Managers joining rivals: Can Cooper buck trend of struggles?

By Adrian Kajumba 21 Jun 2024
Benitez, Cooper, Mourinho

As former Forest boss joins local rivals Leicester, we look at others who have made similar moves

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Can Steve Cooper buck the trend after taking over at Leicester City following his previous reign at Nottingham Forest?

History shows that things rarely turn out for the better in the second spell for managers who take charge of two local rivals. Indeed, in 10 of the 13 examples below, their win percentage and points-per-match average dropped after they crossed the divide.

Here, Adrian Kajumba delves into the history books.

George Graham (Arsenal/Spurs)

Graham made over 300 Arsenal appearances before managing the Gunners for almost nine years.

He won six major trophies including two league titles - one of which in 1989 was their first league success in 18 years.

The “1-0 to the Arsenal” chant that is still sung today is a legacy of Graham's tenure due to how common that scoreline became under the Scot.

Despite being so intrinsically linked to Arsenal, who he left in February 1995, Graham joined their fierce north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur in October 1998 when Spurs made an approach to Leeds United.

George Graham, Spurs

Graham’s past made him a controversial choice, although he did endear himself by winning the 1999 League Cup.

But he did not enjoy the same levels of success or longevity as he did at Arsenal, leaving Spurs after almost two-and-a-half years.

Premier League record
Team P W Win % Pts/match
ARS 112 41 36.6 1.44
TOT 98 33 33.7 1.31
Harry Redknapp (Southampton/Portsmouth)

During his lengthy managerial career Redknapp found himself in the unusual position of having to try and appease both sets of fans on either side of a divide.

He led Portsmouth to promotion to the Premier League in 2003 before quitting in November 2004, and eventually took over at their south-coast neighbours Southampton, much to the fury of fans at his former club.

Unfortunately for Redknapp, especially so in the circumstances, he was the man in charge when Southampton suffered relegation from the Premier League in 2005. He left Saints in December that year.

Of all places, Redknapp quickly returned to Portsmouth - his “spiritual home". And, this time, he did remain in place long enough to get the supporters on his side again.

Firstly, he saved Pompey from relegation, before he led them to their highest-ever Premier League finishes of ninth and then eighth, also winning the FA Cup in 2008.

Harry Redknapp
Premier League record
Team P W Win % Pts/match
POR 51 16 31.4 1.18
SOU 22 4 18.2 0.91
POR 107 42 39.3 1.42
Iain Dowie (Crystal Palace/Charlton Athletic)

Dowie worked wonders to transform a Crystal Palace side he inherited in December 2003 when they were 19th in Division One, and lead them into the Premier League via the playoffs that season.

They only lasted one year and he left by mutual consent in May 2006 following a failed attempt to return to the top flight at the first attempt.

Dowie left without compensation, having cited family reasons and a wish to be back near his relatives in Bolton as to why he wished to leave.

There was widespread shock and an ensuing court case about the circumstances of his departure when he was unveiled as the new manager of fellow south Londoners, Charlton.

Iain Dowie, Charlton

It was an ill-fated spell for Dowie which lasted only 12 Premier League matches, and he was sacked in November 2006 with Charlton bottom of the table

Premier League record
Team P W Win % Pts/match
CRY 38 7 18.4 0.87
CHA 12 2 16.7 0.67
Rafa Benitez (Liverpool/Everton)

Benitez has managed four different Premier League clubs but, of all of them, he is most synonymous with Liverpool.

The Spaniard enjoyed the longest managerial spell of his career at Anfield - six years - and most success, including winning the 20004/05 UEFA Champions League in his first season. 

So it is little surprise that there was significant opposition to him later taking over at Liverpool’s Merseyside rivals, Everton, in 2021.

It was 11 years after Benitez left Anfield, but the rarity of such a move was underlined by the fact he became only the second person to manage both clubs after William Edward Barclay in the 1890s.

When things went well, as they did at the start with Benitez earning a Manager of the Month nomination for August, the past could be overlooked.

But it was inevitably an issue when Everton’s form dipped and when Benitez went on a run of nine defeats in 13 matches, he eventually lost his job in January 2022 after barely six-and-a-half months.

Premier League record
Team P W Win % Pts/match
LIV 228 126 55.3 1.90
EVE 19 5 26.3 1.00
Jose Mourinho (Chelsea/Spurs)

Mourinho is such a pivotal figure in Chelsea’s history it is hard not to associate him with them, especially for their big rivals Spurs.

