Five of the biggest managerial falls upwards ever: Manchester United boss was told ‘please don’t come back’

Matt Stead
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Burnley coach Vincent Kompany and Gareth Southgate of England
Still reeling from Vincent Kompany to Bayern Munich? Same

Vincent Kompany spending £100m to relegate Burnley before taking over Bayern Munich rivals one Manchester United appointment for managers falling upwards.

The Kompany situation really is hilarious. Burnley were so reverent to his apparent coaching brilliance that they built the entire club around him upon his appointment in June 2022. He had a key role in recruitment, including the final say on all transfers, and a pledge from chairman Alan Pace that he was not “going to ever fire him”.

“My worry is, as I’ve tried to explain to him, is it’s like dating the most beautiful girl in town, and knowing there’s probably no chance she’ll ever marry you,” was how Pace summed up what always looked like a dreadfully imbalanced relationship between club and manager. “But, everybody else wants to marry her. So it’s like, how long can you date, how long can you stay together, how long can you stay a couple? I hope it’s for a very, very, very long time. But it’s up to ‘her’.”

‘She’ said “we stick together and we will have the good times again” after an embarrassing season ended in relegation, then moved out as soon as Bayern Munich reached the 427th option on their list of managerial candidates this summer.

It is a baffling turn of events but managers have somehow used failure as a launchpad towards something greater before.


Roberto Martinez
A Belgium-adjacent prominent former player in their late 30s with a bold coaching philosophy receiving a personal promotion after guiding a team to Premier League relegation is not entirely unprecedented. Kompany to Bayern Munich will forever remain unmatched in terms of just how ludicrous that upwards fall is, but perhaps he compared notes with Martinez during some 2018 World Cup downtime.

The parallels are there, even down to the bizarre public deference of a fawning chairman determined to cast themselves as the punchers in an unlikely relationship.

“I have to say that even if we go down there is no way he will be leaving Wigan,” Dave Whelan said at the Spaniard’s unveiling in June 2009. “I’m sticking with Roberto. I want him here for three years minimum. If we go down he will stay with us – that’s for sure. I’m not saying that because I fear we will go down, I don’t, I am just stressing my loyalty to him.”

Martinez actually served four years in the DW dugout, but very much did depart when the Latics finally dropped back into the Championship in 2013. Whelan, presumably in between regaling anyone listening about his 1960 FA Cup final leg break, said the manager “feels he’s not the man to lead us back into the Premier League”.

That was football-speak for wanting to talk to Everton about the position David Moyes had recently vacated. Martinez had at least just won the FA Cup, but Wigan’s relegation seemed a far more relevant reflection of credentials which had somehow been boosted.

Martinez did guide Everton to what is still the highest points total in their Premier League history in his first season, but his final two campaigns included bottom-half finishes, fan protests and a general inability to defend competently.

Belgium and Portugal have since entrusted Martinez with their Golden Generations; the FA Cup remains his last trophy as a manager.

📣 TO THE COMMENTS! Has there ever been a bigger managerial fall upwards than Kompany going to Bayern? Join the debate here.


Frank Rijkaard
Relegation should not automatically preclude a manager from landing what is ostensibly a better job. There are circumstances to consider which are unique to each case and should not be immediately dismissed.

With that said, Rijkaard resigning from his post at Sparta Rotterdam after receiving a death threat following the first relegation in their Eredivisie history, then taking the actual Barcelona as his next job about a year later, was weird.

The Catalan giants were not at their best. They had just finished sixth in La Liga while failing to progress from the group stages in three of their previous six Champions League seasons. The presidency of Joan Gaspart had left them in disastrous shape and on the brink of financial ruin. Louis van Gaal started the 2002/03 campaign in charge, while Radomir Antic ended it.

The tide turned when Joan Laporta replaced Gaspart and, under the advice of Johan Cruyff, appointed free agent Rijkaard out of nowhere.

