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A Handy Guide to the English Soccer Stars Turned English Soccer Managers

Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are among the former members of England’s golden generation to hit the second phase of soccer employment

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

This is a field guide to the retired or soon-to-be-retired English soccer stars who’ve gone into management recently. It seems like most of them have. Pretty much all the biggest names from the golden generation, minus Rio Ferdinand (who I kind of think would make an excellent manager? Though he might not be petty enough). The golden generation is, of course, the catastrophically famous and eternally disappointing crop of stars from the first decade of this millennium, who entered several World Cups in a blaze of prospective glory only to exit them in a blaze of not having finished first. Now, they’re taking up coaching. Circle-of-life thing, I guess. If you’ve spent your whole career raking in money and acclaim by running around on a soccer pitch, you would probably quite like to go on standing near soccer pitches, even when your knees say, “no thanks,” to running around on them. Also, soccer is fun, so why not keep doing it? Time is the great leveler. It turns regular people into slightly older regular people, and it turns international soccer icons into slower international soccer icons who look at clipboards a lot.

This list isn’t complete. I forgot about Paul Scholes, who served on the Manchester United coaching staff and had a rough run as manager of the League Two club Oldham Athletic early last year. I’m not correcting the mistake. It feels right to forget about Scholes until he wrecks your plans at the last second. It’s like playing defense against a team with Scholes on it. He’s nowhere, and then you’re dead. If anything, I find it moving to see that his talents survive even in listicle form. Got ’em again, Paul!

Wayne Rooney

He’s 34. That’s young. Not for a soccer player, but for a person. Especially a very famous person whose decisions have not always been, shall we say, the most reliably prudent. Maybe you’ve grown out of it at 34, but maybe you haven’t. There’s a lot of rope still potentially spooled in your bad-idea coil. In some ways, your mid-30s are an even more dangerous time than your early 20s, because you know a little more about the world and feel confident moving around in it. The trouble gets more complex. Mix enough money with the wrong temperament and you end up with lawyers on talk shows. Kathy, let me say this right now: My client had no knowledge of that seahorse-smuggling ring and never attempted to cross an international boundary with a quote-unquote Countach full of hippocampi.

Look, I’m not saying Wayne Rooney is literally the kind of person who, through a bizarre combination of circumstances, would somehow find himself retrofitting a Lamborghini with custom seat-back aquarium panels in order to transport a live shipment of black-market seahorses into the Baltics. I’m not. Nor am I saying that if he did do this, he’s the kind of person who would definitely get caught after posing for a double thumbs-up photo inside the seahorse mobile for his wife Coleen to share on Instagram. (Potential caption: “And I would drive 500 miles, and I would drive 500 more, just to be the man who dropped 500 seahorses off at your door,” followed by 17 crying emoji.) I’m just noting the general point. The lad has leaned into some controversies. He’s left D.C. United, where he spent some memorable sunset years, and he’s moving into management now. I guess I just never had the sense that an excess of tactical acumen and mature planning skills were our Wayne’s burdens in life.

It’s going OK, so far. He’s got a pretty sweet setup as a player-coach at the Championship club Derby County under the Dutch manager Phillip Cocu. Frank Lampard managed Derby before moving to Chelsea this season. That’s the kind of golden-generation-to-Premier-League-boss pipeline you want if you’re in Rooney’s Umbros. Keeps the precedent fresh in everyone’s mind. Derby’s paying him £100,000 per week, supposedly. This is being bankrolled in one of those “Haha, our spokespeople say it’s all just a coincidence” ways by the online casino 32Red. He’s wearing number 32, haha. It seems like he sort of just does things when people suggest them, which is going to work out great if someone has the foresight to be like, “Hey, Wazza, you know what’d be hilarious? If they hire you as a manager, you should go and win the Champions League.”

Anyway, he’s been at Derby only a short while, but he’s playing pretty well. Sticking to a more reserved midfield role, minding his mpg. Passing with discipline. Derby is 17th in the Championship, but they just upset Crystal Palace in the FA Cup. Nice little result. On the coaching side, he’s reportedly attending tactics meetings, whatever that means. Maybe he’s going to be great at this and I just don’t see it because he still looks like a Mad magazine drawing of a bully at a birthday party. Being a bully doesn’t necessarily hurt you as a manager. You just have to be prepared to do it in a cake-free environment.

Steven Gerrard

Did you know he has his own line of bottled water? He does. It’s called Angel Revive. I like to read that as a complete sentence in the imperative mode and imagine Stevie G. shouting it at various moments from his life. Steven Gerrard to the soul of Liverpool at halftime that night in Istanbul: “Angel, revive!” Gerrard texting Fernando Torres about his career after his transfer back to Atlético: “Angel, revive!” Gerrard crouching over a DJ after knocking him to the floor: “This is your own fault, you Phil Collins–hating philistine.” I have no idea whether Angel Revive water is good or not. Probably tastes like water, I guess. My 2009 self really needs Frank Lampard to launch his own line of oil. Can they play together in the same pasta dish? He could call it “Devil, Go Back to Sleep.”

