Before Rafael Benitez - A look at ten other managers who crossed the rival divide

Spaniard Rafael Benitez, who is best known for his success at Liverpool, is now manager of their biggest domestic rival Everton.

Jose Mourinho in a file photo. (Image credit: Twitter)

Everton on Wednesday named Rafael Benitez as their new manager. On the surface, appointing a man who has a reputation for winning trophies to a club who haven’t won anything in 26 years makes sense. However, there’s one tiny little caveat here – Rafael Benitez was very successful at Liverpool, the Toffees’ cross-town rivals. What’s more, the Spaniard is still highly respected at Anfield, as he led them to a fifth UEFA Champions League title. To say this upsets a few Everton fans would be an understatement. Such is the rivalry between the two clubs that before this, only one man has managed both sides.

Yet it is worth noting that managers switching to rival clubs is not that uncommon. Here we look at a few notable managers who have been in the dugout in two (or more) rival clubs.

1) Rafael Benitez

Yes, this isn’t the first time Rafael Benitez is moving to a rival side who sport blue jerseys. At the end of 2012, the Spaniard was appointed manager of Chelsea on an interim basis. Again, the reaction was exactly what you would expect it to be.

Benitez’s Liverpool and Chelsea clashed on several noteworthy occasions, and the back-and-forth with him and manager Jose Mourinho made Benitez a hated man at Stamford Bridge. But he took on the job anyway. And boy did the fans hate him for it.

It didn’t help that he was replacing the beloved Roberto di Matteo, who led the Blues to their first Champions League title just earlier that year. Benitez was greeted by jeers on his home debut with the club. The virtriol didn’t stop there, as he was greeted with chants of “Rafa out” and “F*** off Benitez, you’re not welcome here”. This despite the fact he was appointed on an interim basis. Nevertheless, he was successful, finishing third in the league and winning the Europa League.

2) Jose Mourinho

The man who put Chelsea on the map in England also left them – twice – and went on to manage at rival clubs – again twice. Mourinho’s second stint at Chelsea ended in 2015, and he spent the rest of the season out of work. But he took up the Manchester United job at the start of the 2016 season.

His time at Old Trafford was mixed – he won the Europa League and League Cup, but his football was often dour. He left the club in eerily similar circumstances to the way he departed Chelsea.

To make matters worse, he then joined Chelsea’s local rivals Tottenham Hotspur. His stint there was, to put it mildly, forgettable – he was sacked midway through his second season itself.

3) William Edward Barclay

The man who, besides Rafael Benitez, is the only one to manage both Everton and Liverpool. However, the story was way different back then. Barclay was manager of Everton for the first 22 games of their history. Yet, when a split within the club saw most of the Everton set-up join Goodison Park, he stayed back for the formation of the new club. That side would become Liverpool FC.

Amazingly, until recently, no one else had dared to cross the Merseyside divide.

4) Antonio Conte

The former Juventus midfielder is widely regarded as one of the best managers in world football right now. And it was at Juventus that he first established this reputation. In 2012, he won Juventus’ first Serie A title in a nine years and started a run of dominance that saw them win 9 straight leage titles.

The man who broke that streak? Antonio Conte, this time at Inter Milan. The 2020-21 title was Inter’s first in 11 years, as they last won the title in 2009-10 – a little before Juventus’ run began. Of course, Conte being Conte, he left Inter after the title win due to unhappiness over a lack of investment by the owners.

5) Maurizio Sarri

One of the teams that came closest to ending Juventus’ run of nine straight league titles was Napoli. Under the management of Maurizio Sarri, widely considered an underrated coach, Napoli came very close to breaking their dominance. However, when they failed to do so, Sarri departed for Chelsea.

His time at the London club saw him win his first-ever trophy as a manager when he won the Europa League. However, he left after just one season to return to Italy – as Juventus boss. He lasted only a season here too, winning the league but getting sacked for not winning the Champions League.

6) Sven-Goran Eriksson

To fans of a certain generation, Sven-Goran Eriksson will forever be remembered as the man who managed England’s ‘Golden Generation’. But the Swede’s career has been a long one, making it of little surprise that he finds himself on this list. He too managed two Italian rivals – AS Roma and SS Lazio.

His time at Roma yielded only the Coppa Italia in 1986, and he left in 1987. Nine years and three jobs later, he returned to Rome with Lazio. His time there is more fondly remembered, as he won a Coppa Italia, Italian Super Cup, European Cup Winners Cup and the Serie A too.

7) George Graham

The name George Graham is almost universally associated with Arsenal. After all, he spent the majority of his playing time at the London club and, before Arsene Wenger, was the club’s longest-serving manager. He won an array of trophies at Highbury – two League titles, an FA Cup, two League Cups and the European Cup Winners Cup.

His long association with Arsenal made it all the more surprising that he went on to manage north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur. He won the League Cup with them in 1999 – one of two trophies Spurs have won in the past 20-odd years. However, he was sacked after being at odds with company ENIC, who were taking over the club.

8) Steve Bruce

Steve Bruce has had something of a journeyman managerial career. However, it was always going to be an uphill task to manage Sunderland in 2009. Not only did they have a tiny budget, Bruce is a boyhood Newcastle United fan. In the end, he was sacked due to poor results.

A few years later and Bruce was now at the helm of Newcastle. However, his time at the club has been hugely unpopular. He nevertheless remains in a job, having guaranteed Premier League survival in both seasons.

9) Sam Allardyce

‘Big Sam’ Allardyce is, like Bruce, a journeyman manager. In recent years, he’s established himself as a relegation-avoiding expert. But in his early days Bolton Wanderers, he was regarded as one of the best coaches in the country. After that spell ended, he spent time at Newcastle and even Bolton’s rivals Blackburn Rovers.

It doesn’t end there, however. He woud later join Sunderland, thus becoming the first to cross the Tyne-Wear derby divide. He managed to save the club from the drop and was even appointed England manager. The less said about that spell, the better!

10) Harry Redknapp

Another on the list who can be considered something of a journeyman as manager. Harry Redknapp’s managerial career saw a variety of ups and downs. But perhaps nothing will beat how he alternated between rival sides Portsmouth and Southampton.

After being sacked from West Ham – more on them later – he joined Portsmouth and got them promoted to the Premier League. He ensured their first season survival too, but left the job in November 2004 – to join Southampton. To say Pompey fans were enraged was an understatement.

He spent the remainder of that season at Southampton as the club were relegated. He stayed on for the next season but couldn’t win them promotion then promptly left – to rejoin Portsmouth.

As an aside, Redknapp also managed West Ham’s local rivals Tottenham Hotspur for a period of nearly four seasons.

Sportslumo Desk

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