Last time out I looked at the old adage that you should never attempt to go back in life. That holds true whether we are talking about recapturing the past by returning to a job or company, a former love, a lapsed religion, a town or city we used to live in, a vacation spot or any other point or place in time that holds fond memories for us.
Things are seldom, if ever, the same the second time around and the same goes for football. We looked at footballers who returned for second spells as clubs with limited success and so this time out I thought we could have a look at the natural next step and study some managers who have succumbed to the call of a former love.
The manager who most readily springs to mind when considering ill-advised sentimental returns is, of course, Howard Kendall.
Kendall, who sadly died in 2015, found most managerial success in his career at his beloved Everton where he initially managed from 1981 to 1987. After a sticky start, the trophies piled up between 1984 and 1987 with two league championships, an FA Cup and a European Cup Winners’ Cup secured in that time span as Everton finally emerged from Liverpool’s shadow. Runners-up spots in another title race, two more FA Cups and a League Cup were also achieved.
Then, in 1987, Kendall left Everton and moved first to Atletico Bilbao in Spain and then to Manchester City. He was reasonably successful at both places, but his heart was evidently still very much at Goodison Park as when he signed his contract at Manchester City, he had two clauses inserted. One read that he could leave City if he were ever offered the England job, while the other clause allowed him to return to Everton if the chance ever arose.
In the autumn of 1990, Everton sacked Kendall’s successor at Everton, Colin Harvey, who had also served as Kendall’s number two during his own spell in charge as well as sharing the midfield with him as a player.
Kendall was approached about a possible return and had no hesitation in accepting. It turned out to be a massive mistake and Kendall’s career arguably never really recovered. Three years of mid-table irrelevance followed before Kendall again quit, this time due to a dispute with the Everton board over finances and an attempt to sign Dion Dublin.
Once again Kendall attempted to pick up the pieces elsewhere, and after difficult spells in Greece and at Notts County, he found his feet at Sheffield United and took them from the depths of the First Division relegation zone to the brink of the Premier League. After defeat in the play-off final in 1997, Kendall then made the decision to once more move back to Goodison.
If his first return was ill-advised, his second was disastrous and the 1997-98 season was spent battling relegation with safety only being secured on the last day of the season and this time Kendall left by ‘mutual consent’. It was an ignominious end to Kendall’s association with a club that dated back some thirty years.
Perhaps the biggest rival to Kendall in the stakes of disastrous returns is his old Merseyside sparring rival, Sir Kenny Dalglish.
Being an avid Liverpool fan, I’ve written often about Sir Ken and his achievements both on the field and in the dugout, along with my thoughts on the man himself and the leaving of Liverpool in 1991.
Following five years of near-uninterrupted success as a manager, Dalglish suddenly quit as Liverpool manager in February 1991 with the side reigning league champions, top of the table and still in the FA Cup. That he decided to step down was a surprise, to say the least, but the pressure of management at the very top level along with the stresses and strains of Hillsborough less than two years earlier had proven too much to bear, at least temporarily.
Like Kendall, Dalglish never forgot his spiritual home wherever he was or happened to be working, and similarly, he hankered for a return. While Kendall was able to slip his posterior back into the Goodison hot-seat a mere three years or so after departing it, Dalglish had to wait within a month of twenty years to do the same.
Despite several rumours of a second coming over the years, Dalglish was not reappointed Liverpool manager until January 2011 when Liverpool called time on Roy Hodgson’s four-month tenure.
As with Kendall, there was to be no real return to the glory days once back in situ. This was despite the early signs looking good with Dalglish steadying the ship after a period of turmoil. In Dalglish’s one full season back in charge, Liverpool did win the League Cup and reach the FA Cup final, as well as briefly challenge for a top-four finish, but it wasn’t enough to save Dalglish from the chop.
Those who said Dalglish had been away from the front line of management for too long were ultimately proved right as Dalglish and Liverpool seemed to struggle to adapt to each other the second time around. Nevertheless, when the end came, it was a sad sight to see a true Liverpool legend being shown the door.
There have been other managers who have attempted to roll back the years, and some have actually been successful.
Perhaps the best example here is the case of Walter Smith at Glasgow Rangers. Originally hired as Graeme Souness’s assistant in 1986, Smith took over the number one role when Souness defected to Liverpool in 1991.
Winning six league titles in a row from 1992 onwards, Smith wrote himself into Ibrox folklore. Although European success proved elusive, smith proved to be more than successful in his first spell in charge of the club.
In 1998, he left and then spent just under four years at Everton where things didn’t go so well and he was dismissed in March 2002 with the club embroiled in a relegation fight it eventually won under David Moyes.
A short spell at Manchester United as Sir Alex Ferguson’s temporary assistant followed before Smith was appointed Scotland manager in late 2004. Some notable good results against countries such as France and Italy saw Smith improve Scotland’s ranking by over 70 places, but in early 2007 he was approached by Rangers once again.
Although the SFA were far from keen to lose him, his mind was made up and a further three league titles were secured in the next four full seasons before Smith finally retired.
When Smith left the Scotland post in 2007, he was replaced by Alex McLeish. Incidentally, McLeish had also served time as one of Walter’s successor’s at Rangers and would go onto have two spells in charge of the national side.
It is fair to say that his first spell was a reasonable success, as he continued the good work started by Smith and took Scotland to within a narrow, last-minute defeat by Italy of qualifying for Euro 2008.
After moving back into club management, the opportunity arose for McLeish to once more take over as Scotland manager in 2018. Despite helping Scotland to win their UEFA United Nations League group in 2018-19, he was sacked in April 2019.
Some other notable returnees over the years have included Ron Atkinson, Terry Venables, Malcolm Allison, and, of course, a certain Jose Mourinho.
Atkinson returned to both West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield Wednesday during the course of his career. The first time around, he left both clubs under his own steam and under a slight cloud as he quit to take over at bigger clubs – Manchester United and Aston Villa, respectively.
Nevertheless, he was welcomed back into his former lairs and although he was once again to walk out of Albion – this time in order to manage Atletico Madrid – he was amazed to find himself out of a job when Sheffield Wednesday elected to bring his second spell at Hillsborough to an end.
Terry Venables did a fantastic job at Selhurst Park as manager of Crystal Palace from 1976 to 1980, taking them from the Third Division to the top of the First – albeit briefly – in September 1979. Dubbed ‘The Team of the Eighties’, things didn’t quite work out that way for Palace and Venables left for Queens Park Rangers in October 1980. Almost two decades later, Venables returned to Selhurst Park for a short spell that was both ill-advised and ill-fated. Venables lasted just less than a year before leaving the club in acrimonious circumstances in early 1999.
The man he succeeded as Palace manager the first time, Malcolm Allison, famously had made his name at Manchester City in the late sixties and early seventies and as the decade drew a close he found himself back in the Maine Road hot seat.
Whilst Allison’s first spell at the club was spent working alongside Joe Mercer and had been trophy-laden, his second tenure was pretty risible. Barely a year after taking over as manager, Allison ushered out of the door with the club in the relegation zone.
As for Jose… ah, well, that’s a whole different kettle of fish for another day.