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Never Go Back? Successes And Failures Of Returning Managers

Olly takes a look back at whether managers returning to their former clubs endure success or failure in their second spell.

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With Reading announcing Brian McDermott as their new manager, some fans are questioning whether he should have returned to the club whom he took charge of between December 2009 and March 2013. During that time, he guided the Royals to a play-off final, the Championship title and two FA Cup Quarter-Finals.

Looking back through history, bosses returning to former clubs have had mixed results. Here are the pick of the successes and failures…


Eddie Howe – AFC Bournemouth

At 31 years old, Eddie Howe was appointed manager of Bournemouth (a team he used to play for) in January 2009 and overturned a 17 point deficit to save the club from relegation out of the Football League that season. It was the start of a major success story on the South Coast, as the following season, Howe got the Cherries promoted despite the club being under a transfer embargo.

His side continued to impress in League One, and eventually Championship side Burnley came knocking in January 2011 and Howe left for Turf Moor. But after guiding the Clarets to eighth and 13th placed finishes, he departed due to "personal reasons" in October 2012. Bournemouth quickly snapped him back up, and Howe picked up where he left off, taking the club to the second division that campaign. They found their feet in the Championship in 2013-14, finishing 10th, before winning the league last season to go up to the top flight for the first time in their history. In April, Howe was named as the Football League Manager of the Decade, and it’s safe to say he is worshipped at Dean Court.

In his press conference, Brian McDermott said that he spoke to Eddie Howe about going back to his old club.

Jose Mourinho – Chelsea

He might not be showing it at the moment, but Jose Mourinho is one of the best managers in world football, and he’s found success at every club he has taken charge of, including twice at Chelsea. Mourinho was first appointed by the West London club in June 2004 after winning the Champions League with Porto, calling himself ‘the Special One’ upon his arrival at Stamford Bridge. In three years at the club, he led the Blues to their first league title in 50 years and then won it again the following campaign, whilst he also lifted the FA Cup, Community Shield and League Cup (twice).

The Portuguese boss unexpectedly left in September 2007 despite being the club’s most successful ever manager, never losing at home in the league. But after spells in charge of Inter Milan and then Real Madrid, the love affair began again as he was re-appointed Chelsea boss in June 2013. Mourinho didn’t win any trophies in his first campaign, but last season the Blues stormed to the Premier League title and also lifted the League Cup. A terrible start to this campaign earned him the sack earlier this week, but will we see him return to Stamford Bridge for a third spell in the future?

Tony Pulis – Stoke City

Following two years out of management, Tony Pulis was appointed manager of Stoke City in November 2002, and survived a Championship relegation battle in his first season in charge, a feat he regards as one of his best achievements in management. Despite then guiding the Potters to 11th and 12th place in the following two campaigns, a disagreement with the club’s Icelandic owners in the summer of 2005 led to his sacking.

But he was back at the Britannia Stadium just a year later, with new owner Peter Coates clearly disapproving of the decision made the summer before by his predecessor. After just missing out on the play-offs in 2006-07, Pulis led Stoke to promotion to the Premier League on the final day of 2007-08 meaning that they would play top flight football for the first time in 23 years. Thanks to the Welshman, they are now an established Premier League team, and a model that many other promoted teams have tried to base themselves on. On top of that, Pulis and Stoke reached the FA Cup final in 2011.


Kevin Keegan – Newcastle United

In his first role in management, Kevin Keegan was given the top job at Newcastle United in 1992, a club who he had featured for as a player in the mid-80s. With the Magpies languishing in the second tier, he earned promotion in his second season, and then guided them to third in the Premier League the following campaign. This meant that European football would be played on Tyneside for the first time since the 1970s, but the good times didn’t end there. Keegan, or ‘King Kev’ as he was by then known, would go on to lead Newcastle to second place in the top flight in 1996 before resigning January 1997.

Nine years later, he returned to St. James’ Park, much to the delight of the Toon faithful. But he failed to win any of his first eight games back in charge before taking the club to a 12th place finish in 2008-09. But tensions had begun to rise between Keegan and the club’s infamous owner Mike Ashley, and on 1st September 2009, he was reportedly sacked by Newcastle, although he claimed he resigned on the same day. After a tribunal case, Keegan was awarded £2 million as a result of unfair treatment by the club. The 64 year old has not had a managerial role since, and claims he would consider another return to Newcastle, but only if Mike Ashley left the club.

Kenny Dalglish - Liverpool

A Kop legend in his time as a player at Liverpool, Kenny Dalglish’s hero status on Merseyside continued with a successful spell as manager of the club between 1985 and 1991. During that time, he won 11 trophies, including two FA Cups and three league titles – including the most recent time the Reds won England’s top division. He resigned on health grounds when Liverpool were three points clear at the top of table in February 1991, whilst his win percentage at the club is only bettered by the legendary Bob Paisley.

Liverpool had suffered a severe fall from grace when ‘King Kenny’ was re-appointed in January 2011, and it’s fair to say that the Scot himself too wasn’t as successful second time around. He may have won the League Cup in 2012, but the rest of his time at the club doesn’t make for good reading, as he failed to get them back in the Champions League, whilst in 2011-12, the Reds finished in eighth – their worst league performance since 1994 which led to Dalglish’s sacking.

Billy Davies - Nottingham Forest

A manager not to have another job between his two stints at a club was Billy Davies at Nottingham Forest, whose first spell at the City Ground began in on New Year's’ Day 2009. In three years at the club, he survived a relegation scrap before guiding them to third and then sixth – going on an 18 match unbeaten run and picking up three Championship manager of the month awards along the way. Unfortunately, failure to earn promotion got ‘King Billy’ (there’s a recurring theme here) sacked in the summer of 2011.

After being out of work for 20 months, the Scot returned, with Nottingham Forest now under new ownership. However, he was to last just over year, and ruined his reputation in the East Midlands by sacking long-serving club staff without explanation, shouting at a photographer taking photos for the club's match day programme after a game at Millwall and banning journalists issuing a "near media blackout". It was a fall from grace for Davies, who also oversaw an eight game winless run and a 5-0 loss to rivals Derby County.

Have you got any other examples of managers coming back to an old club and it being a storming success or dramatic failure? What will happen with McDermott at Reading? Comment below.