Antonio Conte will arrive at Chelsea with a fearsome reputation as a rather hard b*stard. Here are the five most intimidating bosses in the Premier League era.
An overbearing, old school P.E teacher. The next door neighbour who you fear having to ask for your ball back. The one guy who takes the stag do too seriously. Hater of ostriches. There are many ways used to describe Nigel Pearson, but ‘welcoming’ is rarely one of them. ‘Nigel Pearson was a bully, and deserved to be sacked by Leicester City,’ wrote Oliver Brown for the Daily Telegraph in the summer. From throttling James McArthur during a match – an incident which rendered the Crystal Palace midfielder “a bit scared” by his own admission – to likening a journalist to a large flightless bird, to telling a Leicester fan to “f*** off and die” after a match, the unattached manager is a little intimidating. Our prayers go out to Gabby Agbonlahor when he is appointed Aston Villa boss in the summer.
If you are unconvinced, simply consider the following, taken from a Sam Wallace story in The Independent in February 2015:
‘It is the best story about Nigel Pearson, perhaps the best story about any Premier League manager, and it concerns the man still in charge of Leicester City and a pack of wild dogs that he encountered while hiking alone in the Carpathian mountains.
‘Pearson’s most detailed account of the incident came in a documentary Sky Sports made about the newly promoted Leicester last summer. “There was five of them,” he recalled, “and what they do is that one goes for you and the others [circle] around until one of them can bring you down – what they essentially do is rip the throat out.”
‘He said he had escaped them first time by throwing himself into a “patch of brambles and nettles” where he knew the dogs would not follow. When they attacked a second time he had only his walking poles to defend himself. “I backed myself against a tree,” Pearson said. “I thought ‘I don’t want to get attacked from behind’. I was absolutely goosed by this point.” He did not go into details about how he survived, saying only that he “managed to get rid of them”.’
“You may have heard people say that I’m a bastard. Well, they’re right.”
The above is not a quote from Brian Clough. Instead, they are the first words spoken by Alan Brown, Clough’s manager during his playing career at Sunderland, the first time the two met. And while Peter Taylor and numerous others are so often credited with playing the biggest roles in Clough’s success, it is Brown who inspired the rise of the greatest manager England never had. During his time as Sunderland manager from 1957 to 1964, Brown promoted an effective fear throughout his squad. Players would be fined for minor indiscretions; senior squad members would be ordered to be ball boys for the youth teams. Clough felt Brown’s wrath first-hand, the player being hauled off the touchline and reprimanded for talking to a friend during training.
Brown’s lessons would permeate Clough’s management style. The boy reared in Middlesbrough was a mere 5ft 10ins – not a particularly daunting figure by any means – but he harvested an aura which commanded respect. Anyone who punches Roy Keane in the face and receives not a furious retaliatory attack but the midfielder’s respect must be rather intimidating. Which brings us to…
If you are unaware of Roy Keane’s reputation as a player, simply ask Alf-Inge Haaland’s leg. Or Adrian Chiles. Or Trigger, to whom the Irishman would reveal all his deepest and darkest secrets.
As a manager, Keane was no different. After Clive Clarke suffered a heart attack while on loan at Leicester, then-Sunderland boss Keane’s initial reaction was, according to his autobiography: ‘Is he OK? I’m shocked they found one, you could never tell by the way he plays’.’ He would later write: ”I had the evil thought: “I’m glad he had it tonight” because it would deflect our woeful performance.’ Lovely.
Keane even upset Dwight Yorke during his time at Sunderland. ‘After one game, he asked our kit manager if he can get the tactics board,’ the former Manchester United striker wrote in his own autobiography.'”‘Sure”, he said. The board goes up. And Keano takes a running jump and smashes it over with a kung-fu kick. He screamed at Danny Collins. “Never come and ask me for a contract again.” And then the captain, Dean Whitehead, is next. “Captain? Captain? Some f***ing captain you”.’
In an unrelated incident, Keane would later text Yorke to tell him to “go f*** yourself”.
Sir Alex Ferguson
Remove the fear, and look what happens. Manchester United thought the formula for success was simply to appoint a Glaswegian who had impressed in his previous job at a relatively unfashionable club. Upon Ferguson’s retirement in 2013, David Moyes ascended to the throne. While his predecessor kicked football boots at players, the former Everton boss banned chips and wound Rio Ferdinand up a little bit. The desired reaction was not quite the same.
Then Moyes was sacked, and in came a foreign manager with a reputation for dictatorial authority. A man who would not fear targeting the Custi. A man who would drop his trousers to prove to his players how large his testicles were. Again, the heights of Ferguson have not even nearly been met.
It is testament to Ferguson’s work over 27 years at Old Trafford. He ensured his players feared him, but also respected him. That they would not want to cross him, but would want to play for him. That a hierarchy at the club was recognised, with the manager perched firmly at the top. It is no coincidence that the most successful manager the game has ever seen was also one of its most intimidating.
Ferguson was renowned for handing out doses of the ‘hairdryer treatment’, but slightly less successful counterpart Graeme Souness cultivated a reputation as a bull in a china shop during his ill-fated spell at Liverpool. Indeed, Ian Rush once said that “teacups being thrown” was nothing new in the Anfield dressing room under the management of the hard-nosed Scot.
“Unlike some of the players, I didn’t have a major problem with Souness,” Jan Molby wrote in his autobiography. “Some of the lads didn’t like his managerial style, and it’s true he had a very short fuse. He’d come in after games and have a real pop at us. He was one of those managers who wanted to win so badly. Like Kenny, he was pretty calm before games, but afterwards he just couldn’t control it. In September 1993, we lost 3-2 to Wimbledon at Anfield in the Premiership. We really were pathetic. Souness was livid. After storming into the dressing room, he picked up a bottle of smelling salts and threw it at the mirror. It smashed into a thousand pieces. That was the worst I ever saw him after a game.”
For one of the hardest b*stards of the game during his playing career, making the transition for his first full-time role in management was a simple task. And if you ask Thierry Henry, Souness is just as intimidating as a besuited 62-year-old pundit.