Being a football manager is a difficult oul job.
You’re the first to be blamed for a team losing a game, and the last to be thanked for winning one too.
But, despite the thanklessness of their task, some people excel in the role. They win games, trophies, and earn the respect of players, pundits and fans alike.
Below is a list of 50 managers who have done exactly that throughout the history of the game – ranked, obviously.
The greatest manager you’ve probably never heard of. The Londoner was a true pioneer of total football and a key factor in a rise of the great Johan Cruyff.
Buckingham is renowned as lauded as a hero on the continent, but his ideologies came too early for a stubborn English fan base who thought it was their way or the highway.
One of the most charismatic managers in the history of the game, Claudio Ranieri will forever be remembered as the man who achieved the impossible with Leicester. Favourite for relegation going into the 2015/16 season, a change of emphasis, mood and direction at the club, led by Ranieri, soon transformed the Foxes into fairytale title contenders as the Premier League’s big boys endured a dramatic fall from grace.
Once regarded as a loveable tinkerman, Ranieri’s title win changed the landscape of English football forever – making the Italian one of the greatest managers of all time.
If there’s one word to describe Didier Deschamps it’s ‘leader’.
He’s a natural born leader.
Although not the greatest footballer during his playing his days, or the greatest tactical innovator during his managerial career, Deschamps has always been able to be part of winning teams and inspires his players to be the best they can be.
You don’t win two World Cups and make another final without having quite a bit about you.
Nicholson was responsible for Tottenham having any kind of golden age. His immense man-management played a major role in transforming Spurs from a team languishing sixth from the bottom in the First Division into title winners less than three years later.
Winning eight major trophies in his 16-year managerial spell, including a double in 1960/61, Nicholson is rightly heralded as ‘Mr Tottenham’, his soul and ethos still prevalent at the club this day.
Do you start with Lazio, and the impossible Scudetto? With his England spell – the most successful of the 21st century until Gareth Southgate turned up with his waistcoat and winning smile? With seven trophies in three and a half years in Italy?
No. You start; you must start, you’re contractually obliged to start, with the sh*gging. Whatever it was about the Swede – charm, smooth lines, a whopper whose legend has never been told – his greatest cultural impact will remain his astonishing way with women.
The man looked like a nerdy Mr Burns. His life should’ve been impossible…and yet.
By those he knew best, Sir Alf Ramsey was regularly described as somewhere between an ‘enigma’ and a ‘lone wolf’, a fact he was publicly proud of. “I should be hard difficult to get to know,” he said in an ESPN documentary. Maybe so. But he was also known, both in his playing and coaching career, as ‘The General’.
So, enigmatic and a wholehearted leader of men – check. But he was also a pioneering tactician, with his ‘Wingless Wonders’, and an ardent disciplinarian, who emitted pure professionalism with every breath. That sounds about right for the only English manager ever to lift the World Cup, right?
Winner of domestic league titles in both Italy and England, there is no doubting the credentials of current Tottenham manager Antonio Conte. The former heartbeat of Italy’s midfield has worked with some of the best players to grace the modern game, but his success owes much to his reinventing of the 3-5-2 wheel.
Charged with reviving Juventus’ fortunes after the Calciopoli scandal, Conte led La Vecchia Signora to three consecutive Serie A titles before imposing his philosophy upon an arguably average Chelsea side, winning the Premier League in his first year in charge.
King Kenny will forever rule the hearts of Liverpool supporters. Sure, his record of 169 goals in 502 appearances as the Reds’ go-to forward made him a beloved figure at Anfield, as did his 13 years of loyal service. And yes, the three First Division titles – plus a trio of domestic cups – that he delivered whilst coaching the side were mightily well received amongst fans.
However, it was his stoic, brave, inspiring leadership in the wake of the Hillsborough disaster that make Dalglish a genuine legend on Merseyside. The Scot also enjoyed success at Blackburn Rovers and Celtic – via an ill-fated stint at Newcastle United – but Anfield is undoubtedly his spiritual home.
Antonio Conte laid the foundations for Massimiliano Allegri, but the levels he took Juventus to during his five-year spell in Turin could not have been predicted prior to his arrival. However, success at AC Milan did hint at greater triumphs down the line, and Allegri realised that with an incredible five Serie A titles in a row.
Now back in charge of Juve, Allegri will be hoping to repeat the astonishing success of his first spell in Turin.
Sir Bobby Robson is arguably the most revered and fondly remembered manager in English football history. He came within a whisker of winning the World Cup with England in 1990, and enjoyed incredible success with the likes of Ipswich Town, Barcelona and Porto. But that’s not the reason he’s so highly regarded.
