Ten of the strangest appointments in football

Following the news that Rafael Benitez has stepped in at Newcastle on a three-year deal, we take a look some of the strangest and most unexpected appointments in football.

1 Rafael Benitez to Chelsea

Rafa seems to make a habit of arriving where he’s least expected.

Certainly most Chelsea fans were more than a bit surprised when he was announced as former player and club legend Roberto Di Matteo’s replacement in 2012.

After all, Benitez was in charge of arch-rivals Liverpool during the mid-2000s, and had been accused of making disrespectful and disparaging comments towards Chelsea in the past.

The Spaniard’s initial reception at the club was nothing short of hostile, although he did win some fans over during his time there, most notably after guiding Chelsea to victory in the Europa League and a respectable third-place finish in the Premier League.

2 Joe Kinnear to Newcastle

Joe Kinnear

The Magpies have had their fair share of unusual appointments it seems, and none more so than the hiring of Joe Kinnear as director of football in 2013.

Kinnear had been in charge as manager of Newcastle for a brief and unimpressive spell in 2008-09, and it would be fair to say he was one of the last people that fans wanted to see return to St. James’ Park.

Even before his arrival was officially announced, Kinnear was riling up the Toon Army.

He confirmed his appointment in the press before the club had said a word, and he gave a disastous radio interview where he got the names of players like Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Shola Ameobi wrong, also stating that he was smarter than Newcastle fans.

To make matters worse, the club released a statement that seemed to indicate that manager Alan Pardew would report directly to Kinnear “on all football-related matters”, effectively turning him into an assistant manager.

Once again, Kinnear’s time with the club proved to be short-lived.

3 Avram Grant to Chelsea

Avram Grant

This appointment back in 2007 probably would have raised a few eyebrows regardless, but coming as it did following the exit of the charismatic Jose Mourinho, it really set tongues wagging.

Grant certainly had none of Mourinho’s charisma or good looks, and he didn’t exactly have the kind of pedigree to make up for it, having never managed a team outside of his native Israel.

He had previously been technical director of Portsmouth, and he was also named Chelsea’s director of football two months before Mourinho was sacked, but that’s about it.

Grant’s main qualification appeared to be being good friends with Roman Abramovich, although to his credit, under him Chelsea managed to finish runners-up in the League and even reached the Champions League final – though that probably had a lot to do with the stellar squad Mourinho had built up.

4 George Graham to Tottenham Hotspur

George Graham

A distinguished career as a player and a more than respectable managerial record that saw him win two league titles, two League Cups, an FA Cup and a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. Sounds like a perfect appointment, right?


The problem for Spurs fans wasn’t so much Graham’s record, but the fact that most of his achievements came at the helm of bitter London rivals Arsenal.

Tottenham’s supporters were never able to warm to their former enemy, and the fact that his style of football was likely to put you to sleep didn’t exactly help.

He was eventually sacked by the club for allegedly giving private information to the press on more than one occasion.

5 Christian Gross to Tottenham Hotspur

Christian Gross

Grasshopper Club Zurich manager Christian Gross’ arrival at White Hart Lane in 1997 wasn’t so much greeted with a bang as a collective uttering of ‘Who?’

No one had ever heard of the Swede, and the fact that he could barely communicate in English did little to endear him to Spurs fans.

He was also famously eccentric, insisting his players wear sandals when not playing and arriving late for his first press conference at Tottenham with a train ticket on which he had written ‘I want this to become my ticket to the dreams’.

Gross lasted just nine months.

6 Alex McLeish to Aston Villa

Alex McLeish

Another manager who made the mistake of crossing battle lines, Alex McLeish’s stint at Birmingham City was never going to endear him to Villa fans – their bitter rivals.

Perhaps it would have been a different story if Mcleish had a serious record to back up his appointment, but he had just gotten Birmingham relegated.

Fans protested his appointment from the get-go, and he was sacked at the end of the 2011-2012 season after one year in charge, having only just avoided sending a second club in succession down.

7 Steve Kean to Blackburn Rovers

Steve Kean

Having not exactly covered himself in glory during his time as a player, Steve Kean maintained that middling momentum as a manager before being hired as a first-team coach at Blackburn Rovers in 2009 by then-boss Sam Allardyce.

In November 2010, Indian chicken processing company, Venky’s, purchased Blackburn Rovers.

The following month, they sacked Allardyce and replaced him with Keane, a decision that went down about as well with Rovers fans as a plate of Venky’s.

His two years in charge of Blackburn started with fan protests and ended with relegation to the Championship.

8 Les Reed at Charlton Athletic

Les Reed

Les Reed’s time in charge of Charlton – and indeed his entire managerial career – lasted a sum total of 41 days.

Hired at the tail-end of 2006 after former manager Iain Dowie’s 15-year spell at the club ended following a string of poor results, Reed’s appointment lasted just six weeks before he was sacked and replaced by Alan Pardew.

It turned out to be his first and last managerial position.

9 Paolo Di Canio to Sunderland

Paolo Di Canio

Losing highly rated manager Martin O’Neill was one thing, but replacing him in early 2013 with Paolo Di Canio was a move no one could have predicted.

Di Canio did have some experience with Swindon Town, helping them win League Two, but he also drew headlines after quitting the club for breaking into the stadium and helping himself to some pictures from his old office.

Sunderland board member, Labour MP David Miliband, even quit his post at the club due to statements Di Canio made in the past on fascism.

The Italian did help the Black Cats survive that season, although he was sacked the following year for what Sunderland chief executive officer Margaret Byrne called his “brutal and vitriolic” criticism of the squad.

10 Sven-Goran Eriksson to Notts County

Sven-Goran Eriksson

One of the more surreal moments in English football happened when former national team boss Sven-Goran Eriksson decided to take charge of League Two team Notts County as its new Director of Football in 2009.

It was all part of a plan by some rich Middle Eastern investors to turn the club into a Premier League powerhouse, but those plans never quite materialised.

Eriksson eventually left the club on the brink of financial collapse, just seven months after his appointment.