The 50 greatest managers of all time

Mario Zagallo

Mario Zagallo is one of only two Brazilian coaches to have won a World Cup, a Copa America and a Confederations Cup

40. Aime Jacquet

Points 990
Nationality French

A year before the 1998 World Cup, as France finished last in the four-team Tournoi, the Parc des Princes crowd chanted ‘Resign!’

Jacquet, however, responded in the only way he knew: with resolve.

“Even in the most difficult moments when he was attacked by the media,” Dider Deschamps explained, “he never budged an inch, avoiding controversy in order to better protect his squad.”

A former defensive midfielder with St Etienne, Jacquet’s successes were all underpinned by organisation and order. By the end of France 98, his team had won the World Cup with the best defensive record in the competition’s history. Before that, it had helped him bring about Bordeaux’s best ever spell with three titles in a decade.

Not that Jacquet was as coldly clinical as portrayed. “I don’t think you can overcome your opponents by tactics alone,” he once said. “You also need passion and match-winning individuals.”

According to Bernard Lacombe, he was also the first coach in France to play two forwards down the middle – displaying an under-reported sense of adventure. And he certainly went on the attack that night in Paris in ’98.

Career Lyon 1976-80; Bordeaux 1980-89; Montpellier 1989-90; Nancy 1990-91; France 1993-98
Trophies 1 World Cup; 3 French titles; 2 French cups


39. Rafa Benitez

Points 995
Nationality Spanish

His net spend, it seems, will forever be debated. As will his exact use of zonal marking and the word ‘facts’.

But his effectiveness should never be. Before Benitez’s spell at Liverpool, he had already created a lasting legacy in Spain.

After initial teething problems at Valladolid and Osasuna, he then secured promotions for both Extremadura and Tenerife. At Valencia then, he broke the Clasico domination of La Liga better than any manager since the early ’80s with two titles in three years. And while it’s true that the core of that team had reached two successive Champions League finals before he took over, their league record had been poor. Benitez improved Valencia’s average position from sixth to first.

At Anfield, it was the opposite. He never did win that craved-for league title but at least ended a 21-year wait for the European Cup. Although that 2005 side may have been among the worst to lift the Champions League, that only adds to Benitez’s achievement.

It shouldn’t be forgotten, either, that that season also consolidated the idea of a ‘big four’. By 2008-09, Benitez had got Liverpool closer to the title than any other coach in 20 years. That blistering title race, however, also exposed the flaws that would ultimately undermine Benitez: a tendency to get too involved in personality clashes (both in and out of Anfield) as well as too dogmatically adhere to his own ideologies. His next choice of job proved this, as he mistakenly tried to follow his old rival Jose Mourinho at Inter.

Underneath it all, however, remains an astute football mind. Benitez may be far from a perfect manager. But he is a productive one.

Career Real Valladolid 1996-97; Osasuna 1996-97; Extremadura 1997-99; Tenerife 2000-01; Valencia 2001-04; Liverpool 2004-10; Inter 2010
Trophies 1 Champions League; 1 Uefa Cup; 2 Spanish titles; 1 FA Cup; 1 Spanish second division


38. Arrigo Sacchi

Points 1000
Nationality Italian

Marco van Basten wasn’t convinced. So Sacchi set about definitively changing his mind.

With Milan’s Dutch players initially put out by the new manager’s rigorous game plans in 1987, Sacchi illustrated their importance in the clearest manner possible. He challenged 10 unorganised Milan attackers to attempt to score against his uncompromisingly organised defence in a 15-minute period. They couldn’t.

Of course, “convincing” was also what Sacchi was all about. When Van Basten later asked him why they had to win in such a manner, the manager produced a France Football list of the most memorable teams in history. “I wanted to give 90 minutes of joy to people.”

And there can be little doubt that Arrigo Sacchi was one of the most innovative and influential managers of all time. His exact style of pressing game initiated a tactical quantum leap in football. To a degree, its effect also made Serie A the dominant league of the 90s.

“The morning after we beat Steaua Bucharest 4-0 [in the 1989 European Cup final] I woke up with a feeling I had never experienced before… I realised it was the apotheosis of my life’s work.”

The only problem was that such a peak was impossible to reach again. And even the momentum was difficult to maintain.
It’s often forgotten that, like Nottingham Forest the club, Sacchi has more European Cups than league titles. By 1991, after a fourth season without the Scudetto, the players were already complaining about the exhausting, repetitive training sessions.
When he took over the national team, such was the defensive understanding that Sacchi’s approach required that Franco Baresi realised he and the backline would have to forsake a day off to keep their level of integration. And, still, his Italy were unconvincing. Roberto Baggio dragged them to a World Cup final before they went out in the first round of Euro 96.

