The old adage in football is that you should never go back. No matter how successful you may have been first time around, if things go wrong you supposedly run the risk of tainting the good work you did before, whether as a player or manager.
However there are several examples of managers doing just that and the trend seems to be increasing. In recent years there have been several teams in the Football League who have re-appointed a former manager and have replicated or even bettered the achievements from their first spell as boss.
Take Gary Johnson as the most recent example. Between 2001 and 2005 he was manager of Yeovil Town, taking the Somerset club into the Football League for the first time by winning the Conferernce title. Two seasons later he won them the League Two title and promotion into League One for the first time in the club’s history.
After seeing his stock rise due to his work at Huish Park, Johnson left Yeovil to become manager of Bristol City, taking them into the Championship and almost to the Premier League, losing the 2008 play-off final to Hull City. In March 2010 he left Ashton Gate and from there had spells at Peterborough United and Northampton Town, the latter seeing him face a relegation battle at the bottom end of League Two.
Johnson and Northampton parted company in November 2011, by which point Yeovil, still in League One, were struggling at the wrong end of the table under boss Terry Skiverton, the club’s former captain and fans’ favourite. In January 2012, Yeovil decided to bring Johnson back to Huish Park for a second spell as manager with Skiverton, who was Johnson’s captain at the club, becoming his assistant.
The Glovers avoided relegation that season with two games left to spare, but the following campaign would prove to be far more successful. They got off to their best ever start to a league season, taking 10 points from the first four games of the season and, aided by the goals of Paddy Madden, remained in contention for the play-offs for most of the year.
Yeovil secured fourth spot, their highest ever league finish and qualified for the play-offs. They beat Sheffield United 2-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals before seeing off Brentford 2-1 in the final at Wembley on a memorable day for everyone involved in the club. The promotion was Johnson’s third with the club in 10 years, taking them from non-league up to the Championship in two spells as boss.
Johnson has picked up where he left off at Huish Park and next season the club will be playing in English football’s second tier for the very first time.
Bournemouth are another club who have tasted success after bringing back a former manager. In 2009 the club appointed 32-year-old Eddie Howe as boss, with the Cherries second from bottom of League Two – seven points from safety – having started the 2008-09 season on minus 17 points after a spell in administration.
Howe was a fans’ favourite at Dean Court, making 313 appearances in two spells with Bournemouth as a defender, before being forced to retire from playing because of a knee problem in 2007.
He kept the club in the Football League in 2009 and at the start of the 2009–10 season, Howe won eight out of the first nine games, a club record. Despite the club being under a transfer embargo for the whole campaign, the Bournemouth’s good form continued and they secured promotion to League One in Howe’s first full season in charge, finishing second in the table behind Notts County.
Howe’s achievements brought him to the attention of clubs higher up the league pyramid and in January 2011 he became the new manager of Championship side Burnley. However in two years at Turf Moor, he guided the Lancashire club to two mid-table finishes and struggled to get them challenging for a serious promotion push to the Premier League.
In November 2012 Bournemouth sacked boss Paul Groves after a poor start to the season and shocked many by re-appointing Howe as their manager. To drop down a level and join the Cherries showed the affinity that Howe felt towards his hometown club and, now back on the South Coast, Howe’s impact was immediate.
Bournemouth failed to lose any of Howe’s first 15 league games back in charge and the club surged into promotion contention. After a slight blip in form through February and March, Howe’s men won eight games in a row to secure promotion to the Championship for only the second time in their history, following in the footsteps of Harry Redknapp’s side, who won promotion to the Second Division in 1987. The Cherries ended the season with a 0-0 draw at Tranmere Rovers, which saw them finish second in League One.
Howe, like Johnson at Yeovil, has picked up from where he left off with Bournemouth and he will take the club into the second tier for the first time since 1990. His achievements at the club have established him as one of this country’s brightest young managerial talents.
Peterborough United manager Darren Ferguson has also bucked the ‘never go back’ trend. The son of legendary Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson began his managerial career when he was appointed player-manager at London Road at the age of 34 in January 2007.
He guided the club to a 10th place finish in League Two that year and in the 2007-08 campaign, his first full season as a manager, he took Peterborough to second place and automatic promotion to League One. With the momentum of that promotion behind them, Ferguson’s side made the step up to the higher level comfortably and finished runners-up, securing an immediate promotion to the second tier, the first time that they would play at that level since 1994.
