No matter how talented your team is, no matter how great the understanding between a bunch of players is and no matter how confident they are, without a good manager, they won’t succeed. Don’t believe us? All we have to do is look at the example of Barcelona.
When Pep Guardiola won trophy after trophy with the Catalans in his four year spell, his critics argued that anyone could win with a team which possessed the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Since Pep left in 2012 however, the Blaugrana only just reached the mountain top this past season - while their immense dominance in La Liga has faded even if slightly.
To put this in context, Barcelona won 14 trophies under Pep in four years while they’ve only gone on to win four trophies in three years at the time of writing since his departure. Likewise, the same applies for national team managers who sometimes take over world class squads and achieve absolutely nothing with them when it matters most.
After all, it’s not like a game of Football Manager where you just set the training routine, starting 11 and tactics for a particular game. You have to be a leader, take the fall when the media picks at your team, instill your philosophy within your team, boost the morale of the camp and oversee the progression of new players or even new squads.
Even if you are a good manager at club level, at the international level, it’s a different ballgame as there aren’t a lot of managers who have succeeded at both levels. Some managers are more cut out for a national team while others succeed more with a domestic club.
Regardless, it is far from an easy job and so, we’re taking a look at 15 of the worst managers to have taken over a national team.
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15 Sebastião Lazaroni
In fairness to Lazaroni, he was coaching the Brazilian national team during the country's dry spell, but Lazaroni abandoned what Brazilian football was supposed to mean. He implemented a defensive system, built around Dunga in midfield. While his record was good, managing Brazil comes with high expectations and he simply didn't meet them. Overall the team lacked creativity, particularly at the 1990 World Cup, where they bowed out to Argentina in the Round of 16.
14 Don Revie
The Leeds legend was named England's manager shortly after Sir Alf Ramsay had failed to lead England to qualification for the 1974 World Cup. Don Revie would prove to be even less successful, as the Three Lions failed to qualify for the 1976 Euros and then the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Revie's tactics with Leeds failed to resonate with England's stars. In 1977 Revie would resign, as problems with the FA proved to be too much for him. He would go on to manage United Arab Emirates.
13 Edmondo Fabbri
If you look at Edmondo Fabbri's overall record, you would wonder why he's on this list. After all, his overall record as Italy's manager was 18 wins, 6 draws and 5 losses, but the manner in which Italy bowed out of the 1966 World Cup is what lands him here. After a 1949 plane crash wiped out the team of Torino, Italy's program was set back, as many of the national team's players were from that Torino team. The program had bounced back by 1966 and they entered the World Cup as favorites. After a 2-0 win over Chile, Italy lost 1-0 to the Soviet Union. What followed was a defeat to a North Korean team comprised of semi-professionals. Italy was out in the group stage and Fabbri was relieved of his duties.
12 Steve Sampson
Steve Sampson was appointed manager of the US team after they had come off a positive performance as the hosts of the 1994 World Cup under Bora Milutinović. Milutinović was fired in 1995, reportedly because he was uninterested in administrative duties. Rather than take a step forward at the 1998 World Cup, Sampson's team was an embarrassment, losing all three of their group games to Germany, Iran and Yugoslavia. Among Sampson's mistakes were cutting captain John Harkes, as well as several other players who had helped the States qualify. Sampson's team was ranked 32nd in the tournament.
11 Graham Taylor
Graham Taylor was once called a turnip by an English newspaper, stemming from the dismal performances of the national team at the 1992 European Championship and then the 1994 World Cup. Taylor is perhaps best remembered for taking Gary Lineker out of a game when Lineker was one goal shy of Sir Bobby Charlton's goal record with over 30 minutes left. The program would hit rock bottom when they failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. A draw against Poland and 2-0 defeat to Norway forced England to play a qualifying playoff in the States. They came up short there, and Taylor soon returned to club management.
10 Raymond Domenech
Okay, this might seem harsh considering he took a France side who weren’t expected to do well to the World Cup final in 2006. However, his spell with Les Bleus since that final in Berlin was absolutely dreadful.
