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Top 10 great players turned coaches

Steven Saunders
December 19, 2013
Jimmy Connors lasted only one match as Maria Sharapova's coach © Getty Images
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With the news that Boris Becker is to become head coach for Novak Djokovic, ESPN takes a look at the top 10 players to have become coaches - though some have fared better than others...

10. Jimmy Connors

8 grand slam titles as a player; 0 as a coach

Boris Becker might not want things to turn out as they have for Jimmy Connors in his after-(tennis)life of coaching. An infamous stint as Maria Sharapova's coach recently lasted all of one match, with Sharapova saying recently that it wouldn't have mattered who her coach was at the time, "I was not fun to be around". Still reckon there would have been plenty of volunteers on that front, Maria.

However, Connors did have a longer spell as coach of Andy Roddick, which lasted 19 months and brought an immediate upturn in the American's fortunes, winning a Masters title for the first time in two years within weeks of the arrangement. Roddick reached the US Open final (losing to defending champion Roger Federer in four sets) and an Australian Open semi-final (yep, Federer again) under Connors before the coach resigned to spend more time with his Playboy model wife. Tough call.

9. Martin Johnson

1 World Cup, 2 Grand Slams, 2 Heineken Cups as a player; 1 Six Nations as a coach

Martin Johnson stands out alongside Bobby Moore as captain of an England team to win a World Cup in a sport that actually matters to people in England. It should make him untouchable, even without crediting him for being the only man to captain two different British & Irish Lions tours, and for winning two Grand Slams with England and two Heineken Cups with Leicester.

Heck, even as a coach, he is the only man to win a Six Nations with England since 2003. But something went a bit wrong during his tenure, and a tetchy relationship with the media probably didn't help. Nor did the infamous night out in Queenstown - which may or may not have included dwarf-tossing - during the World Cup. Nor did Manu Tuilagi jumping off a ferry at the same tournament. Still, his reign did give us the greatest end to a post-match interview, perhaps ever.

8. Wayne Gretzky

Leading point scorer in NHL history, 4 Stanley Cups as a player; Never made NHL play-offs as a coach

When your nickname is "The Great One", you can pretty much do whatever you want. Particularly when your specialist subject is "being Canadian and playing ice hockey". Gretzky earned his moniker, and then some - at the time of his retirement from playing, he owned 61 separate NHL records, had won four Stanley Cups, and is still the leading points scorer in NHL history (only Mario Lemieux comes anywhere near Gretzky's 1.92 points per game). The NHL waived the waiting period and inducted him into the Hall of Fame upon his retirement.

In 2002, Gretzky was executive director of Canada's Winter Olympic hockey team, who promptly won their first gold medal at the Games in 50 years. The Midas Touch deserted him during four years as coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, though - he never even reached the playoffs.

7 Larry Bird

3 NBA titles as a player; 0 titles as a coach

"Larry Legend" was a giant of basketball throughout the 80s, and his rivalry with Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers while at the Boston Celtics took the NBA towards a stratosphere that Michael Jordan would later blast through. Bird was the league MVP three times in this period, won three titles with the Celtics and was named Finals MVP twice. His last major act as a player was as part of the famous 1992 Dream Team that stormed to Olympic gold in Barcelona before back problems finally brought the curtain down.

His only coaching role came at the Indiana Pacers from 1997, and he took the team to their only NBA Finals appearance in 2000, losing to - of course - the Los Angeles Lakers. He had promised to coach for only three years, and so resigned after the season and later became an executive with the team.

Not content with being the only person ever to be named NBA player, coach and executive of the year, Bird is also assured of a long-standing place in popular culture - the Twitter "bird" icon is nicknamed Larry in his honour.

6. Ray Reardon

6 world championships as a player; 1 as a coach

Reardon is perhaps a little unfortunate to have slightly preceded snooker's boom period of the 1980s, because he was to the 1970s what Steve Davis was to the following decade. Then again, he might have just spent three weeks in the Australian outback with that bloke from The Only Way Is Essex, so swings and roundabouts, eh?

"Dracula" dominated snooker from 1970, winning six world titles and being the first ever world No.1 when the rankings were introduced in 1976. Snooker doesn't really do coaching in the traditional sense, but Reardon was instrumental in Ronnie O'Sullivan's second world championship victory in 2004 at the Crucible, working as an adviser and helping the Rocket with technique and psychology. O'Sullivan "thanked" him with the following tribute as he picked up the trophy…

O'Sullivan "thanks" his adviser Ray Reardon © PA Photos
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5. Tom Flores

1 Super Bowl as a player; 2 as a coach

Flores and Mike Ditka stand apart as the only men to have won a Super Bowl as a player, assistant coach and head coach, but Ditka is edged out of this list by virtue of Flores' having won the Super Bowl as a head coach twice. Twelve men have won the Super Bowl as head coach at least twice, but Flores is one of just three not to have been elected to the Hall of Fame. Factor in that Flores, of Hispanic descent, was the first minority head coach to win the Super Bowl and that looks ever more curious.

