10 greatest managers in English football history

English football has given rise to exceptional managers
English football has given rise to exceptional managers
Aditya Hosangadi

English football managers are widely regarded as some of the most enigmatic characters in European sport. The beautiful game has gone through a plethora of changes over decades of trial and error and football managers in England have often effected and influenced several aspects of the sport.

English football is famous for a competitive streak that stems from legendary historic rivalries that transcend the sporting realm. Over the years, managers have both exacerbated and reconciled powerful emotions within the sport and have taken their place as unassailable figures within the framework of the sport.

The likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, and Arsenal have been immensely successful in the league over the past several decades and have a spate of legendary managers to thank for their impeccable fortunes.

The English league has given rise to some of the best football managers the world has ever seen. These illustrious names have made their football clubs potent forces for near-implausible periods of time and have also carved unique legacies for themselves in a fiercely competitive league.

#10 Kenny Dalglish

Liverpool owe much of their success to Kenny Dalglish
Liverpool owe much of their success to Kenny Dalglish

A bonafide hero and figure of worship at Anfield, Kenny Dalglish oozed charisma as both a player and a manager. The Scotsman was one of the best players in Bob Paisley's legendary Liverpool side and took over as player-manager from Joe Fagan in 1985.

Dalglish achieved a historic double in his first season in a managerial capacity at Liverpool and added to his cult status with a series of impeccable performances. The Scottish great also won a Premier League title with Blackburn Rovers in 1995 and was lauded for his ability to build well-balanced sides.

Kenny Dalglish returned to Liverpool for a second stint in 2011 and made his fair share of important signings. Dalglish remains a phenomenon at Liverpool and also has a stand named after him at Anfield.

#9 Tom Watson

Tom Watson is an English football great. Image Source: This Is Anfield
Tom Watson is an English football great. Image Source: This Is Anfield

In the context of English football history, Tom Watson's achievements are incredibly unique. Watson is credited with putting two high-profile football clubs on the map and making an indelible imprint on the evolution of the game.

The former manager joined Sunderland in the 19th century and won three league championships in six seasons with the Black Cats. Tom Watson moved on to Liverpool before the turn of the century, where he made his name as the club's first-ever long-term manager.

Watson stayed at the helm of Liverpool for nearly 20 years and was responsible for the Merseyside giants' first two league titles. The legendary coach was the first of only four managers to lead two different clubs to the league title and remains one of the most influential figures in the English league's early days.

Also Read: Top 10 attacking trios in football history

#8 Brian Clough

Brian Clough is an English football legend
Brian Clough is an English football legend

The greatest football managers in history usually have a tinge of madness about them. The 1970s were a time of flamboyance and swagger and there is arguably no manager charismatic enough in English football history to hold a torch to Brian Clough.

The ultimate maverick of the English game, Brian Clough's adventures as a prolific striker came to an abrupt end after a horrific knee injury. The rebellious lad from Middlesborough rose through the ranks as a manager and adopted a surprisingly authoritarian approach to his profession.

“I wouldn’t say I was the best manager in the business. But I was in the top one.”

Clough's larger-than-life persona often saw him at odds with the club, the fans, and his own assistants. Aside from being one of the most enigmatic characters in English football history, Brian Cloughs's trophy-laden spells at Leeds United and Nottingham Forest make him a true footballing genius.

#7 Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger is a Premier League legend
Arsene Wenger is a Premier League legend

Arsene Wenger may not get the respect he deserves from modern generations of football fans but his stellar coaching record speaks for itself. The former Arsenal manager won plenty of silverware with the London giants and built one of the greatest teams in the history of the sport.

The end of Arsene Wenger's Arsenal career cannot discount the fact that 'Le Professeur' won four Premier League titles and a record seven FA Cups at the club. The French manager also launched the careers of several modern-day legends of the game and has been worshipped by his players for well over two decades.

Arsene Wenger revolutionised the way the Gunners approached training and sporting science in the 1990s and created history with the 'Invincibles' in 2004. The likes of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas, and Robin van Persie blossomed under his tutelage and carved Wenger's unique legacy in the Premier League.

#6 George Ramsay

George Ramsay is an important figure at Aston Villa
George Ramsay is an important figure at Aston Villa

George Ramsay is arguably one of the most influential figures in English football history. The Scotsman had a transformative impact on the sport in the 19th century and was the primary proponent of the most glorious era in Aston Villa's storied history.

