As we the World Cup comes to an end, it is pertinent to look back at the tournament and see the impact of managers.
There is always been an argument that managers are less important in international football than club football simply because of how little time they have to mold their teams.
Regardless of the merits of that argument, managers continue to be incredibly important to their sides.
Just look at the finalists: France arguably have the best attacking talent in the competition, but they have also become a defensive juggernaut due to Didier Deschamps.
Meanwhile, Croatia has gone from almost not qualifying to the World Cup final since Zlatko Dalic has taken over.
It should be noted that these managers are ranked by their performance in their World Cup, not their entire careers.
Thus the likes of Joachim Low, Tite and Carlos Queiroz (all all-time great managers) are excluded. So who have been the best managers in this World Cup?
#10 Aliou Cisse
The only manager on this list whose team did not progress past the group-stages, Aliou Cisse just edged out the likes of Carlos Queiroz and Gernot Rohr.
Cisse had quite a talented team at his disposal with Kalidou Koulibaly, Salif Sane, Idrissa Gueye and Sadio Mane. Yet, Cisse managed to use his talents at his disposal in an intelligent manner that allowed them to flourish.
In their first game, Senegal was not favoured against a Poland team that featured one of the best strikers in the world: Robert Lewandowski.
Yet, Cisse still decided to go with a very attacking 4-4-2, which included two pure wingers (Ismalia Sarr and Mane) in midfield. The formation worked perfectly, as Senegal created far better chances despite only having 39% of the possession.
Cisse was also brilliant in the game against Japan as Senegal were easily the better team, dominating the game throughout.
While Japan managed to snatch a draw due to some panicked defending, Cisse’s tactical acumen was clear.
Senegal then exited the tournament through the most heart-breaking fashion as a Yerry Mina header sealed Colombia’s win. While they were tied with Japan in both points and goal difference, Senegal was eliminated because of a poor fair play record.
Despite this rather unfair situation, Cisse stayed classy. Overall, his impressive tactics and excellent man-management. bring him to 10th on this list.
#9 Oscar Tabarez
Tabarez was the longest-serving manager in the World Cup, having granted debuts to 20 out of the 23 he selected in his World Cup squad.
Tabarez’s experience and familiarity with the players showed in the tournament, as Uruguay were one of the most cohesive teams in the tournament.
The South Americans only conceded three goals in the tournament: one of which was an awful Fernando Muslera error.
While Uruguay’s defence is usually attributed to the individual excellence of players like Diego Godin, Jose Gimenez and Martin Caceres, Tabarez has helped develop these players since their debuts.
Moreover, the cohesion of the unit has to be attributed to Tabarez’s managerial acumen.
Many have criticised the Uruguayan manager for playing quite a defensive style, as they struggled to score against the likes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt (only squeaking by with two 1-0 wins).
However, Tabarez should also be credited for the counter-attacking dynamism that Uruguay displayed against Portugal. Indeed, the link-up play of Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani has improved significantly over the past decade and Tabarez (along with his coaching staff) deserve credit for that.
However, that style was successful in the tournament until Uruguay’s loss to France. While that quarter-final was indeed disappointing, perhaps Uruguay could have upset the Les Blues if they had Edinson Cavani at their disposal.
#8 Akira Nishino
Perhaps if the fair-play rule was not in place, Aliou Cisse would have been in this spot instead of Akira Nishino. However, in the end, Japan made the knockout stages and impressed against Belgium, propelling Nishino to this spot.
Japan’s first and last games were arguably Japan’s best performances and Nishino’s tactics in both of those games were superb.
In Japan’s first encounter against Colombia, the Asian nation was considered underdogs against one of the best teams in the competition. Nishino intelligently set up a 4-2-3-1 with two pure defensive midfielders thus reducing the impact of Colombia’s attacking midfielder Juan Quintero.
The attack was also well balanced with an orchestrator in Shinji Kagawa and three extremely quick players in Genki Haraguchi, Takashi Inui and Yuyo Osako.
Such tactics were vindicated when Osako punished Colombia on the counter, earning a penalty and a red card for Carlos Sanchez- a numerical advantage that eventually decided the game.
Nishino played the same formation in the Round of 16 game against Belgium where the Blue Samurai were magnificent on the counter, jumping to a 2-0 lead.
While Japan eventually collapsed, the fact that there were so close to a brilliant upset shows Nishino’s tactical acumen.
What prevents Nishino from being much higher in this list was his complacency in Japan’s last group game against Poland.
Nishino decided to change his lineup, resulting in an embarrassing defeat to Poland which almost knocked Japan out of the tournament (the aforementioned fair-play rule saved them).