For Robson was also so much more than a football manager. He was a warm and kind soul, a mentor, an entertainer, a trailblazer, a fighter – a legend. Few people have ever had the impact he made on so many people in the world of sports, nor the success he enjoyed at so many different clubs in numerous countries.
Make no mistake – we will never see the likes of Sir Bobby Robson again.
The most important manager in the history of the Spanish national team and one of Atleti’s all-time greats, the 30+ year gap between Aragones’ first major title and his last speak of a coach who was able to tweak and reinvent himself with an innate tactical understanding. He made Fernando Torres into Fernando Torres.
He saw David Villa and helped craft him into Spain’s greatest ever striker. He was also, notably, a bit racist. His comments about Thierry Henry early in his Spain tenure went down in history – and if it feels gratuitous to mention it in every profile of him? Well, we wouldn’t have to if he hadn’t said racist things.
Herbert Chapman’s methods and tactics were revolutionary, and not only did he outsmart the rest of English football with the creation of his own ‘W-M’ formation, he led two sides to unparalleled success.
Firstly with Huddersfield and then with a mid-table Arsenal, Chapman rewrote the handbook on football management. Implementing previously unseen training techniques and taking on more responsibility than those before him, he set the astronomically high benchmark for what a professional coach in England needed to be.
No manager has ever understood international football quite like Carlos Alberto Parreira, and his record six appearances at the World Cup proves it. The motivational Brazilian often took on near-impossible jobs, in an attempt to bring the world together over a mutual love of football.
Leading the likes of South Africa, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates was never going to be easy, but Parreira was solely responsible for some of the greatest moments in the sporting history of each nation.
However, the crowning moment of his career came in charge of Brazil, as Parreira led the Selecao to glory in the 1994 World Cup.
Der Kaiser is best remembered for his glittering playing career, but he achieved more in his 12-year management spell than most will in a lifetime. His larger than life personality and organised style drilled Germany into becoming World Cup winners in 1990 and he would later lead Bayern Munich to domestic and European glory.
Viktor Maslov’s name has become one of the lesser known footnotes of football history, however his brilliance can still be seen to this day. The 4-4-2 formation that he pioneered is still in wide use, and his pressing tactics continue to shine in the best teams around the world. Maslov was one of the fathers of modern tactical thinking, and his influence should be celebrated and known by every football fan who loves the game.
There are few managers over the past 35 years who have been able to break Barcelona and Real Madrid’s stranglehold of La Liga. Radomir Antic, Diego Simeone and Javier Irureta each achieved the feat once, but only one man has had the guile, wisdom and tactical knowledge to defeat Spain’s heavyweight duo twice in that time – the grossly underappreciated Rafa Benitez.
A future Champions League winner for Liverpool, the Spaniard is famous for his methodical and pragmatic approach to management, as well as the ability to raise the games of all those who play under his stewardship.
Zidane has had comfortably the shortest career to date of any manager on the list and that is a testament to the impact he has made on the game in such a short spell. Under Zizou in 2017, Real Madrid became the first club to retain the Champions League in 27 years.
One year later, the Frenchman became the first manager *ever* to win three consecutive European Cups with the same club – a feat we may never see repeated again.
Scolari is perhaps the most Hollywood movie-worthy manager on the list because in the Brazilian, you would usually get one of two extremes. The outstanding or the appalling – though more often the former than the latter.
Much of his success can be credited to his enigmatic style, with his ability to inspire his players proving to be as important as his tactical prowess. As a manager he was by no means a remedy for all ills, but when his methods worked, they worked brilliantly and his World Cup triumph with Brazil in 2002 is evidence of this.
The mastermind behind Bayern Munich’s 2013 treble winning side, arguably the most complete European club outfit of the 21st century.
The German was relentless in his pursuit of tactical perfection, and his methods have been universally praised by almost every great player he has managed in his illustrious career.
While Del Bosque’s style and tactics will never be poured over like Arrigo Sacchi, Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola, he was a master of the most human elements of football. He made his players feel happy, trusted and confident. He facilitated an environment where they could be at their best together, with little room for ego and pressure. Tiki-taka, after all, was as much about the team over the individual as anything else.
Del Bosque won everything worth winning and it never looked particularly difficult. He was a subtle, master conductor of the greatest orchestras, always keeping the focus on his delighted performers, shunning any spotlight of his own.
Arsenal are a club steeped in history and traditional, but one man has become synonymous with everything they stand for over the last two decades. That man is Arsene Wenger. At the helm for 22 years, Wenger redefined and reinvigorated the Gunners by introducing a slick, attacking brand of football, whilst demonstrating great knowledge of the transfer market to bring in talented youngsters who he would transition into world class players.
