Buidling Dreams Together


Debate: Players who owe their football careers to a certain manager?

Jordan Henderson has received a phenomenal amount of media attention since leaving Liverpool to join Saudi Pro League outfit Al Ettifaq in order to further his career. Sorry, I mean increase his bank account. Which you can’t blame him for considering he has surpassed his peak at 33 years old. The England international ripped up his contract 17 appearances later and missed out on £4 million for not seeing out his deal, so that was pointless! The ex-Liverpool captain joined four-time Champions League winner’s Ajax in the January transfer window after much speculation on him struggling to adapt to the Arabian lifestyle. Since then, he has made four starts and Ajax legend Rafael van der Vaart has been quick to assess the Englishman’s ability by speaking on Ajax TV and expressing how he has ‘Zero quality’ and also claiming, ‘All he does is play a little pass out wide, or a little pass back. But nobody will be happy with that.’ These brutal comments resonated with me, as they sparked an instant thought in my head, which was, if it hadn’t been for Jurgen Klopp, what would Jordan Henderson’s career look like? Without Klopp’s genius use of the high press that electrified the league from the start of his reign, would Henderson’s quality on the ball have found him out? He has the most incredible engine and is known for his leadership skills, but if it hadn’t been for Klopp and his high intensity off the ball, it’s possible he wouldn’t have gone on to have the career he subsequently built. In four games at Ajax, he has already come in for massive criticism for his ball-playing skills, which are expected to be of the highest quality in Amsterdam, so has he been found out without Klopp? Does he owe his career to him?

Let’s take a look at other players this may have been the case for, although I’m more than willing to be told differently:

John O’Shea – Sir Alex Ferguson

Tom Cleverley, Wes Brown and Darren Fletcher were also in contention for the best Premier League manager in its history, Sir Alex Ferguson. The list could be endless, but I landed on the man who was used for every bone in his body by Ferguson, John O’Shea. The Irishman made 393 appearances for the Red Devils and Ferguson used him in virtually every single position on the pitch at some point, even as goalkeeper. The five-time Manchester United Premier League champion spent most of his early career in the Reserves side before Ferguson gave him his opportunity. The Republic of Ireland international slotted in for any injuries for United and Ferguson made him one of the most consistent players you will see. In 2011, he joined Sunderland, where he was left exposed to see what he could do without the greatest ever. O’Shea went on to captain the Black Cats side that suffered consecutive relegations in the 2016–2017 and 2017–2018 seasons. 

Kolo Toure – Arsene Wenger 

Much was made about possibly the most unbelievable trial in the Premier League’s history, as when Kolo Toure took to the Arsenal training ground in his attempt to impress the Frenchman, it would have been impossible to believe he would wipe out Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and then the boss himself. Toure had other ideas because he did exactly that! Remarkably, Arsene Wenger was taken back by the Ivorian’s tenacity and aggression in the session, and despite having to hold an ice pack on his foot at the end of it, he decided to sign him. Toure made 326 appearances and was known for his at times calamotous defending, but Wenger managed to utilise his aggressive style of stopping the opposition in around his neat footballers, which worked perfectly. The 42-year-old moved to City in 2009 and failed a drug test in 2011, with his repercussions being a 6-month suspension from football. In City’s title-winning season in 2011-2012, he only featured as a squad player and it was certainly obvious that he lacked the quality needed to make an impact during his time at City. 

Phil Foden – Pep Guardiola

A controversial one, but the 5’7 Englishman couldn’t have stepped up to join the First Team under a more perfect manager for himself than Pep Guardiola. The 23-year-old has a wonder of a left foot and he really has found his craft at the top level this season, with him currently sitting in second place among goalscorers for City this season after bagging eight goals. The Englishman must be in dreamland to have a mentor in Guardiola, who is no stranger to getting the best out of someone with that low sense of gravity and with a wand of a left foot. Lionel Messi, David Silva and Bernardo Silva are three names that fit the bill. Under Pep’s genius guidance it’s more than understandable to think that he has already had by far the best career he could have achieved.