Domenech failed to get the best out of a talented France squad in Euro 2008, crashing out in the group stage but the worst was to come two years later in the form of a World Cup marred by controversy.
On the one hand, certain members of the team were ignoring and refused to pass the ball to Yoann Gourcuff which Domenech failed to rectify. On the other, he criticized Nicolas Anelka’s positioning, who retaliated by abusing the French manager.
This resulted in Anelka being sent home which didn’t end well for Domenech as most of the squad refused to train in protest to Anelka’s expulsion. France eventually finished bottom in their group, ending a torrid time in South Africa.
9 Fabio Capello
One good example of a manager who can do well at club level but not emulate it on the international level, big things were expected of Capello when he took over as England manager in 2008.
After all, his latest exploit at the time was to help Real Madrid win La Liga in 2007, adding to his impressive trophy cabinet which included multiple Serie A titles and a Champions League. However, when it became time for England to perform in the big stage in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup, they played well below expectations.
Struggling in a fairly easy group which included the likes of the USA, Slovenia and Algeria, the Three Lions scraped through to the knockout rounds with just one win and two goals scored in the three group games. Finishing second in the group proved to be their downfall as they ended up facing the red hot Germans who obliterated them 4-1 and once again, end England’s high hopes of a first World Cup since 1966.
His tenure as the manager of Russia has not gotten off to a great start either, as the Russians were knocked out of the group stage in last year's World Cup. We'll see how they fare as hosts in 2018.
8 Marco van Basten
The former Dutch striker was one of the best to grace the game but Van Basten showed that being a good player does not mean you’ll end up being a good manager.
As manager of Holland from 2004-2008, Van Basten’s spell brought very little success or hope for future success. To his credit, he did get his side playing lovely football but it was fairly inconsistent as were their results. Holland finished second in their group in the 2006 World Cup by virtue of goal difference and ended up facing Portugal.
In one of the most notorious World Cup games ever, purely because of the number of bookings (16 yellows and 4 reds), the Dutch were sent home after Maniche struck the winner for the Portuguese. The Dutch manager was particularly criticized for not playing his star striker, Ruud van Nistelrooy and instead, playing Dirk Kuyt who hadn’t scored the whole tournament.
Euro 2008 was a better showing all around as the Dutch stormed by their group which featured the likes of Italy, France and Romania, going goal crazy in the process with nine goals scored. However, they were knocked out in the quarterfinals by Russia 3-1 in extra-time, a result which shocked many and ultimately signaled the end of van Basten’s international career.
7 Diego Maradona
If anyone could guide Argentina to glory, surely it would be the poster boy of the nation, Diego Maradona, right? Well, Argentina under Maradona at one point were in danger of not even qualifying for the 2010 World Cup.
Fortunately for him, they just about made it and avoided utter humiliation with two wins in their last two games which led to Maradona telling the media to shut it. When the 2010 World Cup kicked off, despite some bizarre selections, it looked like Maradona would go even further and prove the media wrong with impressive group stage wins over South Korea, Greece and Nigeria along with a round of 16 win over Mexico.
However, La Albiceleste were expected to beat all those sides comfortably. When they faced the in-form Germans in the quarterfinals, their weaknesses were exposed brutally in an astonishing game which ended 4-0 to Germany. Not even the goalless Lionel Messi could save Maradona who was heavily criticized for not selecting Javier Zanetti and instead choosing to deploy Jonas Gutierrez and Nicolas Otamendi as unnatural right backs.
6 Roberto Donadoni
Taking over from a World Cup winning coach is no easy feat but Donadoni transformed Marcello Lippi’s side and not in a good way either.
It was a shaky start, as the Italian newspaper, La Nazione featured a front page that said "How to reduce Lippi's masterwork to pieces in just three weeks." Donadoni put his doubters to bed temporarily as Italy eventually qualified for Euro 2008 but it was a tournament to forget.
