Football is arguably one of the most complex sports in the world. Given the sheer number of possible formations and tactical predispositions that are available to football teams in the modern era, football has effectively evolved into a form of chess in motion. While the players usually hog the limelight, football managers are just as crucial to the success of a football club.
The beautiful game has experienced several phases of evolution over the years. Innovation in football is as old as the sport itself and managers and tacticians have spent decades honing their skills and fine-tuning their schools of thought. The best managers in the history of football are defined by their longevity and their transformative effect on the game.
Managers have also adapted to the changing needs of the game
Football as we know it today has been shaped by the most revolutionary minds that graced the sport. These visionaries were rebels in the truest sense of the word and went about their business with the intention of changing the way the sport is perceived by fans across the world.
While some great managers bank on their tactical genius to etch themselves into football history, the others achieve the same end by creating conditions that bring the absolute best out of their world-class players.
This list takes a look at the ten best managers in the history of football and while there are some notable absentees that have also created ripples with their renegade methods, the coaches on this list fully deserve the legendary aura that surrounds them today.
#10 Bill Shankly
Bill Shankly is arguably the most important figure in the history of Liverpool. The Anfield legend was singlehandedly responsible for reviving the fortunes of a club that was in the doldrums and putting Liverpool on their much-discussed pedestal.
The English superpower of today that is widely considered one of the biggest clubs in Europe found itself in the English Second Division after the 1953/54 season. Liverpool spent eight years outside the English top flight before Bill Shankly worked his magic and led his team to promotion in 1962.
What followed was a masterpiece in management from one of the greatest managers that Liverpool can call its own. Shankly won the English league title in 1964 and 1966 and put Liverpool and used his shrewd decision-making and man-management skills to put the Reds back on the European map.
While Bill Shankly may not have as many trophies as some of the other names on this list, the sheer magnitude of his impact on a struggling Liverpool side makes him one of the greatest managers of all time.
#9 Giovanni Trapattoni
Giovanni Trapattoni is widely considered to be one of the most successful coaches in Serie A history. The veteran manager spent most of his playing career at AC Milan where he honed his tactical understanding of the game under the legendary Nereo Rocco.
Trapattoni was a firm believer in Italy's traditionally defensive school of thought and moulded one of the best Juventus teams in history in the late 1970s. The Italian spent 10 years with the Bianoneri and set a record by winning every single UEFA club trophy on offer with the club.
At Juventus, Giovanni Trapattoni won an astonishing 6 Serie A titles and also won the European Cup and Intercontinental Cup. The great Italian transformed the careers of Michel Platini, Gaetano Scirea, Paolo Rossi, and Marco Tardelli and is arguably the greatest Juventus manager of all time.
Also Read: Top 10 Juventus players of all time
#8 Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola has become the torchbearer for the evolution of football in the modern era. The Catalan manager has experienced extraordinary success with his revolutionary methods and will likely go down in history as the most successful coach to have ever graced the beautiful game.
Guardiola's tactical nous stems from his time as a player in Johan Cruyff's legendary 'Dream Team' at Barcelona. The Dutch tactician instilled a powerful sense of identity in Pep Guardiola and relied on his midfield pivot to study his opponents on the pitch.
Pep Guardiola took over a struggling Barcelona side in 2008 and transformed them into treble-winners in the span of a season. The likes of Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta thrived in a Barcelona side that is widely considered the best club team in history.
The Catalan manager won three La Liga titles and two Champions League trophies in four years at Barcelona and also went on to win league titles with Bayern Munich and Manchester City. Pep Guardiola is only 49 years of age and may well find himself much higher up on this list at the end of his career.
#7 Sir Matt Busby
Sir Matt Busby finds himself behind only one other Scottish legend in Manchester United's extraordinary list of great managers. The Red Devils owe more of their success over the years to Busby's mythical tenure at Manchester United. Over a span of 25 years, Sir Matt Busby led Manchester United to five league titles and its first European Cup.
Formerly a Liverpool and Manchester City player, Sir Matt Busby signed on as Manchester United's head coach after disagreements with the Liverpool board. The Scotsman was an excellent man-manager and assembled the legendary 'Busby Babes' - a team that would dominate English football and win three league titles before the tragic Munich air disaster.
Sir Matt Busby lost many of his star players to the Munich tragedy and had to rebuild most of his side after 1958. The Manchester United legend launched the careers of Bobby Charlton and Denis Law and went on to win two more league titles with his new-look Manchester United side.
#6 Bob Paisley
Bill Shankly may have laid Liverpool's strong foundations and offered the club a powerful launchpad but his faithful student Bob Paisley arguably exceeded both his expectations and his achievements. Paisley was appointed as Liverpool's manager after Shankly's retirement and took the Merseyside giants to astronomical heights in England and in Europe.
The Red did experience success in the league with Bill Shankly but under Bob Paisley, Liverpool became arguably the best team in England and in Europe. Over a period of nine years at the club, Bob Paisley won six league titles and an incredible three European Cups and made Liverpool the most successful English club in Europe's premier competition.
The likes of Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, and Graeme Souness became Liverpool legends under the great manager and went on to enjoy fruitful careers at Anfield. Bob Paisley is widely considered as the best manager in Liverpool history.
