Football is not a binary sport. You don’t necessarily win when you have a good squad. You need someone to manage a club’s players, and some of the best teams in the history of the game have had legendary managers.
I grew up in an era where football managers would often deflect questions and hesitate before telling the truth. It’s great to watch the managers of today being confident and concise – it speaks volumes about the confidence they have in their own ability and understanding of their players.
When it comes to football on a world stage, it isn’t easy to classify achievements. There are managers across different continents who are doing an excellent job. When we look at world football, however, it’s quite clear that European football represents the top level, both domestically and internationally.
I’m going to focus more on domestic club managers in this particular column, because international football is a completely different monster. All the managers on this list have either achieved sustained success or have had a profound influence on world football.
Here is my take on the five best managers in world football at the moment.
#5 Jose Mourinho
With 23 trophies to his name, Jose Mourinho is one of the most decorated managers in the game's history. He’s won everything there is to win in European football, and the fact that he hasn’t won anything with Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur doesn’t undermine his greatness – it only speaks about the quality of the other managers in domestic football today.
Jose Mourinho’s challenge at Roma will be even greater than his previous stints. He’s on borrowed time at the moment, and if you ask me to make a similar list in 18 months, I could very well be of the opinion that he used to be one of the best.
Mourinho cannot be omitted from a conversation about the greatest managers in world football. I’ve spoken to some of his players and they all speak so highly of him. There’s many a manager who’s been given a talented squad and has achieved nothing, but you can’t say that about Jose Mourinho.
#4 Thomas Tuchel
It wasn’t easy to choose between my third and fourth choices on this list, because Thomas Tuchel has just won the UEFA Champions League and has excelled at Chelsea. He doesn’t have a massive amount of success when you compare him to someone like Mourinho, but he could potentially become one of the greatest managers of all-time in the future.
Tuchel is a manager who’s capable of getting very good results from a good team. He’s changed the way his Chelsea players think and speak about football. As a commentator, it’s quite refreshing to watch a manager who isn’t afraid of speaking his mind.
Thomas Tuchel has tasted success in a relatively short period of time at Chelsea, but he will have to add more trophies to his cabinet to top this list. Tuchel has done a brilliant job at Stamford Bridge and is definitely one to keep an eye on at the moment.
#3 Unai Emery
The only reason I put Unai Emery above Thomas Tuchel on this list is that he’s a regular winner. You could argue that he hasn’t had much domestic success, but his achievements in cup competitions speak for themselves.
The UEFA Europa League regularly features world-class teams that have dropped down from the UEFA Champions League, and Unai Emery has done brilliantly against a handful of high-profile opponents. Emery has won three Europa Leagues with Sevilla and one with Villarreal - it’s astounding that he’s achieved so much success in the competition.
There are much better squads in La Liga at the moment, and it will be very difficult for Emery to compete for the league title. Like Thomas Tuchel, he will need to secure domestic success to become one of the best of all time and a move back to England could give him another opportunity to prove himself in Europe’s most difficult league.
#2 Jurgen Klopp
We’ve come to the thin end of the wedge now, and there are only two names that truly stand out in European football today. Jurgen Klopp had some success in Germany but he isn’t a guy who’s had tens of trophy wins. What he’s done with Liverpool, however, is a testament to his brilliance and work ethic as a football manager.
Klopp took over from Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool and effectively created an environment that would improve his players. People often think great managers buy great players to build great teams. In my opinion, a great manager improves the players in his squad rather than just plugging holes in his team with the right players. Rodgers had made six signings in the summer before he was replaced, and Jurgen Klopp gave all six players an opportunity to prove themselves at the club.
There will always be exceptions to the rule, but most players have improved under Jurgen Klopp. Virgil van Dijk was a very good defender at Southampton, but he became the best defender in the Premier League at Liverpool. Mohamed Salah was rejected by a number of clubs before his Liverpool transfer, and now he’s scoring goals for fun. For a big club, it’s all about recruitment, and Jurgen Klopp has created an environment at Liverpool that allows his players to flourish.
Liverpool were short of the mark last season, and their misfortunes were mostly down to their injuries. They will be back up there, and it wouldn’t be surprising if they win silverware this season. Klopp might not have the most trophies at the moment, but you can see the improvements he continues to make at Liverpool. He has changed Liverpool for the better and has taken them to another level.
#1 Pep Guardiola
Pep Guardiola’s is not a clear-cut choice for the top spot on this list, but his numbers speak for themselves. He’s won 29 trophies over the course of his career, and his teams are always exceptional. The Premier League has become incredibly competitive this year, but you can be sure that Manchester City will be up there with the very best.
It’s been a fair few years since Guardiola’s European successes, however, and you would expect him to win the Champions League with Manchester City. Last season’s defeat in the final would have been disappointing from Guardiola’s perspective but he will have another go at it this season.
Guardiola is another manager who isn’t frightened to speak up, and his impact on Manchester City’s fortunes has been enormous. The likes of Joao Cancelo, Ruben Dias, and Ederson weren’t big names before they joined the club, and having a manager who can take you to the next level makes a world of difference. He’s changed the way people think about football, and you have to celebrate the fact that he’s had such a profound impact on the game.
Pep Guardiola has won three La Liga titles, three Premier League titles, and three Bundesliga titles. This man knows how to dominate his leagues. You can talk about the money he’s spent, but a lot of managers spend money but don’t achieve anything. Manchester City have developed as a club since they brought Pep Guardiola in and to me, he’s the best manager in football at the moment.
I have to make a mention of Hansi Flick on this list. He took over at Bayern Munich and couldn’t do anything wrong. It was, perhaps, the purple patch of all purple patches. He doesn’t qualify for this list only because he’s not managing a club at the moment, but it'll be interesting to see how he fares with the German national team.
Sven-Goran Eriksson is another manager who was brilliant, in my opinion. There are several managers out there who are successful in their own right but the argument looks a bit thinner when you put them up against the very best. Eriksson was a great manager who did very well and achieved a lot in the game.
Relatively speaking, I think Harry Redknapp was one of the best managers I’ve come across domestically. He didn’t win many trophies, but anyone who worked with Harry knew exactly how great he was. I got back into the England squad at 38 years of age with Harry Redknapp as my manager and he was a very important figure in my playing career.