Mourinho arrived in England in 2004, introduced himself as the "Special One" and backed up his bravado with an unforgettable impact in English football.

He turned Chelsea into a clinical winning machine, winning the Premier League title and League Cup in his first season - two of seven major trophies across his two spells at Stamford Bridge.

Mourinho’s willingness to fight the Chelsea cause at almost every opportunity was another reason he was worshipped by their supporters.

But his Chelsea affiliation then gave him an uphill task when he joined Spurs in 2019, a move he once claimed he could never make.

After getting within touching distance of trophies under Mauricio Pochettino, it was logical for Spurs to appoint a manager with Mourinho’s winning pedigree in a bid to get over the line.

But the Mourinho they got was not as effective as the Chelsea version, which prevented him winning over his doubters.

And his reign was ruthlessly and prematurely ended after 17 months - ironically, given the reason for his appointment, only a few days before he was due to lead Spurs out in the Carabao Cup final.

Premier League record
Team P W Win % Pts/match
CHE 212 140 66.0 2.19
TOT 58 27 46.6 1.64
Alan Pardew (Charlton/Crystal Palace)

Charlton appointed Pardew in December 2006 hoping he would be able to steer them clear of relegation.

They were 19th at the time and he was unsuccessful in that mission, and also his attempt to bring them straight back up to the Premier League.

After spells at Southampton and Newcastle United, Pardew returned to the familiar territory of south London and Crystal Palace.

Alan Pardew

His legendary status as a former Palace player outweighed his time and disappointment at Charlton.

There were some high points for Pardew, such as the Eagles' then highest-ever Premier League finish of 10th in 2015, plus reaching the 2016 FA Cup final.

But the run to Wembley masked Palace's poor league form during 2016 - six wins in 36 matches - and he was dismissed in December with the Eagles languishing in 17th place.

Premier League record
Team P W Win % Pts/match
CHA 19 5 26.3 1.16
CRY 73 25 34.3 1.21
Sam Allardyce (Sunderland/Newcastle)

Allardyce became the first manager to complete the Tyne/Wear double and manage both Newcastle and Sunderland.

And while both of his stays in the north east were brief, he left a lasting impression in the history of their rivalry.

Allardyce was appointed by Newcastle in May 2007, but was gone by the following January following a poor run of results.

By the time Sunderland tempted him back to the area in 2015, he had earned a managerial reputation as a survival specialist.

Sam Allardyce

The Black Cats were 19th in the table at the time, and Allardyce’s expertise proved to be just what they needed. His second match was a morale-boosting 3-0 win over Newcastle.

He ended up retaining fourth-bottom Sunderland's top-flight status - with Newcastle one of the sides to go down that season instead.

Premier League record
Team P W Win % Pts/match
NEW 21 7 33.3 1.24
SUN 30 9 30.0 1.20
Owen Coyle (Burnley/Bolton Wanderers)

After taking over at Burnley in 2007, Coyle won promotion to the Premier League in 2009.

Owen Coyle

It was the first time Burnley had played in England’s top flight for 33 years, and they marked their return with a memorable 1-0 win over champions Manchester United in their Turf Moor opener.

What happened soon after will not be as fondly remembered.

In January 2010 Coyle decided to swap Burnley for Bolton, a move that further fuelled the rivalry between the two Lancashire clubs separated by only 22 miles.

Coyle’s first Bolton win then came against Burnley a mere two weeks after his departure, and the Clarets were eventually relegated that season.

He initially kept Bolton in the Premier League but they too tumbled into the second tier in 2012, setting up a reunion with his former club Burnley before he lost his Bolton job a few months into the season.

Premier League record
Team P W Win % Pts/match
BUR 20 5 25.0 1.00
BOL 96 28 29.2 1.07
Alex McLeish (Birmingham City/Aston Villa)

Like Redknapp, Dowie and Coyle, McLeish also made the especially brave decision to join one rival directly from another.

McLeish was appointed by Birmingham in November 2007, initially failed to keep them in the Premier League but then got them straight back up.

A ninth-place finish in 2010 and League Cup win in 2011 were notable achievements, but Birmingham also suffered relegation that year.

Alex McLeish

Rather than stay to try and win promotion again, McLeish resigned and took over at Aston Villa, becoming the first manager to move directly between the two clubs.