#5 Johan Cruyff
Of all the names on this list, Johan Cruyff has arguably had the biggest impact on modern football as we know it. Cruyff is also the only name that is likely to be present on lists of the best players and the best managers of all time.
The Dutch manager was the heart and soul of every team he played for and led a tactical revolution that stunned teams across Europe. In addition to being the greatest player of his time, Johan Cruyff learnt his trade as a manager from the legendary Rinus Michels and championed the philosophies of 'Total Football'.
After gaining valuable experience with Ajax at the start of his managerial career, Cruyff moved to crisis-hit FC Barcelona and revolutionised the administration of the club. The Dutch legend brought in the likes of Pep Guardiola, Hristo Stoichkov, and Romario and won four consecutive La Liga titles and a European Cup with Barcelona's 'Dream Team.'
Johan Cruyff's 'Juego de Posicion' philosophy prioritised space on the football pitch and finds application across European teams today. The likes of Pep Guardiola, Marcelo Bielsa, and Tito Vilanova have championed the Dutch manager's legendary teachings and claim that he is the most important figure in the history of the game.
#4 Helenio Herrera
Italian football has a wonderfully rich heritage and 'Catenaccio' became famous in the 1960s and 1970s for baffling the most potent attacking forces in Europe with stunning defensive solidity. Italy may have produced the defenders that enabled its no-nonsense style but managers like Helenio Herrera and Nereo Rocco rebranded the Serie A as a fortress of beautifully defensive football.
While the traditional Catenaccio style may not be as popular now, legendary Inter Milan manager Helenio Herrera is remembered as the probable inventor of one of the most effective styles of football in history. The Argentine tactician famously despised possession-based football and achieved extraordinary success in the Serie A with his defensive tactics.
Inter Milan's exploits under Helenio Herrera earned the side the nickname 'Grande Inter'. While successors of Herrera in Italy adopted the Catenaccio as a purely defensive strategy, the Argentine manager's sides also possessed impressive attacking qualities. Herrera was one of the first to adopt a 5-3-2 system and used full-backs Giacinto Facchetti and Tarcisio Burgnich to lethal effect in the final third.
Under the eccentric Argentine manager, Inter Milan challenged AC Milan's domination in Italy and won three Serie A titles and two European Cups in four years. Herrera's tactics continue to dominate the Serie A to this day.
#3 Rinus Michels
While the two managers above Rinus Michels in this list may have had more illustrious careers, the revolutionary Dutchman is primarily responsible for the intricacies of modern football. Rinus Michels was the ideal precursor to Johan Cruyff and is widely credited with the invention of 'Total Football.'
Rinus Michels spent his entire playing career at Ajax and took up the role of head coach of the club in 1965. The Dutch tactician had the likes of Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens in his young Ajax side and won the league in his first season at the club.
The Dutch manager spent the next few years perfecting the art of 'Total Football' and drilled his team into a fascinating juggernaut that was the first to attack and defend as a cohesive unit of eleven players in complete synergy. Rinus Michels' brand of football was the antithesis to the defensive mindset that had taken over teams across Europe.
Rinus Michels built one of the greatest Ajax teams in history and teamed up with Johan Cruyff to win three consecutive European Cups in the 1970s. Michels also coached the Dutch national team to European glory in 1988.
#2 Arrigo Sacchi
At its peak, Arrigo Sacchi's AC Milan team was a sight to behold. The Italian giants dominated European football in the late 1980s and early 1990s and Arrigo Sacchi's tactical genius was the primary driving force behind their incredible success.
Arrigo Sacchi successfully built a team that was primarily based on Italian football's defensive principles but could play dazzling football in the final third. With the likes of Ruud Gullit and Marco Van Basten in his side, Sacchi obliterated teams across Italy and Europe with a brand of football that may never be seen again.
While Sacchi did benefit from the intelligence of midfielder Carlo Ancelotti and the tenacity of Frank Rijkaard, the hallmark of his team was a defensive unit that is arguably the best in football history. With a back-line of Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta, and Mauro Tassotti, Arrigo Sacchi perfected the off-side trap and created a defensive behemoth that could not seem to put a foot wrong during his tenure.
With Arrigo Sacchi at the helm, AC Milan won two consecutive European Cups in the late 1980s and also won the European Cup. The Italian manager's stamp of perfection on the AC Milan side did wonders for the club over the next decade and produced a generation of legendary players.
#1 Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson is the unanimous choice when it comes to legendary managers and for good reason. The Scottish manager took over a Manchester United side that was firmly in the shadow of arch-rivals Liverpool and promised to change the landscape of English football.
Over a legendary career that spanned nearly three decades, Sir Alex Ferguson made Manchester United the most successful club in England. The Scottish manager built several legendary Manchester United sides and unearthed gems like Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, and Cristiano Ronaldo over the course of his storied career.
In a span of 20 years, Sir Alex Ferguson won an astonishing 13 Premier League titles and singlehandedly dominated one of the most competitive eras of English football. Manchester United owes most of its success and brand value to arguably the best manager the game has ever seen.
Honourable Mentions: Nereo Rocco, Marcello Lippi, Jose Mourinho, Jock Stein, Ernst Happel, Miguel Munoz, Fabio Capello, Arsene Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti
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