Sunday, 21 Jul 2024

What Is a Player-Manager in Soccer?

Ryan Giggs

Being a soccer manager is a challenging job. Managers are always held responsible for the team’s performance, while players enjoy the glory. But what happens when a player has to retire due to age or injury? This is where the concept of a player-manager comes into play.

The Best of Both Worlds

A player-manager in soccer gets to do both jobs simultaneously. They have the opportunity to pick the team, train alongside their teammates, play and coach during matches, and have the best of both worlds. While fabled player-managers are rare these days, it’s still interesting to delve into what they actually do.

At first glance, it seems like the perfect job. The player-manager can choose when to play, substitute themselves in when the team is winning, and stay off the field when they aren’t. They have both the responsibility and the glory. However, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

Why Become a Player-Manager?

No player ever aspires to become a player-manager when they wake up in the morning for training. It usually happens when a manager is under pressure and facing the threat of being sacked. A seasoned player with coaching experience and a bit left in the tank steps in to help the underperforming team.

These players often obtain coaching badges in preparation for their eventual transition into coaching roles. But when a bad loss occurs, and the club chairman is faced with dissatisfaction from fans, a knee-jerk reaction follows. The manager is let go, and the aging player with zero management experience is given the temporary role of player-manager.

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The Challenges of Dual Roles

Player-Manager Pep

The problems arise when the new player-manager has to juggle both roles. Balancing training with the running of the club becomes a challenge. While their teammates initially like and respect them, the dynamics change when the player-manager has to make tough decisions regarding team selection.

It can be lonely at the top, especially when the player-manager is also picking themselves for the team every week. The players might start resenting the player-manager, and the fans may doubt their decision-making abilities on the pitch. The chairman might even be secretly looking for a replacement manager.

The player-manager can’t seem to do anything right. If they play themselves, they’re accused of favoritism. If they don’t, there’s concern about losing the experience of a seasoned player. It’s a delicate balance that often leads to strained relationships within the team.

The Viability of Player-Managers

A player-manager should always be seen as an interim solution to a problem. Managing a team involves making numerous decisions that can upset, alienate, or please players. A manager cannot afford to have personal friendships within the team, and a player who previously sat on the bench with their teammates isn’t equipped to make tough decisions.

In the short term, a player-manager can provide a boost to the team. The players may rally around their former colleague, and there’s often an initial surge in performance. However, as the season progresses, the club might decide whether to offer the player-manager position permanently or search for a new manager.

Player-managers rarely maintain both roles for more than a season. Some are even unable to handle the responsibilities for more than a few games. The last player-manager in the English Premier League was Gianluca Vialli, back in 1999 when he took over for sacked Dutch manager Ruud Gullit. This further supports the notion that player and manager roles simply cannot be effectively combined.

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Examples of Player-Managers

Soccer Coach

Player-managers have become less common due to the financial complexities of modern soccer. In the past, it was not uncommon for players to temporarily take on the role of player-manager before transitioning to full-time management.

  • Ryan Giggs – Manchester United: Giggs served as a player-coach at Manchester United before temporarily taking over as player-manager. However, he quickly stepped down when a new manager was appointed, as managing such a complex club proved too demanding for both roles.

  • Ruud Gullit – Chelsea FC: Gullit became player-manager at Chelsea in 1996 after the previous manager left. Despite his reputation as a superb player and later a successful manager, combining both roles proved to be challenging, and he was eventually sacked.

  • Gianluca Vialli – Chelsea FC: Vialli replaced Gullit as player-manager at Chelsea. Like his predecessor, Vialli struggled to balance both roles effectively and lasted less than three seasons in charge.

  • Kenny Dalglish – Liverpool FC: Dalglish, known as “King Kenny” at Anfield, was one of the most successful player-managers in history. He led Liverpool to multiple league titles, FA Cups, and a League Cup as a player-manager. However, such success is unlikely to be replicated today, as soccer has evolved into a more complex and high-pressure environment.


Q: How common are player-managers in modern soccer?

Player-managers have become increasingly rare in modern soccer due to the complexities of managing a team while also playing. Clubs now prefer to hire separate individuals for these roles.

Q: Can player-managers achieve long-term success?

While player-managers can provide short-term boosts to a team, achieving long-term success in both roles is highly unlikely. The demands of managing a team and making tough decisions often clash with the desire to play as a professional. Ultimately, clubs tend to seek dedicated managers to lead their teams.

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Q: Who was the most successful player-manager?

Kenny Dalglish is regarded as one of the most successful player-managers in soccer history. He led Liverpool to multiple titles during his tenure as both a player and a manager.


The role of a player-manager in soccer is a unique and challenging one. While it may seem appealing to have the best of both worlds, the reality is that successfully balancing playing and coaching responsibilities is a rarity. As the sport has evolved, clubs now prefer separate individuals for these crucial roles, ensuring a clear focus on management and coaching without compromising the team’s dynamics.