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Ranking the 5 greatest managers in Premier League history

The Premier League has been home to several world-class managers over the years
The Premier League has been home to several world-class managers over the years
Jim Beglin

The Premier League has seen some incredible managerial talent over the years. Of course, to be regarded as one of the greatest managers in the league's history, you need to have won the competition at least once, which pretty much rules out a handful of really impressive candidates.

That said, there are several managers who have won the competition since its inception in 1992, so someone is definitely going to feel hard done by! After a lot of deliberation, I've picked five managers who I believe deserve a mention and I've also explained the reason behind my selection.


#5 Claudio Ranieri

Leicester City v Everton - Premier League
Leicester City v Everton - Premier League

Claudio Ranieri is a name that just jumps out at me because of what he achieved at Leicester City. When you look back on that season and the history that preceded it, you'll realize that it is a sporting achievement for the ages. Nigel Pearson was in charge when they pulled off the great escape in the 2014-15 season and if you listen back to what Peter Drury and I said at the time, we referred to them as one of the best bottom dwellers we'd ever seen in the Premier League.

They were stuck in a rut and lost games despite playing well, but the results began to turn in their favor towards the end of the season. Pearson eventually managed to steer his side away from the relegation zone, but he made way for Ranieri after the season.

When you look at managers like Roberto Mancini, Carlo Ancelotti, Jurgen Klopp and a few others, they're all Premier League winners who've had significant financial backing at their respective clubs over the years. Leicester City are rubbing shoulders with the big boys now and making their presence felt in the Premier League, but they weren't a big club at the time and it goes without saying that Ranieri didn't have the kind of financial backing that some of the other clubs did.

Over the course of the 2014-15 season, I found every possible detail to declare they Leicester City weren't going to win the Premier League. I've been in that situation with Liverpool I thought they'd crumble once the pressure started to kick in, but Ranieri kept it all going and managed the situation beautifully. His character was part of it all - he kept it low-key and just wanted to enjoy the ride. He was very relaxed in front of the media and his phrase 'Dilly Ding Dilly Dong' - which is something he said humorously at a press conference - is part of Leicester folklore!

Ranieri was criticized for making an awful lot of team changes during his Chelsea stint and was infamously referred to as Tinkerman. That irritated a lot of fans at the time, but all that changed at Leicester. He knew he had an efficient, counter-attacking machine at the club with a direct style of play, so he didn't mess with it too much and let it all happen.

Leicester's 3-1 victory against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium was the moment that changed it for me. I worked on the game and it was absolutely incredible - I had to absorb it as it unfolded and it finally sunk in! I swallowed my miscalculation as I had predicted wrongly at the start of the season, but I was absolutely delighted for them. A fan won a huge sum of money after betting on Leicester City to lift the Premier League title at 5000:1 odds - that was the gamble of gambles!

It was a story with a fairytale ending and I simply had to pick Ranieri as one of the greatest managers in Premier League history. When you reflect back on what happened, it's still remarkable and I wonder if we'll ever see something like it again. The game needed something like that to happen and because of that, everyone bought into the romance of it. I wrote them off at every opportunity, but they went against the grain to accomplish something truly remarkable, so I tip my hat out to Leicester City and Claudio Ranieri.


#4 Pep Guardiola

Manchester City v Huddersfield Town - Premier League
Manchester City v Huddersfield Town - Premier League

When you look back on the managers Manchester City have had in the Premier League since their takeover, they've all enjoyed creditable levels of success. While Mark Hughes started things off, Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini both won Premier League titles. It was going well for them, but they set sights on something bigger - to build a dynasty - which is now beginning to take shape under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola.

This is the longest he has spent at any club as a manager and in a couple of years, I'd probably have him higher on my list. If he adds another title or two to his CV, he can very quickly elevate himself above the likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho. He is a standard-setting perfectionist and was an obvious choice for Manchester City - they got the best manager available at the time and have reaped the rewards in spectacular fashion.

Guardiola can go and buy the very best players like we saw earlier this summer when Manchester City smashed the Premier League transfer record for Jack Grealish. They have big pockets and he'll be the first one to admit it, but that's not something you can fault him for. Four League Cups, three Premier League titles and an FA Cup in six years - that's a stunning trophy haul and some of the football they've played is up there with the best I've seen.

He's a lucky guy in the sense that he can get what he wants in the transfer market, but you can't ignore his coaching and the fact that he's obsessed with the smallest details - that's how he operates and what he does borders on genius in managerial terms.

His Barcelona side are the best team I've ever seen. The trophies, the style of football and the players he had in Spain were on a different level, but Manchester City have been close to that, if not on par. They've set new landmarks and accomplished everything in great style, so it goes without saying that Guardiola has been a brilliant addition to the Premier League.