His meticulous approach was clearly ill-suited to the intermittent nature of international football. But, by the mid-90s, it was also ill-suited to club football. After a moderate spell at Atletico Madrid, Sacchi only spent 23 days at Parma, realising he couldn’t recreate the glory of the ’80s when he lifted them to Serie B.

Sacchi was brilliant. But his exact methods ensured that was all too briefly.

Career Parma 1985-87; Milan 1987-91; Italy 1991-96; Milan 1996-97; Atletico Madrid 1998-99; Parma 2001
Trophies 2 European Cups; 1 Serie A; 1 Serie C


37. Osvaldo Zubeldia

Points 1005
Nationality Argentine

“Osvaldo would look at the law, and he would stand right there on the border of it.”

Those were the words of Antonio Rattin, the man that prompted Alf Ramsey’s infamous call of “animals” after Argentina’s defeat to England in the 1966 quarter-finals.

But it’s fair to say that Zubeldia’s teams lived up to the term much better. The most evocative images from their run of three successive Copa Libertadores between 1968 and 1970 aren’t goals or moments of glory but Nobby Stiles getting headbutted and Nestor Combin having his nose broken in the Intercontinental Cup finals. Hardly surprisingly, it was during this period that the term ‘anti-football’ was coined.

And, worse, Zubeldia’s teams often went beyond the physical. In one game against Independiente, there was one opposition player who had accidentally killed a friend on a hunting trip. The Estudiantes players hounded him for most of the game, chanting “murderer”.

As Juan Ramon Veron admitted, “we tried to find out everything possible about our rivals… so we could goad them on the field”.

But it wasn’t all a history of violence. Like most of the very best managers – and particularly those who worked wonders with smaller teams – Zubeldia left as little to chance as possible.

“All the possibilities afforded by the game were foreseen and practised,” midfielder Carlos Bilardo said. “The corners, the free-kicks, throw-ins were used to our best advantage.”

Indeed, were it not for their drastically different attitudes to discipline, Zubeldia could even be described as an Argentine Brian Clough. He first took little Atlanta to unforeseen heights before ensuring that Estudiantes became the first club from outside Buenos Aires to win the national title. They followed that with the Copa Libertadores’ first three-in-a-row.

The only real failure was with the national team in 1965. But while that might have been explained by the little time he had with them, it was excused by his subsequent successes at San Lorenzo and Atletico Nacional in Colombia.

Zubeldia may have broke the rules. But he also broke the mould.

Career Atlanta 1961-63; Argentina 1965; Estudiantes 1965-70; San Lorenzo 1974; Racing 1975; Atletico Nacional 1976-81
Trophies 3 Copa Libertadores; 4 domestic titles (2 Argentina, 2 Colombia)


36. Luis Alberto Cubilla

Points 1015
Nationality Uruguayan

Not only did Cubilla win an unprecedented two Copa Libertadores with a Paraguayan club, he claimed them across two separate spells.

In reality, frequent returns to Olimpia where a characteristic of Cubilla’s managerial career. The abilities he illustrated in that first brilliant spell of international success in 1979-80 got him a series of more illustrious jobs. But, other than at Penarol – for whom he had won the Copa Libertadores as a player under Scarone – he never replicated that success. As such, he made his way back to Olimpia four times. But he won a major trophy on three of them.

Just like his suit – Cubilla infamously never wore socks despite an otherwise pristine appearance – his CV was far from complete. But it was still very convincing.

Career Olimpia 1979-80; Newell’s Old Boys 1980; Penarol 1981; Olimpia 1982; Atletico Nacional 1983; River Plate 1984; Olimpia 1988-93; Racing 1994; Olimpia 1995-2002; Talleres 2003; Comunicaciones 2005; Barcelona SC 2007; Colegio 2009; Olimpia 2010
Trophies 2 Copa Libertadores; 2 Recopa Sudamericanas; 9 domestic titles (8 Paraguay, 1 Uruguay)


35. Herbert Chapman

Points 1020
Nationality English

When Herbert Chapman took his very first job as ‘manager’ of Northampton in 1907, the very title itself seemed a misnomer.
“No attempt was made to organise victory,” Chapman would say. “The most that I remember was the occasional chat between, say, two men playing on the same wing.”

