Playing Career Into Modest Job Route

Football Net and Post

Unless a player had performed at an extremely high level, they have virtually no chance at all of being appointed by a big team straight away. You would not find a top Premier League club, for example, take a punt on a player who had spent much of his career playing League One football, it just would not happen. Players that have enjoyed a decent, but not outstanding playing career, can usually land a job at a similar level to that at which they played, quite often at a former club.

If you take a look at many of the managers currently active in the likes of League One, League Two and the National League, you will find many spent years in such leagues as a player. In all cases their playing career has been pivotal in them getting a first managerial job at a good but not especially high level. It saves them having to work their way up from further down the ladder though like some others have to do.

The Successful Caretaker Stint

Temporary or Permanent Road SignIn some cases, individuals make the most of the demise of a former colleague to make a name for themselves in management. When a club opts to sack their manager due to a string of poor results, they do not always have someone else lined up to take over immediately. This produces the need for a stand-in, otherwise known as a caretaker boss, just to take control while the search for a permanent successor gets underway.

Clubs will not usually bank on the caretaker doing an excellent job, but if they do, they can find themselves handed a job on a permanent basis. Tim Sherwood at Tottenham is one example of this as he stepped into the Spurs hot seat following the departure of Andre Villas-Boas. A quick upturn in performance saw the former Technical Director handed his first permanent managerial gig, an 18-month contract.

Similarly, caretaker boss Chris Hughton was handed the top job at Newcastle following a good start during what turned out to be a promotion-securing season for the Magpies. Prior to this Hughton was working as the assistant manager and this tends to be the position most often first offered any caretaker role. Much like Sherwood though, it was not too long before Hughton was eventually shown the door.

In the case of Ricky Sbragia, the former York City player had managed Manchester United reserves but was simply a coach at Sunderland when Roy Keane was sacked. He accepted the management position on a temporary basis but it was made permanent very soon after. He managed to keep the Black Cats up by a solitary point but decided that management was not for him (who can blame him after such a stressful season). Subsequently, he took up a role as chief scout and has not managed again since.

The Hard Graft Route

Football Training Cones

If you have not enjoyed a career as a professional footballer, then management is still a possibility but you must be prepared to work extremely hard for it. There are several instances of top managers that did not play at a decent level but have been patient, worked hard and have made the most of the positions they have been in. Examples of such managers include Bruno Lage who had 10 positions either in charge of youth teams or as an assistant manager before taking charge of Benfica B (and then Benfica).

Thomas Frank is another fascinating example as he only ever played football at an amateur level with his first coaching role seeing him in charge of the under-8s team at Frederiksvaerk BK. He was later promoted to the under-12s team and after several other stints at youth level in Denmark, he bagged the job in charge of the Danish U16 squad. Having moved up from the U16s to U17s then U19s he then secured the top job at Brondby IF. He started this role 15 years after beginning his career in management.

Having Right Contacts

Man In Suit Pressing Contacts Icons

Like with many other jobs, knowing the right people at the right time can help you get started. This is how Rod Hodgson landed his first managerial job at Halmstads BK, as he was recommended by then Malmo manager Bob Houghton. The reason Houghton recommended the former non-league footballer was because the pair worked together at Maidstone United. You also have the Special One, Jose Mourinho, who only got to work with Bobby Robson at Sporting CP because he needed an English-speaking local coach to work as his interpreter.

What Qualification Are Required To Be A Manager?

The answer to this depends on where you want to be managing and at what level. The qualification you may see mentioned most though is the UEFA Pro Licence. This is what any person looking to become a professional manager in Europe will seek to obtain beforehand. It is the highest level of coaching qualification available and it is required for anyone looking to manage a team in the Champions League or Europa League.

The exception to this is a caretaker manager, as they do not need any formal qualifications providing they are not in charge for more than 12 weeks. Beneath a Pro Licence you have the UEFA A Licence, and this enables holders to take charge of youth teams, reserves teams, and second-tier clubs. Below this you have the more easily obtained UEFA B License which qualifies the holder to be an assistant coach for a professional club or take control of a youth team no older than 16 years of age.

Chart That Shows the Hours Required to Complete UEFA Licenses

According to UEFA, there are more than 200,000 UEFA-qualified coaches active across the continent. The lowest accredited qualification involves completing a 60-hour course where individuals learn the very basics of providing a positive development experience.

Although we have focussed on the commonly acquired UEFA qualifications here, note that not all managers will have these. For those working at lower levels in English football, for instance, most just have an FA-accredited qualification instead. These have become increasingly popular in recent years and even back in 2015, it was estimated that 80% of all junior clubs had a qualified coach, up from just 1% in 1998.

How Are Managers Chosen?

Blurred Boardroom Chair and Notepad

We have discussed the various routes into management and the qualifications needed but how does the actual selection process work? For this there is no set answer as different clubs will look for different traits and qualities in their preferred candidate. Some value experience which is why you will find that many managers move from club to club even after some unsuccessful stints. Steve Bruce for example has had managerial spells at 12 clubs (at the time of writing) while Neil Warnock has moved clubs 17 times (including one caretaker role at QPR).

Others will prefer a manager with the correct ‘philosophy’, perhaps someone that likes to play slick, on-the-ground football or one that has a possession-based style. Other boards will be happy to take a risk on a relatively unknown who has performed well in a weaker league. This is how Graham Potter managed to land the Swansea job in 2018. Prior to this, he had been working for seven years in Sweden where he took Ostersunds FK from the fourth division right up to the Europa League. He moved to Brighton after Swansea and then, in 2022, got handed the massive job as manager of Chelsea.

It is really up to the board/club owners to decide although they do not always have complete freedom to choose who they want. Fan perception is one thing a club must consider as they may want to avoid an appointment that upsets a large portion of the fan base. When news broke that Spurs were looking to hire Gennaro Gattuso, the backlash from the fans ultimately scuppered the move. Fan anger did not stop Everton from appointing former Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez in 2021 mind you.