In light of the recent McLeish-Villa-Birmingham saga, let’s take a look at other managers who have crossed local lines to manage hated rivals.
The king of this category has to be Ron Saunders. Not only did he manage Aston Villa and Birmingham City, but also West Bromwich Albion. Saunders led Villa to promotion in 1974. He won two League Cups before guiding Villa to the title in the 1980-81 season. In the very next season, he decided to move on due to a dispute with the board when the team was set to play in an European Cup quarterfinal.
Saunders decided to move across town to Birmingham City. In his second season at Birmingham City, the club was relegated — much to the delight of the Villa faithful. However, Saunders was able to bring the Blues back to the top-flight just a season later. Saunders then made the decision to move on to another local rival — West Bromwich Albion — in 1986.
Saunders joined West Brom in February of 1986, but the club was eventually relegated to the second division. He retired in 1987 after failing to win promotion for the Baggies.
Over in north London, there was another prominent manager who crossed the local lines to manage a hated rival.
Since I am an Arsenal fan, I have to mention manager George Graham. The Scot made 227 appearances for Arsenal as a player in the ‘60’s and 70’s. In 1986, he took over as manager of the Gunners and had a successful nine-year run, winning two league titles. Graham was banned from management for a year in 1995 due to suspicious transfer dealings.
After a short stint with Leeds, Graham was hired as manager of Tottenham. Many Spurs supporters were angered that the Arsenal man was appointed. Despite winning the League Cup in 1998-1999, Graham was fired mainly because of his unpopularity.
Harry Redknapp knows all about crossing the line in a local derby. Redknapp took over at Portsmouth in 2002. The cockney manager enjoyed success while leading Portsmouth to promotion to the Premier League in his first full season. ‘Arry kept Pompey in the Premier League in ’03-04 before resigning due to disagreements with the owners.
Redknapp promised the Portsmouth supporters that he would not be taking over at Southampton. Well, as it turned out, he did decide to go “down the road” to Southampton. It was not a good move for Redknapp. He took over a struggling side looking to stay afloat in the Premier League. Unfortunately for ‘Arry, Southampton failed to avoid relegation. Redknapp had yet another dispute with ownership, and the Pompey job opened up. It was time for him to head back to Portsmouth.
Redknapp enjoyed even more success in his second time around with Portsmouth. He was able to keep the club in the Premier League while guiding them to a surprise FA Cup triumph in 2008. Some attribute his success in his second term to a flow of money into the club.
Fans are always angry when a manager switches to a rival club. The original club’s supporters feel betrayed by their former manager. The new club’s supporters feel alienated and flat-out disgusted when the owners hire an enemy to run their team. It is not a good situation for anyone and possibly those in command should refrain from hiring rival managers in the future.
How would you feel if this was happening at your club (or if you are actual Birmingham or Villa fans)? On one hand, managers are not obligated to be loyal to their clubs. If someone sees a way to advance their career, then why not do so. That is how it is in the real world, but football isn’t the real world. Supporters do not jump from club to club like customers jump to different brands at a supermarket. How do you feel about these issues? Share your opinions in the comments section below. I’d love to read your insight.