Despite the great success he had brought to Posh, Ferguson left the club by mutual consent in November 2009 with them at the foot of the Championship. Two months later he was back in management with Preston North End, keeping the club in the Championship at the end of his first half-season in charge. However, a poor start to the following campaign saw Ferguson sacked by the club at the end of December 2010.
During Ferguson’s year in charge of Preston, former club Peterborough had struggled to replace him in the dugout. His successor Mark Cooper lasted 13 games, Jim Gannon a matter of months and Gary Johnson half of the 2010-11 season after a disagreement with club chairman Darragh MacAnthony. In January 2011 Ferguson returned to London Road for a second stint as boss 14 months after originally departing, signing a four-and-a-half year contract.
The club finished fourth in League One and qualified for the play-offs. In the semi-finals they overcame MK Dons 4-3 on aggregate before beating Huddersfield Town 3-0 in the final to secure an immediate return to the Championship, which was Ferguson’s third promotion with the club in four years.
Posh remained a Championship side for two seasons until they were relegated on the final day of the 2012-13 campaign, although they will feel confident of bouncing back next year with Ferguson at the helm. The decision to bring him back as manager in 2011 proved to be a successful one and it seems that both he and the club bring out the best in each other.
Johnson, Howe and Ferguson are the three most recent examples of managers making a success of their second spell in charge and it seems that several Football League clubs are hoping to follow this trend having re-appointed their former managers. Tranmere boss Ronnie Moore is currently in his second spell with the club, John Ward is back at Bristol Rovers for a second time, while Brian Laws is in charge of Scunthorpe United for the third time, after taking the club from League Two to the Championship in two spells between 1997 and 2006.
In the Championship, Leicester City and Nottingham Forest have also turned to a former manager in the hope of securing success.
Nigel Pearson guided Leicester out of League One as Champions in 2009 before almost leading them to back-to-back promotions the following year. The club finished an impressive fifth in their first season back in the Championship before the club lost to Cardiff City on penalties in the 2010 play-off semi-finals.
Pearson left to join Hull City that summer to be replaced by Paolo Sousa. Leicester were then taken over by wealthy owners from Thailand, who invested heavily in the playing squad and sacked Sousa after a poor start to the season, replacing him with former England manager Sven-Goran Eriksson in the hope of securing promotion to the Premier League.
However after an inconsistent start to the 2011-12 season, Eriksson left Leicester by mutual consent and the club’s owners turned to Pearson in the hope that he could repeat his earlier success with the club, albeit with a more expensively-assembled squad. Leicester finish ninth that season but the following year, Pearson took them to sixth place and the play-offs. In a dramatic end to their semi-final second leg against Watford, Leicester were one penalty kick away from reaching the final, but Anthony Knockaert’s 95th minute effort was saved and Watford went up the other end, scoring through Troy Deeney to progress.
Leicester’s East Midlands neighbours Nottingham Forest have also turned to a former manager in quest for glory, in the form of Billy Davies. The Scot saved the club from relegation to League One in 2009, then led them to back-to-back play-off semi-finals in 2010 and 2011 before being sacked.
Forest appointed Steve McClaren as his successor, but the former England boss struggled at the City Ground, lasting just three months in charge. Steve Cotterill kept the club in the Championship before they were taken over by the Al Hasawi family from Kuwait. They sacked Cotterill, replaced him with his former assistant Sean O’Driscoll then sacked him on Boxing Day last year despite the club being a point outside the play-offs. His replacement Alex McLeish lasted 44 days after winning just one out of seven league games.
With the club attracting all the wrong headlines for hiring and firing managers, the Al Hasawi family appeased large sections of the Forest support by bringing back Billy Davies as manager for a second stint. He immediately won six of his first seven games as the Reds challenged for a play-off spot but a run of inconsistent form ultimately cost them as they finished eighth. Next season, Davies will be expected to have Forest challenging for promotion in his first full campaign back at the City Ground, just as he did the last time he was manager.
Despite some observers claiming that going back to former clubs is not a wise move, there are several managers in the Football League who have proven that this is not always the case. The likes of Gary Johnson, Eddie Howe and Darren Ferguson have shown that some managers are simply the right fit for certain clubs.
In the modern era, managers are under pressure to deliver success otherwise they could find themselves out of a job quickly. However as the examples mentioned here have shown, if a manager is brought back they can settle in quickly and rediscover the form which made them successful in the first place. Fans will be more patient with a manager they know has delivered for them in the past, which in turn can work to the club’s advantage.
In these boom-or-bust times, maybe clubs have realised that familiarity breeds success.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up’s Nottingham Forest blogger
Steven tweets at @steven_toplis