It worked well enough, with La Liga titles following in 2005 and 2006, the second of which was complemented by the Champions League. Lionel Messi was also among a laughably brilliant surfeit of academy products coming through to herald a bright new era, spearheaded by the majesty of Ronaldinho. But Rijkaard succeeding in laying the groundwork for Pep Guardiola – while failing in his bid to sign Rio Ferdinand – made the initial appointment no less peculiar.

Juande Ramos
In their perennial game of one-upsmanship, Barcelona and Real Madrid rarely let the other enjoy ownership of anything for too long. So when Rijkaard left the Nou Camp in 2008, Spain’s other behemoth soon set about trying to match the incongruity of his appointment.

Pretty much everyone was given a go in the Bernabeu hotseat during the mid-2000s and perhaps the most incongruous among them was Juande Ramos, 45 days separated from being sacked by Spurs after removing sugar from their diets, trading juice for water, decreeing that meat could not be accompanied by any sauces and overseeing their worst ever start to a league season.

Spurs reacted by making one of the biggest managerial upgrades in Premier League history. Ramos was an improvement on predecessor Bernd Schuster, but that was hardly difficult.

He tried to pretend his six-month contract could develop into a more permanent arrangement and there was a significant upturn in results, including a run of 17 wins and a draw in 18 straight La Liga games. But that was sandwiched in between unpalatable crusts: a 2-0 defeat to Barcelona in his first game, and a 6-2 home thrashing by the champions in May.

That prompted five consecutive league defeats which, coupled with a 5-0 aggregate humbling against Liverpool in the Champions League, put paid to any suggestion Ramos might stay on any longer. The fact it was even a question at all is testament to the power of the Carling Cup.

Ramos almost landed the Chelsea job as Jose Mourinho’s replacement a few years later, because some clubs just cannot help themselves.


Gareth Southgate
It is difficult to imagine a manager more suited to the England job, but Southgate could nevertheless hardly argue he received an opportunity he has grown into seamlessly on merit.

A risible Premier League record has not disqualified him from the Manchester United running and after almost four years in the coaching wilderness after being sacked by Middlesbrough in the Championship, Southgate was given the responsibility to lead England’s next crop of talented youngsters.

He took to the role admirably, which is to say Southgate was unbeaten in qualifying games for major tournaments, with England conceding seven goals in those 21 matches, while finishing bottom of their group at the 2015 Euros with a squad containing Harry Kane, John Stones, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Jesse Lingard, James Ward-Prowse and Carl Jenkinson.

Then Sam Allardyce drank some wine, said some things and induced a panic which culminated in Southgate, who at no stage seemed particularly eager about the prospect of discussing the intricacies of the Three Lions lyrics with Henry Winter on a quarterly basis, taking up a position he was born for.

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

“When I rang the owner and said that United had called and that he always knew that this had been my dream, he said: ‘Go over, enjoy yourself’ and please don’t come back.'”

It was a damning implication; Solskjaer merely meant that Molde supported his decision to become Manchester United caretaker, and hoped he would be successful enough to make his “dream” job a more lasting reality.

But it is a very funny quote in isolation which might even have reflected an element of the mood at the time. Solskjaer had won two Norwegian titles and a cup with Molde, but his return to the club after a calamitous, relegated spell with Cardiff was not triumphant.

Solskjaer finished fifth and then runner-up twice in three trophyless seasons during his second crack at the Eliteserien before answering a surprise call from a desperate Old Trafford. Molde agreed to loan their manager out until Ed Woodward followed the guidance of Ferdinand to “get the contract out, put in on the table, let him write whatever numbers he wants to put on there given what he’s done now since he’s come in, and let him sign the contract and go”.

Hindsight suggests Solskjaer worked miracles in taking Manchester United to semi-finals, a final and a runner-up finish. In truth, he was a very good manager for them with obvious limitations and a ceiling, undeniably promoted beyond his station.