On watching his side lose to Norwich City despite dominating, then, Chapman noted that “a team can attack for too long”.
His exact response to that, ordering his team to drop back when they didn’t have the ball, was one of a number of ways in which Chapman proclaimed himself a football pioneer. He initiated a number of innovations which may seem elementary parts of football now but were utterly revolutionary at the time: a tactical framework, team talks, control over signings, man-marking and – ultimately – the W-M formation. Confirming the fact he was ahead of his time, Chapman realised the effects a change to the offside law would have in 1925 and adjusted accordingly.

As Jonathan Wilson writes in Inverting the Pyramid, Chapman “was – at least in Britain – the first modern manager”.

And, predictably, such trump cards translated to success. Having won the Southern League title with Northampton – and then been briefly suspended for refusing to hand over Leeds City’s accounts – Chapman won two titles and an FA Cup for each of Huddersfield and Arsenal.

“Trophies and modernisation tumbled on together,” Wilson wrote, “the one seeming to inspire the other.”

The irony, however, is that Chapman abhorred the results-based pursuit the sport had become in professionalism.

“It is no longer necessary for a team to play well. They must get goals, no matter how, and the points. The measure of their skill is, in fact, judged by their position in the league table.

But, typically, no-one understood that at that time as deeply as Chapman. Such was his meticulousness, that he would surely have adjusted to the demands of any era.

Career Northampton Town 1907-1912; Leeds City 1912-18; Huddersfield 1921-25; Arsenal 1925-34
Trophies 4 English titles; 2 FA Cups; 1 Southern League title


34. Don Revie

Points 1025
Nationality English

Much as Don Revie has recently been painted as the arch-villain in Brian Clough’s great odyssey, it’s often forgotten how much his major career job mirrored the latter’s on a grander scale.

On taking over Leeds United in 1961, Revie immediately saved them from relegation to the third division and very quickly took them to the first. Within months, they were challenging for the title and reaching the FA Cup final. Within a few years, they were winning both.

And Revie did all that by proving a ’60s version of Chapman. As the Guardian wrote, he was a manager well ahead of his time. “He was a confidant to his players, psychologist, social secretary, kit designer, commercial manager and all-encompassing boss. In an era when pre-match preparation consisted of a 10-minute chat before a game, Revie was a revolutionary. Not until Arsene Wenger was appointed Arsenal boss in 1996 would a manager exert such a profound influence on the English game as a whole.”

“His training ideas were ahead of their time,” Peter Lorimer said. “None of the England internationals were doing the things we were.”

More notoriously, Revie also espoused up the win-at-all-costs approach that had become so prevalent at Argentina. To beat Leeds you knew you had to literally battle. Even that could be explained away, however, as another sign of Revie’s progressive approach.

Billy Bremner, perhaps predictably, argued that “what was called cynical in this country was called professional when the Italians played it”.

That pragmatism partly explains why Revie isn’t as fondly remember as the other great club-builders of the time like Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Jock Stein.

But it’s not the only reason. Ultimately, Leeds became more accustomed to second-place than success. They were runners-up much more often than they were champions, across all competitions. And that was borne out on the greatest stage. Unlike Manchester United, Liverpool and Celtic, Leeds never won the European Cup.

Part of that may have been explained by the fact Revie lacked one main modern trapping: he didn’t have a big enough squad to cope with so many competitions.

But that argument isn’t helped by his subsequent failure with England. Revie’s career ultimately ended amidst allegations of corruption and greed.

But he had at least given Leeds an awful lot more.

Career Leeds United 1961-74; England 1974-77; UAE 1977-80; Al-Nassr 1980-84; Al-Ahly 1984-85
Trophies 2 Fairs Cups; 2 English titles; 1 FA Cup; 1 League Cup


33. Stefan Kovacs

Points 1030
Nationality Romanian

Much as a manager’s successes are often qualified by the fact he merely took over an already winning team, one of the biggest challenges in football can be deciding whether to make any changes to another man’s champions. Few will have felt that as keenly as Kovacs.

In the summer of 1971, he walked into one of the most complete club structures the game has seen. As stated elsewhere on this site, Total Football didn’t just apply to the philosophy at Ajax.

But, at that point, its spiritual father Rinus Michels had departed. And, worse, Kovacs wasn’t picked on the strength of his Steaua career – where he had won a league title and three cups in four years. He was chosen because he was the cheapest on a shortlist of a 15. Indeed, so assured was he that he would fail, he bought a return ticket from Bucharest.

The tests came straight away. In his first training session, a ball was pelted towards his knees. But, in one movement, he controlled it and played it back. That was passed. As were many others.

Because, counter-intuitively, Ajax went to the next level. In his first season, they won every competition they entered to claim a treble. In his second, they produced a ludicrously complete European Cup final win over Juventus.

There were two views to this. Velibor Vasovic argued the first.

