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Jozef Venglos

Remembering the first 8 foreign managers in England’s top flight

Foreign managers are a common sight in English football these days. When the new Premier League season began in September, 10 of the division’s 20 clubs were coached by someone who was born outside Britain or Ireland. Compare that to the competition’s inaugural campaign of 1992/93, when there was a grand total of zero.

So, who were the pioneers that helped make the Premier League international in the 1990s? Here are the first eight foreign managers in England’s top flight.

Jozef Venglos (Aston Villa)

Venglos had a colourful managerial career, coaching in countries as diverse as Turkey, Malaysia, Australia, Portugal, Scotland and Oman between 1966 and 2002. He also had a spell in England, becoming the first foreign manager to take charge of a top-flight side when he was installed in the Aston Villa hot seat in 1990.

Venglos had just taken Czechoslovakia to the 1990 World Cup, but there was a culture clash between dugout and dressing room at Villa Park. In many ways he was ahead of his time – “things he did at Villa, other clubs were doing seven or eight years later,” Dwight Yorke later recalled – but it was a difficult season and Venglos departed after the club narrowly avoided relegation.

Ossie Ardiles (Tottenham Hotspur)

A cult hero at Spurs during his playing days, Ardiles did not fare quite as well when he stepped into the managerial chair. He had already managed three English sides in the lower divisions – Swindon Town, Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion – and was tasked with restoring Tottenham to their former glories in 1993.

While his all-out-attack approach may have been fun to watch, it was exploited by shrewder opponents. Spurs finished 15th in Ardiles’ only full season in charge, and he was sacked in November 1994 after a 3-0 defeat by Notts County in the League Cup.

Ruud Gullit (Chelsea)

After a solitary season with Sampdoria, Gullit arrived at Chelsea in 1995 for the final stop of his playing career. He did not hang up his boots for good until 1998, but after a year at Stamford Bridge he was appointed player-manager following Glenn Hoddle’s exit.

The Dutchman made a fine start to life in the dugout (or sometimes still on the pitch), finishing sixth in the Premier League and winning the FA Cup. Then, in February 1998, he was dismissed after falling out with chairman Ken Bates despite the fact the Blues were second in the standings.

Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)

Appointed as Arsenal manager in 1996, many fans of the north London outfit had not heard of Wenger when he arrived. Nor should they have – even though he had previously been at the helm of Monaco, his most recent job had been in Japan with Nagoya Grampus Eight.

Yet it did not take long for Wenger to get his ideas across. It is not an exaggeration to say that the Frenchman revolutionised English football, bringing in new training and preparation methods and making Arsenal a more attacking side. He spent 22 years in charge of the club, during which time he won three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups – more than any other manager in history.

Christian Gross (Tottenham Hotspur)

Having seen Wenger start to work his magic in the red-and-white half of north London, Spurs decided to appoint the little-known Gross in the autumn of 1997. The Swiss was unfairly mocked by the tabloid media for much of his tenure, but he also failed to convince the Tottenham players that he was the man to take them into the top six.

Spurs were in the relegation zone for long stretches of 1997/98, although a late-season rally inspired by the returning Jurgen Klinsmann saw them pull clear of danger.  However, two defeats from the first three games of the following campaign brought the curtain down on Gross’ reign.

Gianluca Vialli (Chelsea)

Vialli replaced Ruud Gullit as Chelsea boss after the latter’s contentious sacking in February 1998. The Italian had been part of Gullit’s playing squad and, like his predecessor, combined the two roles after being handed the reins. Chelsea ultimately dropped from second to fourth in 1997/98, but Vialli led them to glory in the Cup Winners’ Cup, overseeing a 1-0 victory over Stuttgart in the final.

Chelsea reached the semi-finals of the same competition in Vialli’s first full season in charge, as well as finishing third in the Premier League – just four points adrift of title winners Manchester United. The Blues dropped to fifth the following year but won the FA Cup, an achievement that did not prevent Vialli losing his job in September 2000.

Gerard Houllier (Liverpool)

Houllier became Liverpool’s first ever foreign manager in 1998, initially sharing the post with Roy Evans as the Reds continued their ‘boot room’ tradition, which saw members of the internal coaching staff groomed to take charge when there was a vacancy. The job share did not work, though, and Houllier took sole charge after a few months.

The Frenchman spent six years at Liverpool in total and guided them to a unique treble of UEFA Cup, FA Cup and League Cup in 2000/01. He left in 2004 after the Reds finished fourth, but he is still regarded fondly by fans of the club.

Egil Olsen (Wimbledon)

Prior to his appointment as Joe Kinnear’s successor, Olsen claimed Wimbledon and Brazil were the two teams he had always dreamed of managing. The Norwegian looked like a good stylistic fit for the Dons: the club had a reputation for direct, long-ball football, and Olsen had worked wonders using similar methods with his country’s national team.

Things did not go to plan, though, and Olsen was sacked shortly before Wimbledon’s relegation was confirmed at the end of the 1999/00 season. The players were never on board with his 4-5-1 formation and zonal marking system, while Olsen was also criticised for a recruitment policy that was centred on Norwegian imports.

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