Every Premier League club’s most bizarre managerial hire - including Arsenal, Man Utd and West Ham howlers
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Last season’s Premier League proved to be the most chaotic and turbulent season to date with a total of 14 managerial sackings taking place.
The campaign surpassed the previous Premier League record of ten managerial sackings and was a damning indictment on the time given to managers by chairman in an increasingly demanding and competitive environment. Yet remarkably this season after 13 games we are yet to see a managerial casualty and the only manager to leave his post was Julen Lopetegui of Wolves - and he left the role before a ball was even kicked, just days before the season started.
Historically speaking, the Christmas period can be one of most punishing for managers and struggling clubs often look for a mid-season change in the run up to the January transfer window to give the incoming boss the best chance of changing things around. In the coming months it seems inevitable that at least one Premier League club will opt for a change in the dugout and with that in mind we have rounded up some of the strangest managerial appointments from each top-flight club. This list focuses specifically on clubs who have changed their manager in the top-flight, therefore the likes of Luton Town and Brentford are not included as they have only had one manager during the Premier League era.
Arsenal - Bruce Rioch
In truth, Arsenal have not had too many strange managerial appointments in the Premier League era due to the longevity of Arsene Wenger’s reign in the dugout. Therefore, their strangest managerial appointment has to be the Frenchman’s predecessor Bruce Rioch.
The Scotsman arrived at Highbury in the summer of 1995 as the replacement for George Graham. The ex-midfielder, who lifted the league title as a player with Brian Clough’s Derby, had only ever managed in the lower leagues with Torquay, Middlesbrough and Bolton at the time of his arrival.
He guided Arsenal to a fifth place finish in his only season and was credited with the signing of Dennis Bergkamp. Rioch was sacked early during the following season and never managed in the top-flight again.
Aston Villa: Alex McLeish
Aston Villa made a few strange decisions on the management front in the years leading up to their relegation in 2016 - but the standout has to be Alex McLeish’s shock arrival at the club in 2011. The Scot had lifted silverware with Hibs and Rangers before a four-year stint at city-rivals Birmingham City, who won Championship promotion and a League Cup during his four year tenure.
McLeish holds the record of being the only manager in history to make the direct switch from Birmingham to Villa, and his appointment attracted backlash from both sets of supporters as anti-McLeish graffiti had to be removed from the Villa Park training ground. Aston Villa ultimately finished the season in 16th place and only avoided the drop by two points. Unsurprisingly his contract was terminated at the end of the season.
Bournemouth: Andoni Iraola
Bournemouth’s current coach Andoni Iraola was a surprise appointment after Gary O’Neil steered the club to safety last season. Iraola’s arrival in the summer makes him the club’s first foreign manager in their 124 year history.
Brighton: Roberto De Zerbi
Many eyebrows were raised in September 2022, when Brighton appointed Roberto De Zerbi to replace the outgoing Graham Potter. The Italian had never previously managed in England and was viewed as something of a journeyman by TalkSport pundit Graeme Souness who said: “What does he know about our game.” Despite the critics, De Zerbi has proved to be a revelation at the Amex Stadium - leading Brighton to a sixth place finish and qualifying for Europe for the first time in the club’s history.
Burnley: Brian Laws
Owen Coyle led Burnley to a surprise promotion in 2009 to end the club’s 33-year absence from the top-flight. Burnley began their survival push well with four consecutive home wins at the start of the season and Coyle had even signed a contract extension that same summer.
But Coyle stunned fans mid-way through the season when he agreed to join arch-rivals Bolton in January. Burnley ultimately turned their attention to Brian Laws who had only recently been sacked from Sheffield Wednesday in the division below. The Clarets struggled to maintain their early season form and fell to relegation at the end of the season.
Chelsea: Avram Grant
Recency bias would suggest that Frank Lampard’s return to Stamford Bridge was the strangest Chelsea appointment, but former owner Roman Abramovich actually made an even stranger decision in the form of Avram Grant in 2007. The ex-Israel coach arrived as the replacement for two-time Premier League winner and self proclaimed ‘special one’ Jose Mourinho at the start of the 2007/08 season, despite having no experience with a top European club.
Grant was a personal friend of Abramovich, who had never received his UEFA coaching licence and several Chelsea fans protested his appointment. Ex-Blue, John Obi Mikel claimed: “(Grant) had no idea what he was doing - and all he does is come in and tell us stories about Michael Jordan and a fire that is burning somewhere.”
However, despite the criticism Grant led Chelsea to second in the league, a Champions League final and a League Cup final. He lifted no trophies in his time with the club but boasts a 66.67% win record. He was sacked in the summer of 2008 and went on to lead both Portsmouth and West Ham to relegation and 20th place finishes.
Crystal Palace: Frank De Boer
112 time Netherlands international and ex-Barcelona star Frank De Boer endured a short but disastrous five game stint at Eagles boss as he replaced Sam Allardyce in the Selhurst park dugout. Overall his team lost all four league matches without scoring a single goal - making them the first team to begin a season in such fashion for 93 years. He left the club bottom of the table and was replaced by former England boss Roy Hodgson.
Everton: Carlo Ancelotti
Carlo Ancelotti has one of the most decorated CVs of any manager in modern football which has seen him lift silverware with AC Milan, Chelsea, PSG, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Sandwiched between those trophy laden spells is a one and half year stint as Everton boss.