Many have claimed that Manchester City's style of play under him is monotonous, but not for me. I know how hard it is to get to that level of brilliance in possession, maintain it and improve upon it every season, so I greatly admire what they've achieved in recent seasons. Sometimes you know what's coming when they face one of the so-called lesser sides in the Premier League, but the fact that they steamroll teams so often is a testament to Guardiola's ability to mastermind it all behind the scenes.

The UEFA Champions League continues to elude him at Manchester City, but we're talking about the Premier League here, so he's right up there with the very best.


Also Read: Jim Beglin's greatest Premier League XI of all-time

#3 Jose Mourinho

Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League
Chelsea v Sunderland - Premier League

Jose Mourinho came to the Premier League in box office fashion with a reputation of being a serial winner after what he achieved with FC Porto. He had an arrogance and a cockiness about him and never once tried to contain it - he let it all out and elevated himself to that level of stardom by referring to himself as the 'Special One'.

You've got to be able to practice what you preach and he did so in some style. Mourinho was the darling of the British media - they just could not get enough of him! He won the Premier League in successive seasons with Chelsea and did it differently to the likes of Pep Guardiola, Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, which was really impressive. In the 2004-05 season, Chelsea conceded just 15 goals in 38 games - the least in Premier League history - on their way to winning their first league title in 50 years while also breaking a handful of other long-standing records.

Chelsea did score a lot of goals, but it was always defense first under Mourinho. I'm a more attack-minded person and would play on the front foot if I was a manager, but I admire him for the way he set his teams up - it was all very well orchestrated and everyone knew what they had to do.

The UEFA Champions League second leg encounter between Barcelona and Inter Milan at the Camp Nou in 2010 is a game that will live long in my memory. Inter won the first leg 3-1 at home, but Sergio Busquets got Thiago Motta sent off in the 28th minute of the second leg, so Mourinho and co were on the ropes. That is when the "us against the world" mentality came to the forefront, as Inter hung on for their lives and made it through to the final on aggregate despite losing the game 1-0.

The whole of Catalonia wanted Jose Mourinho dissected that night - they absolutely hated him! I've been to the Camp Nou around 15 times in my life and I had never heard an atmosphere like that. All of it was because of Mourinho, his stardom and what his team did that night.

He was a great motivator and got a fantastic response from his team, which happened in his second stint at Stamford Bridge as well. When he returned to Chelsea and won his third Premier League title, he peaked. He couldn't generate the "us against the world" mentality and hasn't been the same manager since.

At Manchester United, my personal feeling is that he poisoned the dressing room. A lot of players turned against him and whenever something went remotely south, he began targeting his players - it was never his fault anymore. I didn't like that, as these are the kind of things that need to stay within the confines of the dressing room.

Despite his stint at Old Trafford, Tottenham Hotspur took him on to replace Mauricio Pochettino because they wanted to win something. They probably thought the presence of a serial winner would rub off on the rest of the players and result in silverware, but it didn't.

My honest opinion is that Mourinho has lost his touch. He would probably laugh at me and completely disagree, but that's just the way it is. Whenever he is asked a challenging question that threatens to expose his drop-off, he has been quick to remind people what he has achieved over the years. He's been on a slippery slide for a while now and he knows it, but he'll never admit that his powers have begun to wane.

That said, he has made a great impression in the Premier League over the years and is undoubtedly one of the greatest managers of the modern era. Maybe Italy will spark the good in him once again, so I wish him well at Roma and hope he can find the fire to get going once again!


#2 Arsene Wenger

Arsenal v Burnley - Premier League
Arsenal v Burnley - Premier League

When Arsene Wenger arrived from Japan, everyone went "Arsene who?" No one knew him, but he quickly announced himself in the Premier League and earned immediate respect with a different methodology. His philosophy was a breath of fresh air and his players responded to his methods brilliantly, as their diets and training regimes underwent a massive change.

It's a well-documented fact that there was a drinking culture in England at the time, and Arsene Wenger had quite a few drinkers in his team. I played for Liverpool in the 80s and there was an unwritten rule at Anfield that none of us could drink less than 48 hours before a game. At Arsenal, Wenger had the likes of Tony Adams and Paul Merson and he dealt with them in a very subtle way.

What he created was a big physical side, as red cards became a regular occurrence at Arsenal. They went toe-to-toe with the best sides in the Premier League and also handled themselves really well - that is why they became a pest and a challenge to Manchester United's domestic dominance. The Red Devils were marauding their way to Premier League title after Premier League title under Sir Alex Ferguson, but Arsenal were the team to provide a rivalry and make life difficult for them.