Winner of the league and cup double on two occasions, the Frenchman then achieved the unthinkable – becoming ‘Invincible’ as Arsenal went the entire 2003/04 Premier League campaign unbeaten.
Remembered as perhaps the finest manager in Bundesliga history, Udo Lattek knew nothing other than winning. During his career, Lattek managed an incredible eight league titles, leading both Bayern Munich and Borussia Monchengladbach to domestic glory.
His intellectual and motivational approach to management often left many questioning his credentials, but wherever Lattek went, success tended to follow.
It wasn’t just league success which made Lattek so great, as he even etched his name into European folklore as well. He won the 1974 European Cup with Bayern, the 1979 UEFA Cup with Gladbach, and the 1982 European Cup Winners Cup with Barcelona, making him one of just two men to lift all three – and the only to do so with three different clubs.
When Stein took over Celtic in 1965 they were at one of their lowest ever ebbs. Within two years they were European champions and by the time he left to take over Scotland 12 years later they had won the league 10 times under in his tenure. Yet perhaps his greatest accomplishment is the influence he had over Sir Alex Ferguson, his international assistant, who describes him as the greatest ever.
Vittorio Pozzo is one of the greatest managers of all time because he is the only manager in history to win two consecutive FIFA World Cups.
That’s pretty good. Maybe too good to be 27th on this list…until you hear about the accusations of match-fixing – Benito Mussolini’s influence on the outcome of World Cup games – and a certain Nazi salute incident in 1938…
…Then maybe Pozzo’s ranking makes a bit more sense.
It became the bane of Brazilian football. A mission to somehow get a one of the most talented group of footballers the world has ever seen all singing from the same hymn sheet. One would argue that moulding the likes of Pele, Tostao, Rivellino and Jairzinho into a formidable force is more a joy than and assignment, but it had yet to crafted successfully. Mario Zagallo did that.
And, not only did he thrive under that pressure, he blossomed in it, with the 1970 Brazil World Cup team often revered as the greatest of all time. ‘Jogo Bonito’ was forged under his guidance, and Brazil as we know it owe a significant degree of gratitude to the habitual World Cup winner. Two triumphs as a player and two as a manager, Zagallo is the World Cup.
You always know you’ve made it in life when you’ve got an entire curse named after you. That’s when you’re a ‘someone’. True to Guttmann’s words – or alleged words, it’s always hard to tell whether these sort of perfectly fitting lines are apocryphal or not – Benfica haven’t won a single European Cup in the 50+ years since they refused to give him an improved contract.
Bela Guttmann. Two-time European Cup winner, Holocaust survivor, man who nailed dead rats to management’s doors, qualified dance instructor. Nomad. Gamechanger.
Second only to Sir Alex Ferguson in terms of managerial trophy collections, the former Soviet scientist was the first trailblazer when it came to sports science and bringing in the idea that the team is the star, not the individual.
With the exception of Lev Yashin, there may not be a name more synonymous with Soviet football than Lobanovskyi, who created the dominant Dynamo Kiev side of the late 20th century, and he is considered a national icon in Ukraine.
With a career split into two distinct chunks, Otto Rehhagel was the great German coach humiliated in his own country by failure at Bayern Munich, who went on to transform Greece into the most unlikely European champions in history.
Rehhagel made his name in Germany in the 1980s and early 1990s when he guided Werder Bremen to two Bundesliga titles, two DFB Pokals and the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. He turned Kaiserslautern into national champions after his Bayern disaster, but it was with Greece where his greatest achievement came – stealing the show with pragmatic brilliance at Euro 2004.
Louis van Gaal had the honour of managing four of the most famous clubs in history during his career – Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester United – and he won trophies with all of them.
The Dutchman has famously fallen out with plenty of people over the years, but his greatest strength was his faith in young talent. So many modern legends, including Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert, Xavi, Carles Puyol Andres Iniesta, made their senior debut under Van Gaal, while he proved so influential for others like Frank de Boer, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Muller.
One of the very best coaches, working right now, Jurgen Klopp has been so successful due to his knack for taking talents and squeezing something extra out of them that no-one else even knew was there.
He ended Bayern’s Bundesliga dominance (for a while anyways), brought Liverpool back to the very top of the European game, and has made every player he’s ever worked with better. A true modern great.
When you think of Brazilian football, chances are you will think of joga bonito – ‘the beautiful game’. Whilst Tele Santana did not found this movement, his time with Brazil was certainly behind its rise to prominence.
