Former Player? No Managerial Experience? Not a problem

With Arsenal passing up the opportunity to appoint Carlo Ancelotti, seemingly in the favour of appointing managerial virgin Mikel Arteta, some fans have complained that the club should be going for a big name manager.

But the appointment of Arteta continues the clubs 100 year history of not going for a big name.

“Modern” Arsenal began after the First World War when Arsenal returned to the first division following relegation prior to the start of the war in 1913. Arsenal have remained in the top division since then. 100 years.

Leslie Knighton

When professional football resumed in 1919, Norris appointed Leslie Knighton as the club’s manager.

Knighton had spells as an assistant manager at Manchester City (1909–12) and Huddersfield Town (1912–19) before being appointed secretary-manager of Arsenal in 1919.

Arsenal was his first managerial job and he oversaw the club for six years.

Herbert Chapman

Arsenal appointed Herbert Chapman after he had won back to back titles with Huddersfield. He was the first, and arguably only, big name manager appointed to the club.

Under his management, the club was transformed from relegation threatened to league champions.

It took Chapman 5 years before he led the club to its 1st piece of silverware – the FA Cup in 1930. League titles followed in 1930/31 and 1932/33.

Arsenal went into 1933/34 looking to retain the title, and started consistently; they worked their way to the top of the league and were a comfortable four points clear following a goalless draw with Birmingham City on 30th December 1933.

Chapman died on 6th January 1934 after pneumonia set in following a scouting trip to watch Sheffield Wednesday

Chapman revolutionised not just Arsenal but English football.

George Allison

Following the sudden death of legendary Arsenal boss Herbert Chapman earlier in January 1934, Allison was appointed Chapman’s full-time successor in the summer of that year.

After his move to London in 1906, Allison became the club’s programme editor and continued his association with the team after they moved to Highbury and renamed themselves “Arsenal”. He became a member of the club’s board of directors soon after the end of the First World War; he was at first club secretary and then managing director.

Under Chapman and caretaker manager Joe Shaw, Arsenal had already won the League Championship twice in a row, and Allison made it a hat-trick, winning a third successive title in 1934/35. He also won the FA Cup in 1935-36 and the League again in 1937/38.

Arsenal were the only club he ever managed. Following the end up World War 2, allision, by now in his mid-sixties, retired from the game.

Tom Whittaker

Following a broken knee cap whilst playing for Arsenal, Tom Whittaker joined the coaching staff of the club under Herbet Chapman. In 1927 he became first team trainer, reforming the training and physiotherapy regime at the club.

Following Chapman’s death in 1934, Whittaker continued to serve under his successor, George Allison, and also became a trainer for the England national team.

After Allison’s retirement in 1947, Whittaker became the club’s new manager; under him the club won the League in 1947/48 and 1952/53 and the FA Cup in 1949/50. Arsenal would be the 1st and only club he managed.

Whittaker, while still at the helm of Arsenal, died of a heart attack at the University College Hospital, London in 1956, at the age of 58.

He would not be the only physiotherapist to step up to league title winning manager at Arsenal.

Jack Crayston

Former Arsenal player Jack Crayston was assistant manager under Tom Whittaker.

After Whittaker’s death in 1956, Crayston became caretaker manager on 24 October 1956 and permanent manager on 21 December 1956. However, his stewardship of the team was brief and unsuccessful; disillusioned, in May 1958 he resigned as Arsenal manager, and took up the reins at Doncaster Rovers a couple of months later, holding the post until his retirement from the game in 1961.

George Swindin

Another former Arsenal player, George Swindon joined Arsenal from Midland League side Peterborough in 1958. It was his 1st job in charge of a professional club.

Billy Wright

Appointed as manager of Arsenal in 1962, Billy Wright had only previously managed at a youth team level – leading England’s youth team in 1960.

Arsenal would be the only club he managed.

Bertie Mee

After leaving, the the Royal Army Medical Corps, Bertie Mee joined Arsenal in 1960 as physiotherapist.

Following the sacking of Billy Wright in 1966, the club asked Mee to become manager, a highly surprising move, perhaps even to the man himself; Mee asked for a get-out clause for him to return to physiotherapist after twelve months if it didn’t work out.

Mee would take the club to its first European trophy in 1970 and oversee the clubs first league and cup double in its history.

Arsenal would be the only club he managed

Terry Neill

Having become one of the youngest ever managers in the history of the game when taking over at Hull City as player-manager aged just 28-years-old, Terry Neill became Arsenal’s biggest name appointment when he was appointed  in 1976 to replace Bertie Mee.

Between Hull and Arsenal he managed Tottenham for two seasons having succeeded Bill Nicholson.

At the age of 34, he became the youngest Arsenal manager to date.

He led the club to a trio of FA Cup finals (1978, 1979 & 1980), winning one. He also took the club to the UEFA Cup Winners Cup Final, where they lost to Valencia on penalties.

Neill was sacked by Arsenal on 16 December 1983 and retired from the game at just 41-years-old.