#7 Roberto Martinez
There is perhaps no other manager who was more ridiculed before the tournament than Roberto Martinez.
The Belgian manager had shown an inclination to play a three-man defence with attacking wingers Yannick Carrasco and Thomas Meunier rather than wing-backs. This was considered naïve by most observers, including yours truly.
However, Martinez’s system worked extremely well for the Red Devils in the group stages, as Belgium ran rampant over the likes of Panama and Tunisia, registering 3-0 and 5-2 victories respectively.
Even in a bizarre encounter against England in which both managers played their second-string sides, Martinez’s tactics won out in a 1-0 victory.
But eventually, the naivete of his tactics was exposed as Belgium were shocked by Nishino’s Japan who jumped to a 2-0 lead.
At that point, Martinez showed intelligence and humility, switching to a more direct style, bringing on Nacer Chadli and Marouane Fellaini. Chadli and Fellaini scored to complete a wonderful comeback.
Martinez then pulled off a masterclass against Brazil, playing Kevin De Bruyne as a false nine and Romelu Lukaku as a right inverted winger.
That set-up enabled Belgium to punish the favourites on the counter. While he got it wrong against France in the semi-final, Martinez managed to prove his doubters wrong and take the Golden Generation farther than they have ever been.
#6 Juan Carlos Osorio
If this was a ranking of the best managerial performances in one game, then Osorio would rank at the top of this list.
In Mexico’s first game against Germany, Osorio pulled off a tactical masterclass against Joachim Low- perhaps the best international manager of his generation.
Osorio set up his team to counter-attack, enabling El Tri to make full use of the talents of Hirving Lozano and Javier Hernandez as was evident by Mexico’s only goal.
Osorio also set up an organized defence, combining the experience of the 30-year-old Hector Moreno with the youthful pace of Carlos Salcedo and Edson Alvarez.
Osorio made the right decision by dropping veteran Rafael Marquez while using him cleverly as a substitute when required.
Often when managers try to use their players out of position, it ends in dressing room discontent along with an incoherent play on the pitch.
It is a symbol of the trust that Osorio has fostered that he could play Lozano on the left-wing (a natural right-winger) and Andres Guardado as a central midfielder with the team still performing as a unit.
Even though Osorio’s tactics faltered against Sweden and Brazil, that one game against Germany is enough for him to finish 6th on this list.
#5 Janne Andersson
Janne Andersson has been one of the least-discussed managers on this list, as he has coached an effective yet unentertaining Swedish side. Thus it has gone unnoticed that Andersson has been one of the best managers in the tournament.
Perhaps Andersson’s most important decision was one that took place before the World Cup. After Sweden qualified by defeating Netherlands and Italy, the retired legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic chose to flirt with the option of returning to the Swedish squad.
Andersson made it clear that the LA Galaxy striker would not be at the tournament. It was an extremely brave decision, yet one that allowed Sweden’s squad to flourish in the tournament.
For years, Sweden would have one attacking move: trying to feed the ball to Ibrahimovic. By not selecting the 35-year-old, Andersson has instead cultivated Sweden into a far more cohesive unit. Andersson chose the outdated 4-4-2 but then adapted it to fit the modern game.
Andersson’s man-management helped the likes of Victor Lindelof, Mikael Lustig and Andreas Granqvist be more effective than they were for their club teams.
Those players formed the bulk of a defence that finished ahead of Germany and Mexico before dispatching a competent Swiss side. Once Sweden relied primarily on the excellence of Ibrahimovic, now they are dependent on the intelligence of Andersson.
#4 Stanislav Cherchesov
Being the manager of a host nation can make careers. In 2002, Guus Hiddink relaunched his career by leading South Korea to the semi-finals of the World Cup.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s attacking tactics for Germany in 2006 has helped sustain his career until now. But it can also help end careers at the top level.
Jose Santamaria never coached again after managing an underperforming Spanish side in 1982 at home. Luiz Felipe Scolari still hasn’t recovered after he managed Brazil to that 7-1 defeat in 2014.
Considering that pressure, Stanislav Cherchesov has been absolutely brilliant in his management of the Russian team.
Tactically, the manager has been astute and flexible as he has made several adjustments throughout this tournament.
Initially, Cherchesov opted with a 4-2-3-1 formation with two pure defensive midfielders in Yuri Gazinsky and Roman Zobnin. This allowed the likes of Alexander Golovin and Denis Cheryshev to tear up the Saudi Arabian defence.
Cherchesov continued to make brave decisions, opting for Artem Dzyuba against Egypt rather than the in-form Feder Smolov.