During his two separate spells with the Selecao, Santana may not have won any silverware, but he is credited with forming some of the greatest international sides in history. His 1986 side were fantastic, but his 1982 squad was something else. His love for attacking football quickly infected the nation, and Brazil still pride themselves on their free-flowing attack to this day.
Even at club level, Santana helped transform Sao Paulo into one of the world’s finest teams, winning back-to-back Intercontinental Cups in 1993 and 1994.
Put simply, Liverpool would not have the domestic or European legacy they herald today without the remarkable rebuilding process they underwent in Shankly’s 16 years at Anfield.
His enthusiasm for the job and belief in the club restored an average second division side to the top flight and won the league three times before stepping down, leaving his long-term assistant Bob Paisley to take Liverpool into the next step of their evolution in the 70s.
It’s a title bestowed upon you that is achieved through no less than total dedication, loyalty and a burning desire to give your heart and soul to the cause. Ottmar Hitzfeld earned legendary status, not once, but twice, with the two biggest clubs in German football.
Firstly at Borussia Dortmund and then Bayern Munch, the man’s supreme marshalling of his troops ultimately meant he obliterated all the competition on a march towards the upper echelons of German football. Brushing aside those in his way, he won everything with Die Borussen, before eventually repeating the feat in Bavaria. On a one-way trajectory towards Bundesliga royalty, Hitzfeld now stands in a league of his own.
In the history of the best club there has ever been, Miguel Muñoz is quite probably Real Madrid’s best ever manager.
The former European Cup-winning player navigated what should have been a perilous transitional period to transform the ageing Galacticos of Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano into the youthful Ye-Ye’s (named after the Beatles chorus in She Loves You) of Amancio and Pirri, while keeping them at the very apex of Spanish and world football.
A far cry from how his most recent spells as a manager will be remembered, Fabio Capello not only helped to create one of Italian football’s best-ever teams but he also helped to make Calcio exactly what it is today.
Capello brought tremendous success to AC Milan – even more so than Arrigo Sacchi – while also lifting silverware almost everywhere he went across Europe.
Arrogant, disrespectful, obnoxious…Clough had many insults levelled at him. The issue is, ‘Old Big Head’ didn’t care in the slightest. In his own words, he was the best manager in the business; his time at Nottingham Forest suggests he may well be right.
He won the First Division with Derby County in 1972, though no silverware came Clough’s way when coaching Hartlepool United, nor Brighton. It was worse at Leeds United, where – without the aid of trusty assistant Peter Taylor – the Yorkshireman was sacked after just 44 days. Clough then redeemed himself as he got Forest promoted to the top-flight. On their return, he took them to a maiden English crown. And then he secured back-to-back European Cups, the only side from these shores to ever achieve such a feat.
Italy is to football management as America is to basketball, pretty much. Which goes some way to explaining why Nereo Rocco is unlikely to be the first name uttered during a quick fire round of categories. But he should be. The great pioneer of Catenaccio – that greatly misunderstood tactical discipline – was in many ways a simple man. He enjoyed food, drink and company (usually in excess).
But he was also a complete innovator, coaching with a ‘genius-like pragmatism’, as the great Italian journalist Gianni Brera described it. But even that could be seen to embolden the myth that his AC Milan sides were dourly defensive. Rocco was a winner, there’s no doubt, but he was also not dull in doing so. And, while you may not be that clued up on him, all of your favourite managers are and, if they coincided with his time in the game, they were probably taught a lesson or two in real time.
Sir Matt Busby did nothing short of build the modern Manchester United, creating a legacy that paved the way for all of Sir Alex Ferguson’s success and one that still serves the club to this day.
Busby took over a club in 1945 that had narrowly avoided bankruptcy twice in just 43 years, where there was a new focus on developing young players at a time when it wasn’t the norm.
His ‘Busby Babes’ were revered, but from the ashes of the tragic Munich Air Disaster in 1958 rose a team that would become the first English club to win the European Cup 10 years later.
Perhaps even more important to the development of Italian football than Capello, Marcello Lippi put the groundwork in throughout the 1990s with Juventus most notably, but also punching above his weight initially at Napoli.
Lippi, with a cigar protruding from his lips, was then reaping the rewards of his work when he took over the Italian national team, ending Gli Azzurri’s 24-year wait to be crowned as world champions in 2006.
‘The Diva Whisperer’, football’s great avuncular uncle, Carletto’s legacy (beyond winning a boatload of trophies) is his man-management skills.
From Milan to Madrid to Munich, it seems almost no-one has a bad word to say about Ancelotti. He is the manager the very best love to play for.
