Is it good or bad to be the son of the coach? Or as a coach to be the father of a player? In our series ‘In the footsteps of the father’, we are looking at players who have had their father as a coach – and it has become both gold and oblivion. It is classic teasing in a professional squad: ‘You are the coach’s son …!’ Especially when the player is not the son of the coach at all, but just cannot do anything, wrong in the eyes of the coach and is on the team sheet no matter what. However, sometimes a player is actually the son of the coach. It often happens in children’s football, where it can both lead to a little too much abuse for the junior – or a completely unreasonable place on the team rather than much better players, who just happen not to be related to the coach. The same also happens at the absolute top level among the world’s best players.
Never my son
Some take the consequence – like Atletico Madrid’s tough headcoach Diego Simeone, who often whips his team to play as hungry wolves.
His 23-year-old son Giovanni, like his father he played for Argentina, has played for, among others, Genoa and Fiorentina in Italy and at one point was mentioned as a topic for Atletico.
‘Giovanni has qualities that I greatly appreciate and he can become a great player – but never in my team,’ Diego Simeone said, because he just does not want to coach his own son.
Blind father and Blind son
In the strong Ajax team that was knocked out in the Champions League semifinals in the spring of 2019, Daley Blind was a leader; just like his father, Danny Blind was before him in the same club where he later became coach.
Danny had just stopped as an Ajax coach when Daley made his debut, but then Danny became coach for the Netherlands Daley played a few years on the orange-colored national team with his father as coach.
The king and the difficulty of being number two
Another Dutch father-son coach-player couple are the legend Johan Cruyff and the slightly less legendary son Jordi Cruyff. Jordi got all the opportunities in his football upbringing, where he learned the game in the youth departments of Ajax and Barcelona, respectively, where dad was coach. In 1994, Jordi made his debut for Barca – with Johan as coach. The footstep of Johan Cruyff do not come much bigger in the football world, and even though Jordi was fighting at both Barca and Manchester United, he never came close to his father’s superstar status. Jordi himself felt that it was difficult to have his father as a coach. ‘If I made a mistake in the training ground, my father would scold me much more than he did with my teammates. He always wanted to show that I did not get a benefit, and it often became a disadvantage for me, ‘Jordi said. When Johan was sacked as coach in Barca, Jordi also left the Camp Nou and never really reached the top.
One of the greatest managers in history, Sir Alex Ferguson, gave his own son Darren his debut at Manchester United, but it never became a real breakthrough. In four seasons, Darren reached just 27 league games for United before leaving his father and moving on to a career in the lower English divisions. When Darren finished as a player, he wanted to follow his father’s example as a manager and got the chance at Preston North End. Alex loaned three United players to his son’s Preston team, but it couldn’t save Darren from poor results and the sack. Then daddy recalled the three players to United and got his good friend and manager colleague in Stoke, Tony Pulis, to recall his two loan players from Preston. That made the results even worse for Preston, who ended the season being relegated – and thus the Ferguson family got revenge for the sacking.
One of the greatest success sons is Paolo Maldini, who, in his – hold on tight – 24 years as AC Milan star, cemented his name as one of the strongest defenders in football history.
His father Cesare had himself been a strong captain for AC Milan with, among other things, four championships – a number that Paolo surpassed with six championships and a total of 26 trophies for the club, including four Champions League titles.
Paolo surpassed – his otherwise strong star father – in general in all areas, even though it was difficult at first, as Cesare being the Italian U21 national coach who brought young Paolo into his team.
‘I was very embarrassed, because a lot of people said I was only in the U21 national team because my father was the coach. However, the attacks stopped later in the career, ‘Paolo Maldini has told.
Cesare later became coach for Paolo when he took over the Italian national team, where the son was now an established leader and captain, and then there was no one who believed that his father favored the superstar son.
Finally, for one season, Cesare coached Paolo playing in club of the hearts AC Milan.
If your father or maybe your mother is your coach, you might want to accept Paolo Maldini’s good advice:
‘I learned that when I met for training and match, he was no longer my father, but my coach. And as soon as we finished the football that day, he was my father again.’