Dzyuba scored three goals in the tournament. He also decided to go against conventional wisdom and played the rather slow 38-year-old Sergei Ignashevich in the centre of the park.
Cherchesov’s tactics worked best against Spain where he decided to drop fan favourite Denis Cheryshev, preferring an additional defensive midfielder in Daler Kuzyayev.
Kuzyavev along with Zobnin and Gazinsky helped ensure that Spain’s excessive passing did not result in significant changes.
Meanwhile, Dzyuba was a menace to Spain’s defence. Make no mistake, that upset was almost entirely due to Cherchesov’s tactics (and composure during the penalty-shootout).
#3 Didier Deschamps
After the Euro 2016 final, Didier Deschamps was one of the most criticized men in football. As hosts, France was considered one of the favourites.
While Les Blues reached the final, many argued that it was despite Deschamps’ tactics rather than because of them. In the final against Portugal, France was shocked by a Portuguese team far inferior in talent (especially after Cristiano Ronaldo went off).
Now two years later, Deschamps successfully managed to overcome that disappointment to become the third man to win the World Cup both as a player and as a coach.
This time Deschamps’s tactics indisputably helped his side. While he continued to set up the team in a conservative manner, this worked brilliantly as France had the best defence in the tournament. Les Blues only conceded four goals: one penalty stemming from a horrible Samuel Umtiti error, a worldie from Angel Di Maria, a deflection and a consolation goal.
Deschamps made several brave decisions which allowed the Les Blues to defend in such a manner.
For example, playing natural centre-backs Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez as full-backs not only solidified the defence but also allowed Pavard and Hernandez to flourish on the attacking end.
Similarly, the decision to play Blaise Matuidi as a left-winger worked excellently as the Juventus midfielder put in a brilliant shift each game. This defensive solidity has allowed the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann to prosper.
While Deschamps isn’t higher in this list because of the talent at his disposal, he can be indisputably proud of his tactics and decision-making at the tournament.
#2 Gareth Southgate
Graham Taylor. Glenn Hoddle. Kevin Keegan. Sven Goran-Eriksson. Steve McClaren. Fabio Capello. Roy Hodgson. Even Sam Allardyce.
Those are all managerial careers that have been destroyed (or damaged significantly) by the responsibility of being England manager. It is a job so infamous that Gareth Southgate initially did not even want it.
However, since taking the job, Southgate has turned the stale unit that was vanquished by lowly Iceland into a young spritely team that managed to inspire English fans.
While eventually, Football did not come home, the fact that England fans were dreaming of a repeat of 1966 is an achievement in itself.
In March of this year, Southgate began to use a rather adventurous 3-5-2 formation. The eventual result of that formation felt rather strange: wing-back Kyle Walker was used as a central defender, winger Raheem Sterling became a striker and the likes of Ashely Young, Harry Maguire and Kieran Trippier were brought into the side.
It worked perfectly: England scraped past Tunisia before demolishing Panama in a manner that previous English teams couldn’t. They even won a penalty shootout.
While the loss to Croatia was indeed disappointing, England was exciting again. Southgate did much more than popularize waistcoats or perfect set-pieces, he made the Three Lions respectable again.
#1 Zlatko Dalic
There is nothing remarkable about Zlatko Dalic. Unlike Cisse, he never captained his country. His team doesn’t play a wonderful attacking style like Martinez’s.
Unlike Deschamps, he never lifted the World Cup as a player- in fact, he never even played in the tournament.
His most high-profile club management job was in Abu Dhabi. Dalic doesn’t have a trademarkable accessory like Cherchesov’s moustache or Southgate’s waistcoat.
Yet what Dalic does have is the man-management and tactical acumen to take Croatia to their first World Cup final. In a team where many players are involved in a corruption scandal, (including Luka Modric and Dejan Lovren), Dalic managed to pull the players together to fight for that coveted trophy.
While Croatia’s attack was often inefficient, Dalic’s use of two wingers was vindicated as Ivan Perisic and Ante Rebic were among the Vatreni’s best players against England in a famous semi-final.
Meanwhile, his use of Marcelo Brozovic provided Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic with the freedom to create chances.
On paper, Croatia’s defence seems rather ordinary, but in reality, it has been excellent as Dejan Lovren and Domagoj Vida have flourished under Dalic’s tutelage.
In the end, Dalic’s tactics did not work in the World Cup final as a combination of luck and superior talent helped France triumph in Moscow. Yet, Dalic can extremely be proud of how he took his tiny nation to the biggest stage in football. That fairytale story makes him the best manager of the World Cup.
Do you agree with our list? Sound off your opinions in the comments section below!