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Can a ‘number two’ make the successful transition to Manager?

Monday 6th March 2017
After leading Leicester City to two wins in a row, scoring six goals in the process, Craig Shakespeare has done his hopes of becoming the next permanent manager no harm at all. However just how easy will it be for a man who previously was the assistant to Nigel Pearson and Claudio Ranieri to make the step up into the hot seat?

I look at five ‘number two's' who made the step up at the same club and assess their record in management.

Bob Paisley (Liverpool 1974 -1983)


Liverpool's policy of recruiting from within was famous throughout football. The education and experience nurtured by past players in what was known as the ‘boot room' would provide the club with a succession of managers, a seamless transition, as Liverpool continued to dominate both at home and in Europe.

Bob Paisley was probably the greatest product from the boot-room. A player first, then reserve team manager and coach before becoming assistant to the legendary Bill Shankly in 1971. Three years later Shankly resigned and a reluctant Paisley was promoted to manager.

Shankly's boots were big to fill but Paisley was more than up to the task as he oversaw a glorious period in Liverpool's history. In his nine years at the helm, he would win 20 trophies including 6 championships and 3 European cups. A footballing genius, he was responsible for bringing many of Liverpool's greatest players to the club playing attractive winning football. Still, to this day, his record alone, makes him widely regarded as the greatest club manager of all time.

Peter Shreeves (1984 – 1986)


Like Paisley, Shreeves had learnt his trade having served as Tottenham youth coach and reserve team manager before becoming assistant to Keith Burkinshaw in 1980. After spending four years under the successful Burkinshaw, Shreeves was appointed first team manager at the start of the 1984-85 season.

A talented squad that had ended the previous season as UEFA cup winners kicked on under Shreeve's and were genuine title contenders before finishing 3rd and progressing from a 7th place finish the previous season. Expectation was, therefore, high for the 1985-86 season but one win in the first five set the tone for a disappointing season which ended with Shreeves sacking.

After leaving the Tottenham hot seat Shreeves returned to a back staff role and went on to become assistant manager at another six clubs. He also worked at international level as an assistant manager with Wales indicating maybe a man who was happier having input as a number two.

John Deehan (1994 – 1995)


Already a Norwich City legend sitting 6th on the club's all-time top scorers list, Deehan returned to Carrow Road in June 1992 as assistant to new manager Mike Walker. Favourites for relegation, an exciting Norwich team thrived under the Walker / Deehan partnership finishing a club-record 3rd in the inaugural Premier league before embarking on a UEFA cup campaign that was to capture the hearts of the nation.

However, after 18 months of continual success, the cracks began to show and in January 1994 Walker resigned to take the manager position at Everton with Deehan stepping up as Norwich's new manager. Walker's resignation was against a backdrop of player sales and discontent with the Board, therefore, Deehan's first job was to settle the ship which he did with a 12th place finish by the end of the season.

With further stars sold pre-season including a British record transfer of Chris Sutton to Blackburn, Norwich struggled during the 1994-95 season. After a dismal run of just one win in 15 Premier League games, Deehan resigned in the hope that a new man could save the club. A gallant gesture but not enough to save the club from relegation.

While the record books would show Deehan's tenure as a failure, few could argue that he was on a hiding to nothing with a depleted squad, mismanagement at the top and an unhappy supporter base.  After Norwich, a successful spell at Wigan would re-establish Deehan's abilities as a manager.

Steve Kean (2010 – 2012)

Many people were not familiar with Steve Kean who, as Blackburn Rovers 1st team coach, was suddenly thrust into the limelight after Sam Allardyce's sacking in December 2010. A low profile appointment by new owners the Venky's, Rover's fans were unimpressed especially after a run of 10 games without a win left Blackburn surviving relegation by the skin of their teeth.

The 2011-12 Premier League season, Kean's first full season at the helm, proved to be a disaster for both him and the club. Often isolated by distant and unpopular owners Kean bore the brunt of supporter frustrations, those anger towards him intensified with each defeat on the pitch. With the club in a downward spiral and it was no surprise when relegation was confirmed at the end of the season.

Many suspected Kean to go in the summer and few would have blamed him for wanting out after suffering constant abuse and protest from the terraces. However, he remained to oversee Blackburn's championship season but despite a promising start he left in September 2012.

Freed from the pressures at Blackburn Kean has since worked on roles overseas the latest at Brunei where he is once again enjoying his football.

Roberto Di Matteo (2012)

The 2011-12 season was a strange one for Di Matteo. It started with the popular ex-player returning to the club to support young and upcoming Portuguese manager Andre Villas-Boas and ended with him as the first and only Chelsea manager to achieve the Holy Grail, winning the Champions league.

After the AVB experiment failed with player discontent and indifferent results Di Matteo was credited with inspiring the squad to overcome a 3.1 deficit against Napoli, victory over the Barcelona dream team then beating the mighty Bayern in the final in their home stadium. Just for good measure Di Matteo also delivered the FA Cup, both trophies helping to make up for a disappointing 6th place finish in the Premier league.

Having given Abramovich the prize that he craved you would expect Di Matteo to have a job for life. However, such is football he was gone by November of the following season.
Allan Kemp

Born in Suffolk but a Norwich City supporter who is currently exiled in Dallas, US. I am an FA level 2 coach and also a published author, my book of Hall of fame - Norwich City's - All-Time Greats is available from all good bookshops. I am now working on my second book, with Pitch Publishing - Newcastle United Hall of Fame. I'm also a keen reader of football-related books.


Total articles: 51

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