To me, it was maybe a little surprising when Gerrard ended up at Rangers, the Protestant side of the long-running and violence-haunted Glaswegian rivalry whose Catholic half is Celtic FC. Gerrard always seemed like a sectarian melodrama unto himself; why complicate it with actual sects? In another way, it makes sense. His leadership style skews heavily toward the charismatic-inspirational. You can picture him standing on a rampart telling his swordsmen, “men now abed will hold their manhoods cheap that were not here” to feature as second-half substitutes in this Scottish Cup match against Buckie Thistle. You can’t exactly picture him studying stat sheets looking for arbitrage opportunities in the transfer market. Sports may be math, but the Old Firm derby needs speeches. Gerrard’s Rangers are just two points behind Celtic with one fewer match played. Last year they took two matches off them. The last time they did that was 2012. If Gerrard gives Protestants any more hope, he’s going to accidentally get elected to the Senate from Kansas.

Joe Cole

Joe Cole served as a player-coach with the Tampa Bay Rowdies for part of the 2018 season. Let’s just leave that sentence in peace, like the beautiful sleeping lion that it is. Hush, now. Hush and sleep on, you perfect sentence.

David Beckham

Too big a star to be a manager, in the same way that Michael Jordan could never be a coach. Maybe surprisingly, the sole member of England’s golden generation to reach “plausible front for sinister billionaire ownership group” status. Way above the pay grade of this present article, but I’m including him because of the way Roy Hodgson used to dress him in a nice suit and bring him out to stand inspirationally on the touchline for England. What was he doing there? No one knows. Was he part of the coaching staff? It’s a mystery. He’d just stand there with one glorious eyebrow arched, absolutely Beckhaming, wearing that serious long-distance stare that says, “While my CPU is not in use, the software in my brain is currently scanning for prime numbers.” It never really made sense, and never really pointed to a future career for David. Sir Alex Ferguson would have found two primes and sold an even integer to Milan for €11 million.

Michael Owen

Bypassed soccer management completely in order to breed racehorses. I kind of think he wins? I’m assuming his horses are small, very fast, and prone to peaking a little too early in their careers. Maybe don’t bet on their knees in the World Cup.

Ashley Cole

Not precisely on the managerial fast-track, the former Chelsea and Arsenal star (not exactly in that order) has expressed an interest in coaching and spent last year as an assistant to Frank Lampard at Derby County. He didn’t join Lampard at Chelsea when he moved and didn’t remain on the Derby coaching staff afterward. Apparently his hello to management also meant goodbye, as in that one Cheryl Tweedy song. Still, he seems to have gotten through an entire soccer season without utterly alienating entire fan bases and nations in a single breath. Adjusted for handicap, this makes him the most successful football manager in the entire history of the world.

Frank Lampard

Currently managing Chelsea. Comes from a coaching background. His uncle is the old wheeler-dealer himself, Harry Redknapp. I remember Redknapp managing Chelsea for a little while, too, but I just looked it up and he didn’t. Honestly, I remember Redknapp managing just about every club in Great Britain from, like, 2011 to 2013. If you looked me full in the face and said the words “Harry Redknapp’s storied run at Blackburn Rovers,” I would not only believe that this happened, my brain would also furnish imagery and narrative detail to back it up. “God,” I’d say, “remember that year when Marc Peter-Grinford scored that crazy goal for them in the Carling Cup.” Marc Peter-Grinford doesn’t exist. He’s a left back my brain made up when the words “Harry Redknapp” ambled into it. I’m not saying this to criticize my brain, by the way. I’m saying it to praise Redknapp.

Anyway, Lampard probably came to Chelsea too early to have a really great managerial career there. It’s only his second head-coaching job. He’s a Chelsea icon, but in these times of billionaires and woe, it’s hard to imagine anyone going from “engineered a plucky sixth-place Championship finish at Derby County” to “had a legendary career at one of the biggest clubs on earth” without a pretty serious “2) ?????” phase in between. You’re right—Zidane and Guardiola are kind of counterexamples there. I guess quick success as a top-flight soccer manager, like playing classical guitar or structurally analyzing the history of capital, just seems more plausible if you speak a Romance language at home. There are only two paths in this life, really. Look great in a turtleneck, or be ready to pay your dues.

Still, Chelsea’s been fine under Lamps so far. They’re fourth in the English Premier League. Haven’t necessarily figured out what they’re doing yet, but I like that Lampard has been willing to tinker with his formation to try to get it right. I’d gotten used to thinking of Chelsea as a 4-3-3 with a robust portfolio of Russian oil stock. Lampard has a good managerial look. Don’t underestimate the importance of that in a job whose sole visible component lies in touchline reaction shots. Frank has a solid post-goal joy-scurry and a strong tactical glower. Of the classic managerial affects—“recently horny, now enraged” (Alex Ferguson, Sam Allardyce), “recently horny, now anxious” (Guardiola, José Mourinho), and “recently horny, now doing ecstatic roundhouse kicks, and also still horny” (Jürgen Klopp), Lampard combines elements of the first two, at least. He was always pretty soulful for a Pepsi endorser.