His detractors might say he has been in right place at the right time (with the right squads) but Ancelotti’s great trick is managing the highest of high profile names of the last two decades and nearly always getting the very best out of them. Having the best team on paper, as football history shows, doesn’t always guarantee success. Having Ancelotti as your manager pretty much does.
By Robbie Copeland
Shankly aimed the bow for Liverpool’s dominance throughout the 70s and 80s, but Paisley was the razor-sharp arrow that followed through and conquered all of Europe.
He adapted Liverpool’s tactics for a new era, and although his management career lasted just nine years, he won the league six times, the European Cup three, and averaged 2.2 major trophies per season – making him the second most successful manager of all time.
Love him or loathe him, Jose Mourinho has proven to be one of the most influential managers in football history.
After taking Europe by storm by winning the 2003/04 Champions League with Porto, Mourinho has picked up a stunning amount of silverware with Chelsea, Inter, Real Madrid and Manchester United, picking up six league titles across a ten-year spell.
Capable of masterminding a strategy to subdue even the strongest opponents, Mourinho has made a career out of constructing dominant sides, and there are few managers capable of stopping him.
Psychological warfare is so commonplace in the world of modern football that it is difficult to imagine the sport without it. Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson and many others would like to think they are the masters of such battles, but they are all mere pretenders to Herrera’s throne.
The eccentric Argentine-turned-Frenchman was the first to bring focus onto the mind-set of players: both his own, and those of rival clubs. Herrera was a brilliant man-manager, using motivational words and scathing attacks to help his teams fulfil their potential and unarm opponents. Without his pioneering methods, Inter would never have lifted consecutive European Cups, whilst he was similarly important to the mid-20th-century glory enjoyed by both Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Happel questioned everything football had taken for granted, helping him to revolutionise the game and inspire the era of ‘total football’ in the 1970s. Always willing to question his own opinions as much as anybody else’s, the rebellious Austrian was one of the first to opt for a three-man midfield in an era where the 4-2-4 formation prevailed.
Not just an innovator, Happel was a winner too and is one of only six managers to win the European Cup with two clubs and the *only* manager to lead three different clubs to the final of the competition.
Cruyff nurtured several of the Dutch legends of the 1980s while at Ajax and later built the ‘Dream Team’ at Barcelona that dominated Spanish football and won the European Cup in 1992, a perfect blend of home-grown talent and world class stars.
But he was so much more; a true visionary who saw the value of implementing a single way of playing at every level of a club and insisted Barcelona launch the academy that became La Masia.
The most successful Italian manager of all time.
That says it all really.
Trapattoni isn’t fondly remembered by Republic of Ireland fans, but Juventus fans do remember him rather fondly for winning everything in the most golden of eras for La Vecchia Signora.
La Liga winner, Bundesliga winner, and Premier League winner. There aren’t many managers nowadays who can boast that record, but Pep Guardiola can.
From learning from Johan Cruyff to playing a major role in the development of players like Lionel Messi, David Alaba and Raheem Sterling, Guardiola has proved it’s possible to both realise a club’s lofty ambitions while simultaneously improving a core group of players. His work has changed the managerial landscape in the modern era and his standard is the one to beat.
The most influential football manager the world has ever seen, with the greatest moniker for a sporting style that persists today: Total Football. There’s no greater legacy to leave than that. A style of football that was, and is, so lauded, it is deemed to encompass everything that’s great
about the game. It is the game in its purest, most charming form. And Rinus Michels was the man who packaged it into the European Cup-winning, European Championship-triumphing formula it became. He was its architect, and he has influenced every other sporting edifice that has come after him.
“Football is born in the brain, not in the body. Michelangelo said he painted with his mind, not with his hands. So, obviously, I need intelligent players. That was our philosophy at Milan. I didn’t want solo artists; I wanted an orchestra. The greatest compliment I received was when people said my football was like music.”
Arrigo Sacchi wanted his teams to play fluid football that made their adoring audiences gasp in awe of what they were witnessing; between 1987 and 1991, his team did just that.
The conductor of the single greatest club team the world has ever seen, Sacchi changed calcio forever by winning with beautiful football.
Manchester United simply wouldn’t be Manchester United without Sir Alex Ferguson. His exemplary record of 28 major trophies in 27 years at Old Trafford speaks for itself, on top of 10 major trophies he had earlier delivered at Aberdeen.
It famously took Fergie a little while to see his work come to life at United, but he was responsible for refocusing a club that had become lost, realigning it with the blueprint laid out by Matt Busby and making it the undisputed giant of English football once more.
More than anything else, Ferguson’s longevity made him the greatest of all time, building team after team and continuing to win and win in a way that will never be repeated.