Marouane Fellaini – David Moyes

Marouane Fellaini made 157 appearances and managed 29 goals, with 16 assists in his time at the Toffees. David Moyes was the man to thank for his career after he signed him for £15 million from Standard Liege and really made the most of his size. The Belgian international was played in the No.10 role for the best part of his time at Goodison Park, where his manager rinsed every inch of his physical attributes and made him the vocal point of the team. With his big and awkward way of playing the game, he was the perfect fit for the longest-serving Everton manager. However, in 2013, Fellaini joined his mentor at Manchester United, where they both struggled immensely. The 36-year-old switched to Chinese side SD Luneng in 2019 and failed to show a great deal there either. 

Dele Alli – Mauricio Pochettino

Currently still sidelined due to injury, Dele Alli has himself made it very clear he owes his career to the Argentine after declaring in an interview with Gary Neville last year that ‘Mauricio Pochettino was the best manager, and I couldn’t have asked for a better manager’. Alli was signed by Tottenham for £5 million and he joined a man who perfectly knew how to deal with him off the pitch as much as on it. Therefore, this allowed him to excel and flourish in an exciting Spurs side, where he managed 67 goals in his 269 appearances. However, the 27-year-old’s career started to decline once Pochettino left the club, which resulted in Daniel Levy letting him sign for Everton for £40 million. Since then, the ex-MK Dons player has managed 0 goals and 0 assists in 13 Premier League games for the Toffees and, although he still has years in front of him, it’s hard to imagine his career will ever be at the level it was under Pochettino. 

Kevin Nolan – Sam Allardyce

Bolton, Newcastle and West Ham were the clubs Kevin Nolan followed Big Sam around to, with their pairing the strongest at the formerly known Reebok Stadium. Nolan made 342 appearances for the Wanderers after signing for the club at the age of 16 before making his professional first-team debut a year later. Sam Allardyce had only just begun his managerial career at Bolton the same season and so he developed Nolan’s skills right from the outset and managed to always get the absolute best out of the Englishman. Big Sam used his physical attributes in the No.10 role to use his consistent play off the big front man approach and truly eke everything out of him throughout his career. From Kevin Davies (Bolton Wanderers), to Andy Carroll (Newcastle United), to Andy Carroll again (West Ham United), Allardyce really knew how to give Nolan exactly what he needed. 

Rory Delap – Tony Pulis

Astonishingly, Tony Pulis had absolutely no idea about Rory Delap’s monstrous long throw-ins when he signed him. However, he soon did when he held a competition in pre-season for who could throw the furthest, and his assistant Dave Kemp asked him, ‘Have you seen Rory throw the ball?’. Delap almost threw the ball to the other side of the pitch. The Republic of Ireland international has since been famously known for his ridiculously long throw-ins, but it’s hard to imagine his career would have been as good as it was if it hadn’t been for Pulis’ direct football, which played into the hands of Delap. He ended up making 208 appearances for Stoke City and at times his superpower was called ‘undefendable’, but it’s highly probable his career was made possible by the incredible job Tony Pulis did at the Britannia Stadium at the time. 

Danny Drinkwater – Claudio Ranieri

Claudio Ranieri, the man who achieved the 5,000/1 impossible and led Leicester City to the most unimaginable Premier League title in all of its remarkable history. He also kept faith in Danny Drinkwater, who arguably gave Leicester’s 20-game unbeaten home record away when teeing up Matt Phillips to score the winner for Albion at the King Power Stadium. Ranieri stood by his central midfielder and used him to the best of his ability for the entirety of the season. The Englishman was possibly flattered throughout that historic season playing alongside N’Golo Kante, who made it into the PFA Team Of The Year and was a name in lights for one of the bargains of the Premier League era. Drinkwater’s time to shine was when Chelsea counted £35 million to give Leicester for his services, but it’s safe to say he wasn’t considered good enough at any stage to make it past a supporting role at Stamford Bridge.

Paulo Ferreira – Jose Mourinho 

The Portuguese right-back reunited with his fellow compatriot when he signed for £13.2 million, which was 20 days after Jose arrived at Stamford Bridge in 2004. Mourinho knew how to perfectly utilise his professionalism, which made him an extremely disciplined defender who was able to compliment three centre-backs in John Terry, William Gallas and former Porto teammate Ricardo Carvalho. He retired in 2013 to pursue a career behind the scenes at Chelsea, but it’s fair to say his career wouldn’t have hit the heights without the ‘Special One’.

Debate over. Please have your say and tell me how wrong I am. Or better yet, add whatever combination you think should be featured on this list!