Former Toffees and Red Devils manager David Moyes is very well known by every football fan, both for his achievements and, unfortunately for him, failures. In between these events, being one of the few modern-time British football professionals who gave La Liga a shot is the last one. As Moyes recently admitted, he turned down offers from Premier League clubs because he wanted to face a new, different challenge, which is not something many British managers are willing to do nowadays.
Nevertheless, he is not alone; he is just one of the few who tried, over the years, to succeed in a country where the outbreak and development of professional football occurred much later than in Britain.
The first precedent to all other British coaches in Spain was Fred Pentland, who arrived in 1920 to manage Racing de Santander before La Liga had even been created, and who won two league titles with Athletic de Bilbao (1930 and 1931). Another Englishman won the first edition of the competition, which took place during the 1928-29 season. It was Londoner Jim Bellamy, who conquered the league with FC Barcelona. Robert Firth became the second coach to win the league for Real Madrid in 1933, but he left the club only one year later.
Harry Lowe arrived in San Sebastián in 1930 and stayed for 5 seasons. He never won a title, but he holds the record of being the oldest man to ever participate in La Liga, as he lacked footballers when Real Sociedad visited Valencia in 1935 and had to align himself, at no less than 48 years old. The last successful British manager in La Liga’s 1930s was William Garbutt, who coached Athletic de Bilbao for two seasons, winning the league title in 1936. Others, such as Randolph Galloway, Jack Greenwell and James Herriot, had no real relevance in Spanish football.
It was not until over ten years later that another British manager was given a challenge in Spain. In this case, it was Michael Keeping, who coached Real Madrid from 1948 to 1950, without achieving anything at all. The times when British men were successful in La Liga remains in the 1930s, and a strike of continuous failures began, with a few exceptions, perhaps.
Another 19 years passed until Ronnie Allen took control of Athletic de Bilbao, winning the Copa del Generalísimo (current Copa del Rey) in 1969 and finishing in second position in the 1969-70 La Liga edition. The last British manager until the mid-80s, Vic Buckingham, coached Sevilla and Barcelona between 1969 and 1972, winning a Copa with the Catalonian side.
The times when British men were successful in La Liga remains in the 1930s, and a strike of continuous failures began, with a few exceptions
In 1984, Terry Venables started a three-year enterprise at FC Barcelona, where he won the first league title since 1974 in his debut season at the club (1985), and a Copa de la Liga (tournament that only lasted from 1982 to 1986) in the last year it existed. John Toshack arrived at Real Sociedad in 1985 in an adventure that would take him to Real Madrid (twice), Deportivo de la Coruña, Real Murcia, and the mentioned Real Sociedad (three times). He won a Copa del Rey with the Basque side, a league title with Real Madrid and a Supercopa de España with Deportivo.
Ron Atkinson spent no more than three months at Atlético in the 1988-1989 season. While his managerial performance was more than satisfying, he had problems with the club owners and decided to leave. Besides these exceptions, which were somewhat successful, this decade is marked by the arrival of British managers who stayed in their teams for a very short period of time, mostly due to failure. This list is formed by Colin Addison (Celta de Vigo, Atlético, Cádiz, Badajoz), Jock Wallace (Sevilla), John Mortimore (Betis) and Howard Kendall (Athletic).
The most successful British coach in Spain since the 1930s was Sir Bobby Robson, who won Barcelona three titles
The most successful British coach in Spain since the 1930s was Sir Bobby Robson, who won Barcelona three titles (Copa del Rey, Supercopa de España and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup) in only one season (1996-97). He then moved ‘up’ to General Manager, but not for more than one year as he wanted to manage a team. The last British coach Spain has seen before David Moyes also entered the league through Real Sociedad. Current Wales National Team manager Chris Coleman signed with the Northern Spanish team in the Summer of 2007, but only lasted until the following January. He then resigned due to divergences with the club’s newly elected president.
David Moyes has reasons to believe and disbelieve, and the different levels of success his compatriots achieved in La Liga make up one more piece of evidence to that. So far he seems to be passing without grief neither glory, but he could just be starting another golden age for British managers in Spain. Only time will tell.
Guillermo Guridi Álvarez