His playing career is not to be sniffed at either. A back-up quarterback in the fledgling AFL that triggered the Super Bowl era, he ranks fifth in the all-time passing yardage list. By far the most impressive fact, though, is Flores' inclusion in the Madden NFL computer games, with a playbook named in his honour in recent incarnations of the game.

His long-standing relationship with John Madden, who he followed as Raiders head coach, smoothed that over but arguably trumps even Larry "Twitter" Bird for random influence on popular culture.

4. Kenny Dalglish

3 European Cups, 6 league titles as a player; 4 league titles as a manager

There was a time when there was genuine debate as to who was the better manager: Kenny Dalglish or Alex Ferguson. No, really. It was around the time that Blackburn pipped Manchester United to the Premier League title in 1995, meaning Fergie only had two English titles to Dalglish's four, which had also been achieved at two different clubs. Let's just say their managerial careers took divergent paths at that point…

There's no contest when it comes to who was the better player, though, and in terms of Liverpool folklore, even the likes of Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez still have to bow to Dalglish. Chuck in more than 100 caps for Scotland, three World Cup finals appearances (an entire generation of Scots would kill for one at present) and being involved in the latter part of Celtic's famous nine league titles in a row, and that's a pretty impressive career all told.

3. Ivan Lendl

8 grand slam titles as a player; 2 as a coach

If Connors is the example Becker probably wishes to avoid, then Lendl is the opposite. What's fascinating about Becker's appointment is how it renews an old rivalry with Lendl - they faced each other in the 1986 Wimbledon final, 1989 US Open final and 1991 Australian Open final. Becker won all three.

In Lendl's favour is that his current charge, Andy Murray, has won two grand slams in his career, and both have come against Djokovic. It might put a bit of a dampener on the Sports Personality of the Year's mood if he was to think that Becker's arrival in Djokovic's box will signal the same stranglehold that the German held over Lendl back in the day.

2. Franz Beckenbauer

3 European Cups, 1 World Cup, 1 European Championship as a player, 1 World Cup as a coach

Beckenbauer is German for "successful". Probably. As the fulcrum of a Bayern Munich team that won three successive European Cups, and the skipper of a West German side that lifted the 1972 European Championship, the 1974 World Cup and within a Panenka penalty (the original Panenka penalty, in fact) of another European Championship in 1976, it's fair to say he had a good career as a player. Shame about the 1966 World Cup final, though.

His managerial career continued to be judged by winning or losing World Cup finals. He lost the 1986 final to a Maradona-inspired Argentina (the less said about dear Diego as a manager, the better) then gained revenge in the 1990 Battle of Rome… sorry, World Cup Final.

For good measure, he chucked in a league title and UEFA Cup success while manager of Bayern Munich in the mid-90s. Legend.

1. Mario Zagallo

2 World Cups as a player, 1 as a coach

Beckenbauer is the only man to captain a World Cup-winning team and manage one as well, but the only person to win multiple World Cups as a player, then win one as a manager and then - 24 years later - win another World Cup as an assistant coach is Mario Zagallo.

Brazil became just the second team ever to retain the World Cup in 1962, and Zagallo was their first choice winger in the Sweden tournament of 1958 and in Chile four years later. He even scored the fourth of a 5-2 final victory against the hosts in Stockholm.

Fast forward eight years and Zagallo was in the dugout to oversee arguably the greatest national team ever destroy Italy 4-1 in Mexico City, with THAT Carlos Alberto goal propelling televised football to a whole new level.

He wasn't done yet, though. A fourth-placed finish in 1974 was so-so, but 20 years later he helped advise Carlos Alberto Parreira end Brazil's World Cup "drought" at USA '94. Another world title seemingly beckoned in 1998, with Zagallo back in charge, but Ronaldo's pre-final episode and Zinedine Zidane's in-final genius put paid to that bid.

So that's four World Cup finals, three victories, one defeat, and a fourth-placed finish. England as an entire country can claim just one World Cup and one semi-final. Mario Zagallo, we salute you.

Mario Zagallo scores Brazil's fourth goal in the 1958 World Cup final against Sweden © PA Photos
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Steven Saunders is Senior Editor of ESPN.co.uk

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