5 top European sides and their greatest-ever managers

Arsene Wenger is Arsenal's greatest ever manager
Arsene Wenger is Arsenal's greatest ever manager
Omene Osuya

If a football coach from the early 50s were to be brought back today, his first feeling will probably be one of shock.

Coaching a football team nowadays is radically different from what it used to be. The advent of technology, sports science and data have revolutionized the sport. Now, it's not uncommon to hear about professionals like data analysts or nutritionists et al being actively involved in football teams.

This has given rise to the era of the nomadic super-coach: men whose early successes have led them to constantly being invited to take the top jobs in European football.

In this category, you have the likes of Pep Guardiola, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti amongst others (Jurgen Klopp may soon join this pantheon).

However, the old cliche about things changing a lot and yet remaining the same still rings true. Coaches are still the most important element that determines a team's success or failure.

Lots of top European sides owe their present status to great coaches. These often-underappreciated men have played significant roles in building the pedestal these sides currently occupy.

Here is a look at 5 top clubs and the coaches who have made the most impact till date;

#5 Valeriy Lobanovskyi (Dynamo Kiev)

Lobanovskyi is believed to be the greatest coach to ever come out of Eastern Europe
Lobanovskyi is believed to be the greatest coach to ever come out of Eastern Europe

It may strike some readers as odd that a team like Dynamo Kiev is in a list of top European clubs. However, that would mean that such readers are unaware of the club's rich pedigree. A pedigree that is mostly down to the genius of the great Lobanovskyi

Competing in the then Soviet League, the Ukranian giants were in the shadows of the richer, better-funded Russian sides, the Moscow giants; Spartak, Dynamo, and CSKA. This was until the return of Lobanovskyi as a manager to the club he represented very well as a player.

The native of Kiev was a man ahead of his time. Collaborating with the dean of the Dnipropetrovsk Institute of Physical Sciences at that time, Anatoly Zelentso, Lobanovskyi used computer simulations, videos, and physical profiling to create an unstoppable juggernaut.

Like the Total Football of Rinus Michel, Lobanovskyi's system required players to be smart enough to play in a variety of positions while always pressing the opponent (the forerunner to Klopp's gegenpressing style).

His hard-running, technically gifted Dynamo Kiev side took to his tactics like a fish to water. Before his arrival, the team had won just one league title. In his 20 years at the club (over three different spells), he won 28 trophies including two UEFA Cup Winners Cups and a UEFA Super Cup.

The "Father of Ukranian Football" also led an unfancied Soviet Union side all the way to the final of the 1988 European Championship.

#4 Helenio Herrera (Inter Milan)

Herrera was the world's first super coach
Herrera was the world's first super coach

Rightly referred to as one of the greatest tacticians in the history of the game, Herrera was a man with few equals.

An Argentine (born to Spanish parents) who later became a naturalized French citizen, this genius won virtually everywhere he went. As Atletico Madrid manager, he won two La Liga titles. As head honcho at the Camp Nou, he delivered 2 La Liga and two Copa Del Rey titles for Barcelona.

However, it was his time as Inter Milan manager that sealed his legendary status and became the world's first truly super-manager. Arriving in Milan in 1960, he met a fallen giant that had not won the Serie A title in 6 years. His physically demanding methods, tactical brilliance, and unwavering discipline changed the Nerazzurri's fate.

Herrera invented the catenaccio style that has become synonymous with Italian football. His team was ruthless in the pursuit of victory with brutality and snide behaviour mixed with brilliant footballing skills. He created the Grande Inter (Great Inter) team that was the biggest force in Italian and European football in the 1960s.

He won three Serie A, two Intercontinental and two European Cups (UEFA Champions League titles) within those years. Herrera occupies a pride of place in Inter's history that any coach will find almost impossible to upstage.

#3 Bob Paisley (Liverpool)

Paisley made Liverpool a European powerhouse
Paisley made Liverpool a European powerhouse

The debate over who is the greatest manager in Liverpool's history is one that may never end. Lots of people believe that Bill Shankly is the man who laid the foundation for the club's greatness, even the club's official website says so.

