Only a few share the same luck as Zidane. The Real Madrid legend returned to the helm in January 2016 to coach Los Blancos, guiding them to the Champions League title three years in a row. However, we can't say that other club legends who returned as boss enjoyed storybook endings. Let's look at five coaches who made remarkable returns to their clubs, only for fortune to go the wrong way.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær at Manchester United
It looked on paper that the Red Devils ever super-sub was returning to the club as a proper replacement for Sir Alex Ferguson. For a moment, it looked like Ole Gunnar Solskjær was ready to carry the torch. After all, Solskjær famously scored the winning goal in the 1999 Champions League title that secured the treble. Solskjær was the pinnacle of “Fergie time.”
The reality was that Jose Mourinho's replacement experienced ups and downs. As interim boss, Solskjær did wonders to reinvigorate the team, winning 14 of the team's first 19 matches during the 2018/19 campaign. The Norwegian became the full-time coach upon his initial success.
During the 2019-20 season, United finished third behind Manchester City and Liverpool. The following term the Red Devils moved up a spot buoyed by the January arrival of Bruno Fernandes. But the club still remained the second best in Manchester. They also lost the Europa League final on a penalty shootout — this is where the scale tipped out of Solskjær's favor.
Frank Lampard at Chelsea
What goes up must come down. And Super Frank was at the top. As a player, Lampard helped guide Chelsea to the 2011/12 Champions League title, three EPL titles, and four FA Cups. He also won the Europa League with the Blues.
As a coach, Lampard worked wonders in his first season. Despite the club's historic transfer ban, Lampard employed youth players Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham, and Reece James to much avail. The Blues finished fourth in the 2019/20 Premier League table and lost to Arsenal in the FA Cup final.
With the transfer ban officially lifted, the next season started off with high hopes. Instead, it was a strategic nightmare for Lampard, who failed to incorporate newcomers Timo Werner, Kai Havertz, Hakim Ziyech, and Ben Chilwell into the team. Owner Roman Abramovich sacked Lampard on January 21, only to hire Thomas Tuchel, who entered the club and guided the Blues to Champions League title glory in his first half-season.
Xavi at Barcelona
When Xavi replaced Ronaldo Koeman at Barcelona in November 2021, it felt like the beautiful, free-flowing football that Xavi orchestrated during his playing days would swiftly resume. Initially, the momentum and excitement paid off despite Barcelona's financial troubles in an era without Lionel Messi.
Barcelona finished second in La Liga but failed to reach the Champions League knockout stages for the first time since 2003. Still, Barca backed their man Xavi.
The 2022/23 season came along with bigger expectations at the domestic and European level, specifically the Champions League. Xavi guided the Catalan giants to their 27th La Liga title the following season, marking a resurging turn in the right direction. However, the club failed to advance from the Champions League group stages.
Fast-forward to the middle of the 2023/24 season, and Xavi has told the club it's his last season. The Catalan giants are sliding down the La Liga table — behind Guardiola-backed Girgona no less — and have only one more chance to redeem themselves in the Champions League. Xavi's side take on Napoli in the knockout round in late February to salvage a broken season.
A four-time Champions League winner as a Barca player, Xavi has too much pride to keep going and become the face of the club's most recent struggles.
Andrea Pirlo at Juventus
The former Juventus legendary midfielder took on the role of Juventus boss in August 2020. But it's fair to say he didn't enjoy the same trophy-laden tenure as a player where he earned five Serie A titles.
As coach, Pirlo lasted a mere season in Turin. In his inaugural season, he won the 2020/21 Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana. Still, he couldn't get the Bianconeri to finish in its typical top spot in Seria A. Juventus finished fourth after winning the last 9 Serie A titles — that's quite a fall down from grace.
Gennaro Gattuso at AC Milan
AC Milan hero Gennaro Gattuso left it all on the pitch, so it was no surprise to see his emotions in the dugout as head coach. After all, he helped Rossoneri win two Champions League titles as a defensive midfielder.
But dressed in a suit and tie, he failed to accomplish AC Milan's one goal: to get back into the Champions League. He missed it by a point.