Di Matteo and Barton showed the unsung hero can also take football’s top stage
Posted on May 19, 2020
THE THREE men who have managed a European Cup/Champions League winner on three occasions are well known to all: Bob Paisley, Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane. Unsurprisingly, most of Europe’s biggest names have won the competition and some equally notable managers have not – Bill Shankly, Don Revie, Arséne Wenger and Franz Beckenbauer, for example, never led a team to European Cup glory, although Der Kaiser was well acquainted with the trophy in his playing days.
Interestingly, some of the lesser-known managers have taken their sides all the way to the final. The first English manager to reach the final was Jimmy Armfield in 1975 with Leeds United, while the only final to feature two Englishmen in charge was in 1979 when Nottingham Forest (Brian Clough) faced Malmö (Bob Houghton). Even then few people had heard of Houghton, but he was just 31 in 1979 and had played less than a hundred senior games for Hastings United. Houghton’s career took him to the Middle East, Far East, the Canada and the US, central and northern Europe. He managed three national teams: China, India and Uzbekistan. He finally hung up his tracksuit in 2011 after a fascinating and lengthy journey. His Malmö team were beaten 1-0 by Forest in an uninspiring game, but reaching the Munich final was an achievement in itself.
Another British manager, Tony Barton, took over Aston Villa’s league title-winning side of 1981 in February 1982 after Ron Saunders resigned over a contractual dispute. Barton was an eyebrow-raising choice but he inherited a talented team that had already made its way to the last eight of the European Cup. One of his first games in charge was in the Crimean city of Simferopol, a 0-0 draw with Dynamo Kyiv. Villa won the second leg 2-0 and then scraped through 1-0 over two legs against Belgium’s Anderlecht in the semi-final. Bayern Munich presented a stiff challenge in the final in Rotterdam, but a Peter Withe goal won the cup for Villa and Barton. He was soon gone, though, sacked in May 1984 as Villa failed to build on their success.
Real Madrid’s early successes in the European Cup have passed into football folklore, but people remember Alfredo Di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Raymond Kopa and other fine individuals. The managers are rarely mentioned in despatches. The first to win the European Cup was José Villalonga Llorente, who was not the only the first but also the youngest ever to coach a champion club – just 36 and 184 days. He was succeeded by the Argentinian Luis Carniglia, the first non-European to manage a European Cup winner. Then came Miguel Muñoz, the first to play and manage a winning team in the competition. Muñoz is part of a select band who have achieved that feat. The others include: Giovanni Trapattoni, Johan Cruyff, Carlo Ancelotti, Frank Rijkaard and Pep Guardiola.
When Zinedine Zidane led Real Madrid to their hat-trick of triumphs between 2016 and 2018, he became the first coach to win three in a row. He was also the first French manager to win the competition. Albert Batteaux, Robert Herbin and Didier Deschamps had all tried before him.
Coaches from the other main countries seem to have more joy – 12 times the trophy has been won by an Italian manager, 10 times a Spaniard and eight times a German. English coaches have won the competition seven times, the first (1977) was Bob Paisley and the last (1984) being Joe Fagan of Liverpool, another relatively unknown figure who was promoted to run the first team via the fabled Anfield “Boot Room”.
One of the unlikely coaches from Italy was Roberto Di Matteo, who led Chelsea to victory on May 19, 2012. Di Matteo was never seen as more than a stop gap by Chelsea’s top management, although he was popular with the fans and won the FA Cup as well as the European Cup in his short spell in charge. It was ironic as the club had pursued a strategy of hiring marque managers such as Jose Mourinho, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Carlo Ancelotti and Di Matteo was something of an untried alternative. But he certainly delivered. It was no shock that within a few months of his – and Chelsea’s – greatest moment in the game, he was gone.
Germany’s European Cup winning coaches have all been well known characters, from Udo Lattek in 1974 to Jürgen Klopp in 2019. Of the five Germans, perhaps the least celebrated has been Ottmar Hitzfeld, who won the competition with Borussia Dortmund in 1997 and Bayern Munich in 2001. The German list, which is completed by Jupp Heynckes and Dettmar Cramer, is an impressive one.
It’s hard for a relatively unknown manager to win the competition today. Increasingly, the big names circulate the big clubs and they change jobs frequently. Therefore, the chances of a Barton or a Di Matteo emerging as manager of Europe’s number one club are extremely remote. Regardless of their CVs, their successes are part of the romance of the game.