Arsene Wenger is largely credited with changing the face of English football, but Dr Jozef Venglos had attempted to shake things up six years earlier.
It’s hard to imagine the Premier League without a major international influence when taking into account its current state.
Just over half (11) of the clubs in the Premier League have an overseas manager, including each of the current top five.
Few would raise an eyebrow at their club being linked with a boss born outside of the UK, however, prior to 1990, it simply hadn’t been a consideration for a top-flight outfit.
Ellis Turns to Venglos
Following the departure of Graham Taylor, who was set to take charge of England, after the conclusion of the 1989-90 campaign, Aston Villa were searching for a new man to step into the dugout.
Villa had just finished second in the First Division, securing a place in the UEFA Cup, and chairman Doug Ellis had no shortage of candidates interesting in the vacancy.
Gerry Francis, Arthur Cox and David Pleat were reported to be the front-runners for the post, however, Ellis had other ideas.
Dr Venglos was far from a household name but Ellis had clearly seen something in the Bratislava-born boss and he made what was regarded as a left-field appointment.
Venglos, who was 54 at the time, had a doctorate in physical education, a passion for philosophy and, according to Ellis, was “simply the best”.
After spending 12 years playing for Slovan Bratislava, Venglos stepped into management in 1966.
By the time he arrived at Villa, he was extremely well-travelled, having spent time in charge of Australia, Sporting Lisbon, Czechoslovakia and Malaysia, to name a few.
He was assistant boss when Czechoslovakia won the European Championship in 1976, while he led his nation to third place at the Euros in 1980 and the quarter-finals of the 1990 World Cup.
Venglos Ahead of His Time
Venglos’ appointment signalled a major change in direction for Villa, who had enjoyed a hugely positive three years under the guidance of old-school manager Taylor.
Top-flight football was drastically different in the 1990s, with drinking culture and bad diets commonplace.
Venglos, much like Wenger did six years later, arrived with a plan to try and change those habits at Villa Park.
As English clubs – Villa included – returned to Europe following a five-year ban, Venglos said: “It has been like having bread with no butter”.
Ironically, butter was one of the many products on his hit list as he attempted to transform the nutrition at Villa’s Bodymoor Heath Training Ground.
Former Villa forward Tony Daley said: “In terms of nutrition he was ahead of his time, particularly in English football.
“I remember eating steak and chips the night before the game when I first started playing. That went out of the window overnight.”
While Wenger’s mission to overhaul nutrition was welcomed at Arsenal, it appeared the Villa squad wasn’t ready to commit in the same way.
Peter Withe, who worked on the coaching staff, said: “What Graham [Taylor] did was the British way and the players were comfortable with that. So when this new philosophy was introduced around training, diet and drinking, some players resented it. They shut it out.”
Dr Jo Must Go
Being the first to do anything is always going to come with its challenges and that’s how it worked out for Venglos.
The media didn’t offer a warm welcome to the vastly experienced manager, especially after they finished fourth of four in a pre-season tournament.
The Times went with the headline “Villa miss Taylor’s inspiration” before going on to claim that Venglos was yet to “restore the belief” of his predecessor.
He did lead Villa to the second round of the UEFA Cup but they suffered a 3-2 aggregate loss against Inter Milan.
Their league form was also hugely concerning and, having finished 2nd the season prior, they had to settle for 17th place.
The local paper led with the headline “Dr Jo Must Go” but Ellis admits he “tried to persuade him to give it another year”.
Venglos might have been able to turn things around with more time but he decided it wasn’t the job for him and stepped down during the off-season.
He immediately stepped into the role as boss of Turkish giants Fenerbahce, where he spent two years, and would return to Britain in 1998 for a spell as boss at Celtic.
Dr Venglos passed away in January 2021, aged 84, though his legacy in showing English clubs there was a future outside of the British Isles will long outlive him.