However, for the importance of his work and his achievements, some others prefer to name Paisley as the Reds' greatest manager. A quiet, soft-spoken man, Paisley spent almost 50 years of his life working for Liverpool FC in various aspects.

The Durham-born Paisley reluctantly took over the reins at the club following Shankly's retirement in 1974. Thrust into the role unexpectedly, he learned quite a lot from the retiring Shankly to whom he was an assistant.

Like most coaches of that era, he had been impressed by the genius of Rinus Michel at Ajax. The Total Football employed had produced three consecutive European Cups for de Godenzonen (Sons of the Gods) as the Dutch giants are known.

Employing a variation of that total football concept, Paisley further developed the concept and produced the most legendary team in Liverpool history. Featuring club legends like Kenny Daglish, John Toshack, Phil Neal, Ray Kennedy amongst others, the Reds became England and European top dogs.

They were unlike other English clubs at that time as they played with the flair of the more continental sides. This was done while retaining the defensive solidity, strength, and passion of traditional English teams.

The result was an amazing haul of trophies in the Paisley era (Twenty trophies in nine seasons). These included 6 First Division (Premier League titles) and the first three of Liverpool's five European Cups.

#2 Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United)

Sir Alex is the greatest British manager of all time
Sir Alex is the greatest British manager of all time

The legacy of Sir Alex has only been magnified by the mess that has come after him. Since the great man stepped aside in 2013, the Red Devils have gone through three managers (David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, and Mourinho), spent in excess of £750m since on transfers but are yet to win a Premier League title since.

The Scotsman had done a magnificent job at Aberdeen, knocking Glasgow giants; Celtic and Rangers off their perch to win the Scottish League. He had followed it up with an unprecedented European Cup Winners Cup triumph in 1983.

Manchester United had been in a slump before Fergie arrived with bitter Northern rivals, Liverpool the dominant British side. United had become an also-ran after the departure of the great Sir Matt Busby and had not won the league in 19 years before Sir Alex showed up.

He changed the mentality, philosophy, and status of the club dramatically during his 26 years in charge. His astute use of academy prospects, unheralded foreign signings and experienced players to good effect.

The style of play he fostered; constant attacking with two wingers ably supported by a strong backline has become known now as the "United Way". This emphasis on attacking, entertaining football brought unprecedented success to the Red Devils.

The 38 trophies won under Ferguson's reign represent Manchester United's greatest-ever era of success. It is one that may never be topped in the history of the club.

#1 Johan Cruyff (FC Barcelona)

Cryuff turned Barcelona into the super club it is now
Cryuff turned Barcelona into the super club it is now

It was going to take someone very special to keep Sir Alex away from the top spot. When that "someone special" is the legendary Dutch master, Cryuff, it brooks little argument.

The arch-priest of tiki-taka, the shining example of Total Football and the man who built the cathedral that has become FC Barcelona, Cryuff was a true genius and great in every sense of the word.

Not many footballers make successful coaches. The number of truly great footballers who achieve similar greatness as coaches is even rarer (exceptions include Guardiola, Franz Beckenbauer, Zinedine Zidane, and a few others).

He had already begun implementing his unique philosophy at hometown club Ajax; the side he achieved greatness with as a player. His work with the academy and style of play was built upon by Van Gaal and produced the team which won the 1994 UEFA Champions League title.

Arriving back at the Nou Camp, this time as a manager in 1988, Cryuff met a Barca in disarray. The Hesperia Mutiny (a players' revolt against then president Josep Lluís Núñez) saw all the players except goalie Andoni Zubizaretta sacked or sold.

Cryuff rebuilt the team from scratch working assiduously to implement his style on the team from La Masia to the senior side. He promoted the likes of Guardiola from the youth setup and bought in players like Hristo Stoichkov, Romario, Ronald Koeman.

The results were stunning. Almost overnight, Barca transformed from being debt-ridden and trophy-less to a super club that once again competed favourably with eternal rivals, Real Madrid.

Cryuff delivered the club's first ever European Cup in 1992 and 10 other trophies including 4 La Liga title. His favoured passing, attacking style became an intrinsic part of the club's DNA and has become a yardstick by which all Barca managers are judged.

Edited by Sripad


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