“Kovacs had nothing to do with it. He simply took over a very good team, the champions of Europe, and let them continue the way they had been playing.”

But Johan Cruyff countered.

“The results show that Kovacs was not wrong. Our team was ready to take part in making decisions.”

In other worse, Kovacs had the subtle intelligence to entrust a gifted group of players.

Whatever the truth – which is likely somewhere in the middle – that period represented a unique peak in Kovac’s career too. His time after Ajax mirrored his time before it: respectability as opposed to resounding achievements.

Career Universitatea Cluj 1953-62; Steaua Bucharest 1967-71; Ajax 1971-73; France 1973-75; Romania 1976-79, 1980; Panathinaikos 1981-83; Monaco 1986-87
Trophies 2 European Cups; 3 domestic titles (2 Holland, 1 Romania); 4 domestic cups


32. Pep Guardiola

Points 1045
Nationality Spanish

Should Pep Guardiola even be in such a list so soon? Or should he be even higher? The fact many will legitimately ask one of these two questions perhaps proves that it’s still a touch too early to make definitive proclamations about Guardiola’s ability as a manager.

Certainly, when looked at in a broader historical context, Guardiola hasn’t exactly done a Brian Clough. Superficially at least, he’s only taken Frank Rijkaard’s core of continent-beaters to the next level. In the three years before he took over, after all, Barca had won two titles and a Champions League compared to three titles and two Champions League during his own three years so far.

It’s when you look a bit deeper, however, that you realise the drastic difference Guardiola has actually had. It’s not just the trophy count. It’s also the almost total domination of every competition, individual game and even area of the match. Guardiola combines brilliant man-management, meticulous preparation, an astute tactical mind and utter thoroughness with plain old hard work. As Xavi explained, “Pep was right on top of everything like a hawk.”

Because, famously, this Barcelona’s approach is a product of the fact that Guardiola is an absolutely perfect fit for the club. Having been a young Catalan who came through the club’s academy, he has an innate understanding of how to fully implement and enhance its approach.

But, as brilliant as that has all been, it still leaves open the question of just how good Guardiola himself would be in a different environment.

Until he at least prolongs this cycle for an extended period – like Bob Paisley did at Liverpool – or repeats his records elsewhere, he can’t quite be afforded the unqualified praise his team receive yet.

But that’s not to say he won’t get it eventually. Another European Cup and another two years of total dominance and it would be very hard to argue otherwise.

Career Barcelona 2008-
Trophies 2 Champions Leagues; 3 Spanish titles; 1 Spanish cup


31. Mario Zagallo

Points 1035
Nationality Brazilian

Sometimes, as Johan Cruyff once argued, the most revolutionary thing to do is the simplest. After enduring Joao Saldanha’s ludicrous attempts to overcomplicate Brazil’s build-up to the 1970 World Cup – as well as threatening to drop Pele – Zagallo realised the need to stand back and take stock on assuming the senior job.

Facilitating a formation designed to “let great, intelligent players play”, that’s exactly what Brazil did. Zagallo presided over a peak point in football history.

But, like many of the very best managers, he also proved he could translate his ability across time and place. Twenty years later, he guided lowly UAE to their only ever World Cup; 28 years later he almost delivered another title for Brazil. Although that failure in France will always be remembered for Ronaldo’s breakdown, it should be remembered how brilliant Brazil were in the two-year build-up to the final. Other than Parreira, Zagallo is the only Brazilian coach to have won a World Cup, a Copa America and a Confederations Cup.

Such highs can still not hide a number of imperfections in Zagallo’s CV. And, in a CV as long as that, there were a few. More brilliant feats at Botafogo were offset by failures at the likes of Flamengo and Vasco da Gama. For all the fantasy of 1970, too, it didn’t prevent a later reputation for overly defensive football. But nor did that prevent a statue of Zagallo eventually being erected at the Maracana.

Career Botafogo 1966-70; Brazil 1967-68, 1970-74; Fluminense 1971-72; Flamengo 1972-74; Botafogo 1975; Kuwait 1976-78; Botafogo 1978-79; Al Hilal 1978-79; Vasco da Gama 1980-81; Saudi Arabia 1981-84; Flamengo 1984-85; Botafogo 1986-87; Bangu 1988-89; UAE 1989-90; Vasco da Gama 1990-91; Brazil 1994-98; Portuguesa 1999-2000; Flamengo 2000-01
Trophies 1 World Cup; 1 Copa America; 1 Confederations Cup; 1 Brazilian championship; 4 State Championships; 1 Saudi Arabian league; 1 Brazil Cup



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