A 3-0 loss to Holland saw Donadoni oversee Italy’s biggest defeat in 25 years while a draw to underdogs Romania put the pressure on the Italian. A scrappy win over a France side with their own problems saw Donadoni’s side set up an encounter with tournament favourites Spain in the quarterfinals which ended goalless with Italy eventually bowing out on penalties.
A disappointing showing from the then-reigning world champions, scoring just three goals in four games saw Donadoni’s contract terminated.
5 Berti Vogts
Like Domenech’s inclusion, this is a harsh one as Vogts won a European Championship with Germany in 1996 but it was all downhill from there.
Failing to take Scotland to Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup, Vogts faced heavy criticism from the Scottish media as under his reign, they fell to a record low 77th place in the FIFA World Rankings.
Things weren’t going to change for the better with Nigeria either as under his reign, the Super Eagles were knocked out of the AFCON in the quarterfinal stage - their worst performance in the tournament since 1982.
To make matters worse, they lost to a Ghana side reduced to 10 men.
4 Giovanni Trapattoni
Like his Italian compatriot Capello, Trapattoni is one of the most successful managers at club level, boasting trophies galore with multiple clubs.
Winning trophies internationally was a different scenario though as Trapattoni took over his national team, Italy from 2000-2004 but failed to make an impact despite having one of the most talented Italian teams of all time.
At the 2002 World Cup, the Azzurri were unceremoniously knocked out by co-hosts South Korea in the round of 16 - one of the most controversial games in history - with Trapattoni accusing FIFA of fixing the game. Even if he might have had a point, Italy weren’t impressive during the course of the tournament with just one win in four games.
Euro 2004 would be more of the same as while Italy were undefeated, they were lacklustre, only scoring three goals in three games and bowing out in the group stage on goal difference. Fortunately for Italian fans, their golden generation wasn’t wasted as they would win the World Cup two years after Trapattoni’s departure.
3 Kevin Keegan
Even though he seemed a popular choice for the England job, there were always doubts surrounding Keegan’s ability even with the success he had at Newcastle.
When Euro 2000 began, it looked like it’d be a great tournament for the Three Lions as they raced to a 2-0 lead after 17 minutes against Portugal. However, a Luis Figo masterclass saw Portugal overturn the game and win 3-2. All hope wasn’t lost as England beat Germany 1-0 the next game but disaster struck against Romania.
After leading 2-1, England ended up losing 3-2, ending their hopes of European glory and seeing them bow out in the group stage. Keegan eventually quit after the tournament with the worst win record of any England manager with just four wins in 11 competitive games.
More than a decade later, Keegan stated the obvious - that the England job never suited him:
"I found it soulless and I didn't enjoy it. Obviously, people look at the results and say they're the worst results ever of an England manager."
2 Steve McClaren
While Kevin Keegan had the worst win record of any England boss, at least he managed to get England qualified for Euro 2000.
Not only did England’s poor results under McClaren put their Euro 2008 fate out of their hands, but they failed to even clinch second place to give them a chance of a playoff qualifier after a 3-2 loss to Croatia which featured some dreadful goalkeeping by Scott Carson.
As a result, England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 which meant McClaren was the first England manager in 24 years to not qualify for a European championship. McClaren was sacked soon after, leaving his short reign with just nine wins in 18 games.
1 Hristo Stoichkov
Probably the best example of a world class player not translating into a world class manager, Stoichkov tops our list of the worst national team managers. He might be the best Bulgarian footballer of all time and a Ballon d’Or winner but as a manager, he was miles away.
Notorious for his temper as a player, it didn’t disappear as a coach either as when he was appointed Bulgaria’s manager, he had many personal differences with members of the national team. Most famously, captain Stiliyan Petrov announced in 2006 that he would never play for the national side as long as Stoichkov was the manager, becoming the third player and the second captain in two years to leave because of him.
But it wasn’t only his personality which damaged any chances of Stoichkov being a successful coach. This was a guy who said, “I don't believe in tactics,” and started a World Cup qualifier with a 2-4-4 formation.
Naturally, things weren’t going to work out for him as with his failure to qualify for the 2006 World Cup along with a poor Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, Bulgaria accepted his resignation.
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