The North Londoners vs the Northerners, Arsene Wenger vs Sir Alex Ferguson, and Patrick Vieira vs Roy Keane - Arsenal vs Manchester United was Premier League gold. There was great football, some wonderful battles, goals, assists, aggression, hard tackling and lots of magic.

Arsenal did the domestic double under Wenger in 1998 and 2002, but the fact that he masterminded his side to go through a Premier League campaign undefeated in 2003-04 is his highlight - it was an incredible achievement. I still can't find the right words for it, that is simply as good as it gets.

Unfortunately, that became his last Premier League title, as thereafter, he became obsessed with Barcelona and their style of play. Wenger went from having a team that was big and physical to a side that had smaller technicians like Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Jack Wilshere. He lost the UEFA Champions League final to Barcelona in 2006 and his agenda was to conquer Europe, so that's probably why he felt the need to do things differently. Arsenal had their moments after that, but it never quite happened for them.

I watched them beat Slavia Prague 7-0 in Europe and said it was a privilege just to sit there and watch a gorgeous Arsenal team in action, but ultimately, Wenger's team slipped into a slow fade. They began to drop off little by little and people started saying that he probably overstayed his welcome at the club.

When you have a great manager like him at the club, it gets very difficult beyond a point. The fans and the media could see that things were slipping away, but it must not have been easy for someone of Wenger's stature to just walk away. The "Wenger Out" demonstrations and the fact that Arsenal fans regrettably turned on him were sad to watch, but people could see what was happening.

When Arsenal beat Hull City in the FA Cup final in 2014 to end their trophy drought, Arsene Wenger should have walked. He could have left on a high, but it didn't happen. Nevertheless, he enjoyed a great period of success and changed perspectives at Arsenal, so he is right up there with the very best managers in Premier League history.


#1 Sir Alex Ferguson

Manchester United v Swansea City - Premier League
Manchester United v Swansea City - Premier League

Sir Alex Ferguson ruled by fear and reputation at Manchester United on his way to becoming the greatest manager in Premier League history. Much like Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, he too inherited a drinking culture and knew it was a problem, but there was nothing subtle about the way he dealt with the situation.

In Bryan Robson, Paul McGrath and a few others, there was a little drinking club at Manchester United at the time. Fergie knew immediately that he had to break that up - there was an exciting crop of young talent coming through the ranks, so he didn't want them to follow the kind of example set by the older pros.

Sometimes, as a young player, it's easy to get wrapped up in such an environment and I've experienced it myself with Shamrock Rovers and Liverpool. It's great for camaraderie and building team spirit, but I once questioned if I really wanted to be there. Sir Alex Ferguson was legendary in that aspect, as he once gatecrashed a party to launch a furious attack on Lee Sharpe and Ryan Giggs. The incident sent across a message along the lines of "if you want to conduct yourself like this, you won't play for my club."

At Aberdeen, Fergie beat Real Madrid in the Cup Winners Cup and that's why Manchester United took him. He was the chosen one to awaken a sleeping giant that had gone so long without a league title because he had the ability to elevate teams. I played against his Manchester United side on his first visit to Anfield - it was a 1-1 draw if I remember correctly and they were a really good team!

He was given a lot of patience by the board, but his reputation almost burned out even before he could exert his influence at Manchester United. Mark Robins' goal in the FA Cup against Nottingham Forest in 1991 is widely regarded as the goal that saved Sir Alex Ferguson's job - he would've been sacked if Manchester United had lost that day! Thereafter, it was progression and everything worked out the way he imagined in his head.

He was getting results consistently and players would get the hairdryer treatment if they broke rank. His legend began to grow because of the rollickings his players used to get, which is a testament to his "rule by fear" formula I mentioned earlier. Sir Alex Ferguson had a no-nonsense attitude about him and wanted to knock Liverpool off their perch, which he managed to do in his time as Manchester United boss.

I loved the football Manchester United played under him - so much so that some of the Liverpool faithful referred to me as a Manchester United fan! His ability to rebuild superstar teams was also impressive and I liked the ruthlessness that came with it. He didn't care about the reputation of the player and just moved them on if he felt it was the right decision, as was the case with Roy Keane, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy and a few others.

Sir Alex Ferguson was more of a manager than a coach - he was happy to bring in the required personnel to oversee training sessions at Carrington, while he was the one holding it all together. Thirteen Premier League titles, wow! That's probably going to remain untouchable, it's incredible what he achieved.

No one will get close to what he achieved at Manchester United, so he is definitely the greatest manager in Premier League history.


Also Read: David James column - Ranking the 5 best goalkeepers in the Premier League right now

Edited by Vishal Subramanian

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