Don Howe

Former player Don Howe rejoined Arsenal as head coach in 1977 under Terry Neill, having previously worked with the club under Don Howe. Between his 2 stints as a coach at Arsenal he had unsuccessful stints as manager at WBA (who he relegated) and Galatasaray.

Following Neill’s departure, Howe was originally appointed as caretaker manager before being given the job permanently in April 1984.

After just two years in the job, Howe resigned. His legacy would still be felt decades later having been the man to introduce a host of young players to the 1st team including Tony Adams, David Rocastle and Niall Quinn.

George Graham

Following the resignation of Don Howe, arsenal first offered the job to Barcelona manager Terry Venables before switching their attention to Alex Ferguson, who was then in temporary charge of Scotland whilst still Aberdeen manager – who he had taken to 3 league titles; breaking the Glasgow dominance.

It was the first time Arsenal had looked to recruit a manager at the top of the game since Herbert Chapman was appointed 60 years previously.

Having been rejected by both, Arsenal ended up with George Graham. A former player who had got Millwall promoted to the 2nd division in 1984/85.

2 league titles, Anfield 89, domestic cup double and a European trophy followed before it all came crashing down in 1995 after Graham was sacked following the discovery that he has accepted an “unsolicited gift” from a Norwegian agent (everyone was at it in those days).

In his 9 years at the club, Graham transformed Arsenal from a team drifting in mid-table to the best team in the country.

Bruce Rioch

Like Graham, Bruce Rioch had never managed in top flight football before joining Arsenal.

He had taken Bolton to the Premier League via the play-offs in the season prior to joining Arsenal. His only season at Arsenal would be overshadowed by a fall-out with Ian Wright.

Arsene Wenger

“Arsene Who?” was the headline when David Dein appointed an unknown Frenchman who had just spent a year managing in Japan to replace Bruce Rioch at Arsenal.

The Frenchman had taken Monaco to the Ligue 1 title 10 years previously. No one could have foreseen how he would change Arsenal and English football.

He bought with him a new culture.

From coaching methods to fitness, nutrition to scouting, he ripped up the rule book that English coaches had followed for decades. Where he led in sports science, statistical scouting and eye to detail, other clubs would follow.

3 league titles, 7 FA Cups, 2 cup doubles and an unbeaten season.

Other clubs soon followed Arsenal in appointing foreign managers in the hope they would replicate his success.

A manager with the longevity and success of Wenger may well never be seen again in England.

Unai Emery

Following Wenger’s departure, Arsenal went big for the 3rd time in their history by appointing serial winner Unai Emery.

Emery had taken Sevilla and PSG to 9 trophies in the 5 seasons previous to joining Arsenal. Only Pep Guardiola had won more in European football during that time.

Following a 21 game-unbeaten run, Arsenal’s form dropped off and his 1st season ended in disappointment with the club thrashed in the Europa League final.

He was sacked in November 2019 following a winless run of seven games.

Following the big name appointment of Unai Emery, Mikel Arteta will see Arsenal return to their tried and tested history of not recruiting a big name manager.

In the last 100 years, Arsenal have had 14 permanent managers:

  • 6 were former players
  • 6 had never managed before
  • 9 had never managed in the top flight
  • 2 were physiotherapists



3 thoughts on “Former Player? No Managerial Experience? Not a problem

  1. iain lock

    Hi as a Arsenal fan for 53 years I love the insight of your blogs and the way you see straight through the crap that is often written on social media.

    However just a small note in your blog today you say that Don Howe joined Arsenal under Terry Neil. I am sure you will recall that he was in fact a coach and the tactical brains behind the Bertie Mee success in the late 60s and early 70s. Just a small point but for younger readers it is important that they get their Arsenal history correct.

    Thanks and keep up the good work it give me something to look forward to each day.

    Merry Christmas.


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  2. Robert Spaul

    Thanks for the article and overview. I was fortunate enough to get my first season ticket in 1969/70, the year we won the Fairs Cup and of course the double which followed is legendary. Iain’s comments about Don Howe being the coach at this time are correct and there no doubt that he had a good tactical brain; however, Howe left at the end of 70/71 taking his backroom team with him to West Brom and many fans credited him with being the brains behind the success, effectively giving Bertie Mee few plaudits for the fantastic achievements. Whilst Don Howe failed at WBA, because great coaches don’t necessarily make great managers and vice versa. Bertie Mee went on to reach the FA Cup final in 71/72 and finished 6pts behind the league winners Derby. The next season, Bertie took them to runners up behind Liverpool and an FA Cup semi-final against Sunderland. Not too shabby in terms of managerial performance. Bertie had a brief career as a professional player at Derby County but his career was cut short through injury so his transition from physio to manager wasn’t without sound foundation.

    Let’s all hope that Mikel Arteta is able to make the transition to being a coach to being a successful manager. All of the great managers we’ve had didn’t have the problem of the Kroenke ownership of the club and this will be a major obstacle to any new manager.



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