Ramsay introduced the Scottish passing game to a league that was only beginning to learn the nuances of the sport it had pioneered. The Aston Villa manager's revolutionary tactics gave the club its 'Golden Age' and produced six league titles and five FA Cups.

Widely known as the world's first football manager, the legend of George Ramsay remains an integral part of English football folklore. The Glaswegian tactician had a storied career and is considered the founder of Aston Villa.

#5 Herbert Chapman

Herbert Chapman put Arsenal on the map. Image Source:
Herbert Chapman put Arsenal on the map. Image Source:

Modern football, like most other sports, is akin to a large-scale industry. While the tactical evolution of the game is often subject to much debate and discussion, the financial and marketing implications of a football club's decisions are just as pertinent. Herbert Chapman was arguably one of the first managers to understand the true potential of football as a powerful societal commodity.

Chapman was appointed as Arsenal's manager after successful stints at Leeds City and Huddersfield Town and immediately improved Arsenal's status in the league with his counter-attacking tactics. Chapman won two league titles and an FA Cup with the Gunners and went on to transform Arsenal as a football club.

In addition to his impressive achievements on the pitch, Herbert Chapman also introduced physiotherapy and new training routines at Arsenal. Chapman marked an era of impeccable success at Arsenal and is one of the most well-rounded managers in football history.

Also Read: 10 greatest managers in Serie A history

#4 Bill Shankly

Bill Shankly had an impeccable career. Image Source: Liverpool FC
Bill Shankly had an impeccable career. Image Source: Liverpool FC

While some managers revel in the glory of silverware and glittering trophy cabinets, there are a select few that have etched their names into the history books for their ability to have a permanent impact on the fortunes of a football club.

When Bill Shankly joined Liverpool in 1959, the Merseyside giants had been languishing in the Second Division for five years. Shankly built a great Liverpool side from the ground up and gave Anfield the formidable aura it has today.

The former Liverpool manager shared an excellent relationship with the passionate fans of the club and won three league titles. Bill Shankly built the foundation of one of the most successful clubs in the world today and is one of the most important figures in Liverpool's illustrious history.

#3 Sir Matt Busby

Sir Matt Busby is a Manchester United legend. Image Source: Bleacher Report
Sir Matt Busby is a Manchester United legend. Image Source: Bleacher Report

Manchester United seem to have a tryst with legendary Scotsmen. Sir Matt Busby was one of the first managers in English football to spend over two decades at the same club and is a behemoth in Manchester United's incredible history.

Busby started his career as a coach for Liverpool but made the decision to join arch-rivals Manchester United after disagreements with the Merseyside club's board. The Scottish manager was impressive in his first few years at the club and built one of the most formidable Manchester United sides in history.

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.

#2 Bob Paisley

Bob Paisley is a Liverpool legend
Bob Paisley is a Liverpool legend

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.

Bob Paisley was an astute tactician and spent 15 years as Bill Shankly's assistant coach. Paisley was a part of the legendary 'Boot Room' at Liverpool and spent over a decade honing his skills as a student of the game. With the Merseyside giants firmly established as a potent force in the English top-flight, Bob Paisley took Liverpool to unprecedented heights and made the Reds a powerful European force.

With six league titles and three European Cups within a span of eight years, Paisley made Liverpool one of most England's most successful clubs. The former manager mentored several Liverpool legends and gave the club some of its most memorable moments.

#1 Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson had a stellar career
Sir Alex Ferguson had a stellar career

Sir Alex Ferguson is arguably the greatest manager the world of football has ever seen. As far as consistency and sheer longevity are concerned, the sport may never see an individual that can hold a torch to the legendary Manchester United coach.

Like many other inclusions on this list, Sir Alex Ferguson joined a club plagued by discernible bouts of uncertainty. The Scottish manager unearthed several gems at the club and won an astounding 13 league titles with Manchester United.

The likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and Eric Cantona plied their trade under the legendary manager and blossomed into world-class players. Sir Alex Ferguson is a bonafide Premier League legend and his achievements will likely remain unsurpassed for generations to come.

Also Read: 10 Greatest Football Managers of all time

Edited by Aditya Hosangadi


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