The Toffees finished comfortably in mid-table both seasons and at times played great football with Dominic Calvert-Lewin and ex-Real Madrid man James Rodriguez thriving. But the fact that this stint happened in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic means few Everton fans got to see the best of it with Ancelotti eventually leaving to return to Real Madrid.
Fulham: Felix Magath
Fulham had a total of three different managers in the 2013/14 season in what ultimately proved to be a disastrous campaign for the Cottages. The most bizarre of those managerial appointments proved to be the arrival of the Premier League’s first German coach Felix Magath.
The ex-Bayern Munich and Wolfsburg manager arrived in England with a strong reputation after title triumphs with Bayern Munich and VFL Wolfsburg and was renowned for his commanding presence and discipline. However, this never really translated onto the pitch at Fulham as he won just four of his 20 matches in charge.
On one particular training session Magath was so infuriated by his team performance he made them stand still in formation for a total of 40 minutes. Steve Sidwell recalls the incident in a Mail Sport interview: “So we got out on the pitch, the goalkeeper, back four, midfield four and two strikers stood there and he said, 'Right you didn't want to run around yesterday, we are not going to run around today' and he just blew the whistle and said everyone just stand still and we just had to stand still."
Liverpool: Roy Hodgson
Roy Hodgson has managed 22 teams in eight countries over a long managerial career, but one spell the veteran will want to forget is his time at Anfield. Hodgson replaced Rafael Benitez in 2010 and signed the likes of Paul Konchesky, Joe Cole, Christian Poulsen and Raul Merieles. The veteran won just seven of his 20 games in charge and left the club just three points above the relegation places in January.
Manchester City: Stuart Pearce
Long before the days of infinite wealth, Manchester City appointed Stuart Pearce as caretaker boss in 2005 to replace the outgoing Kevin Keegan. Pearce is best remembered for his unorthodox decision to substitute goalkeeper David James into the striker role during the final few minutes of his side’s 1-1 draw with Middlesborough.
He stayed a further two years and was sacked at the end of the 2006/07 season with the club narrowly avoiding relegation and scoring just 10 home goals all year - a figure that nowadays Pep Guardiola’s side probably manage in a month.
Manchester United: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Any appointments after Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013 were going to seem strange to the Red Devils given the longevity of his tenure. But one appointment that stands out as surprising in the post Fergie era is the arrival of ex-striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
The Norwegian was a hero at Old Trafford during his playing days and is best known for his Champions League final win in 1999. However, he had not endured the best start to life in management in England and was relegated with Cardiff City where he won just nine of his 30 games. The ex-Molde boss arrived as a short term successor to Jose Mourinho and initially had a great impact on results. He went on to manage the club for 168 games and finished runner-up in the Premier League and Europa League before his departure in November 2021.
Newcastle United: Joe Kinnear
Newcastle United have had arguably the most contenders of any team in this list when it comes to bizarre managerial appointments. Ultimately the Mike Ashley appointment that resulted in the most controversy was the arrival of Joe Kinnear in September 2008.
The ex-Wimbledon boss had been out of management for nearly four years after his sacking at Championship club Nottingham Forest and was viewed as an underwhelming appointment for a club that had only played UEFA Cup football two years earlier. Kinnear’s opening press conference saw him swear over 50 times at a journalist after he was criticised for giving his players a day off training. He ultimately won four of his 18 games in charge and left in February due to heart problems. He returned as director of football in 2013 in a spell which lasted six months.
Nottingham Forest: Stuart Pearce
Stuart Pearce is the only manager to appear in this list twice and it is largely due to Nottingham Forest’s limited time in the top-flight during the Premier League era. Pearce’s first role in management came during his playing days when the then 34-year-old was appointed as interim boss of the struggling club in December 1996.
The concept of player-manager is rarely seen in today’s game but Pearce did fairly well to galvanise the team on the pitch and was awarded the Manager of the Month award in January 1997. He would later share the caretaker role with Dave Bassett and the club were relegated in 20th position.
Sheffield United: Paul Heckingbottom
Sheffield United have had four different top-flight managers in Dave Bassett, Neil Warnock, Chris Wilder and Paul Heckingbottom. All have steered the club to promotion but by process of elimination Heckingbottom takes top spot after failed spells at Hibs and Leeds United before his arrival at Bramall Lane.
Tottenham Hotspur: Christian Gross
Christian Gross was a left field appointment by then Spurs chairman Alan Sugar in November 1998. Gross arrived at Tottenham from Swiss side Grasshopper and struggled to find success in English football. Overall he had a record of nine wins from 26 matches as his team finished 14th in the league table.
West Ham: Gianfranco Zola
Gianfranco Zola was one of the most exciting footballers of the Premier League era and many fans remember him fondly for his seven year stint at Chelsea from 1996 to 2003. However, it came as a great surprise when he landed his first managerial role at London rivals West Ham in 2008.
Zola initially did well in east London and led the Hammers to a ninth place finish during a time of financial difficulty. But the following season after the takeover of David Gold and David Sullivan the club fell to 17th in the table and the Italian’s reign ultimately came to an end - his managerial career didn't get much better after that, either.
Wolves: Terry Connor
After two successful seasons of consolidation in the Premier League under Mick McCarthy, Wolves began to suffer from third season syndrome in 2011/12 and in February they turned to Terry Connor to steady the ship. Connor had worked in a variety of coaching roles at the Wolves since 1999 but had a disastrous time in his only spell as a club manager as he failed to win any of his 13 games in charge.
The 61-year-old has since worked with McCarthy at a variety of different teams, but now finds himself back in management with North American nation Grenada.