He joined Villa amid much opposition to his appointment from their supporters.

McLeish departed after only one season, a relegation struggle in which Villa finished only two points above the drop zone.

Premier League record
Team P W Win % Pts/match
BIR 100 26 26.0 1.13
AVL 38 7 18.4 1.00
Steve Bruce (Sunderland/Newcastle)

Nobody has done managing rivals quite like Bruce. He has managed three separate sets of fierce enemies - Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday, Birmingham and Villa, and the one rivalry when both clubs were in the Premier League, Sunderland and Newcastle.

Bruce was appointed by Sunderland in 2009 and secured respectable 13th and 10th-place finishes before being sacked in November 2011, convinced that the fact he was a Newcastle fan was a factor.

Having initially tried to wisely play it down on his arrival at Sunderland, Bruce then leant on his affinity to Newcastle when he was appointed at St James’ Park in 2019.

Steve Bruce

But as he was replacing the popular Benitez, his Sunderland link was an additional complication for some.

And being "one of their own" did not exactly buy Bruce any added benefit of the doubt.

He finished 13th and then 12th before leaving by mutual consent in 2021 following Newcastle’s ownership change, and having failed to totally win over his fellow fans.

Premier League record
Team P W Win % Pts/match
SUN 89 25 28.1 1.15
NEW 84 23 27.4 1.10
Andre Villas-Boas (Chelsea/Spurs)

After the "Special One" Mourinho’s success, Chelsea hoped history would repeat itself when they turned to Villa-Boas in 2011.

Like Mourinho, Villas-Boas arrived at Stamford Bridge following huge domestic and European success at Porto, and was regarded as one of Europe’s best up-and-coming managers.

Unlike Mourinho, he was unable to live up to the expectations and lasted under nine months at Chelsea before losing his job in March 2012.

After that abrupt end, Villas-Boas had no qualms about joining Spurs a few months later, being handed a second chance to prove his worth in the Premier League.

He might argue that he reversed some of the damage. He achieved a club-record points total of 72 in his only full season - the best Premier League win percentage of any Spurs manager at the time - and inspired the form that helped earn Gareth Bale his move to Real Madrid.

But again it was a short-lived reign - 17 months - and the last time Villas-Boas was seen in the Premier League.

Premier League record
Team P W Win % Pts/match
CHE 27 13 48.2 1.70
TOT 54 29 53.7 1.83
Mauricio Pochettino (Spurs/Chelsea) 

Pochettino loved Spurs and the feeling was mutual after five-and-a-half years during which he transformed them into title challengers and Champions League finalists.

Mauricio Pochettino

However, all that work to create such a special bond was undone in the eyes of many Spurs supporters when he eventually returned to the Premier League with Chelsea in 2023 after a spell at Paris Saint-Germain.

In the end, Pochettino might well wonder if it was worth risking his relationship with those who once adored him, and the effort he put in to try and convince the Chelsea sceptics who doubted him.

He led Chelsea to the Carabao Cup final, an FA Cup semi-final and eventually salvaged European qualification from a largely disappointing Premier League campaign.

But his Stamford Bridge stay was a swift one as he and the club decided to go their separate ways after only one season.

Premier League record
Team P W Win % Pts/match
TOT 202 113 55.9 1.89
CHE 38 18 47.4 1.66
Antonio Conte (Chelsea/Spurs)

Like Mourinho and Villas-Boas before him, Conte was another manager introduced to the Premier League at Chelsea.

Like Mourinho, his impact on and off the pitch was significant too, strengthening his connection with Chelsea.

An early-season tactical switch to a back three helped inspire Conte’s Chelsea to the Premier League title in his first year, which he followed up with an FA Cup triumph in his second.

Antonio Conte

Conte was an animated, emotional presence on the sideline, and unafraid to speak his mind, also in the Mourinho mould.

But at Spurs, without the sustained on-pitch success or entertaining football to keep the sceptics onside, Conte eventually talked himself into trouble.

He joined in November 2021 and guided them to Champions League qualification that season.

But their form dipped in the next campaign and he left in March 2023 following a scathing press conference after Spurs were held to a draw at Southampton, having at one stage led 3-1. 

Premier League record
Team P W Win % Pts/match
CHE 76 51 67.1 2.14
TOT 56 32 57.1 1.88

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