The 50 greatest managers of all time

Luiz Felipe Scolari celebrates with Ronaldo

Ronaldo's goals ensured that Felipe Scolari is the only manager in history to have won a World Cup and a Copa Libertadores

30. Luis Alonso Perez

Points 1065
Nationality Brazilian

Brazil’s most successful club manager, which is saying something for a country of so many winners. Yes, perhaps Perez was fortunate to find himself in charge of a club that owned Pele, Pele and Coutinho. But then he also provided with the framework in which to flourish.

Perez’s reign was also the most complete period of dominance which Brazilian domestic football has seen. The run of five successive Brazilian championships from 1961-65 remains unmatched. Nor has any other Brazilian manager beaten his record of two Copa Libertadores in a row.

Career Santos 1954-66; Corinthians 1968-72
Trophies 2 Copa Libertadores; 5 Brazilian titles; 8 State championships


29. Arsene Wenger

Points 1070
Nationality French

Part of the problem with properly appreciating Wenger as a manager is that it’s difficult to mentally offset that long trophy drought with the traits that genuinely made him great. Almost exclusively thanks to the Frenchman, Arsenal are a global super-club. That will last to him as much as two doubles and an undefeated league campaign.

But, in truth, the exact qualities that put Arsenal there have now become passé. He no longer has an advantage, for example, in his squad preparation. Every club has now adapted the innovations that seemed so revolutionary in the 1996-97 Premier League season. What’s more, Barcelona have a better youth approach while many team play better football. The style that was once so exhilarating has become erratic.

And, unlike the football his sides have often played, his overall record has never actually been resounding. He got Nancy relegated in his first job, has never won a European Cup and didn’t actually win a league in Japan.

In that sense, too, he’s always cast himself as something of a tragic, moral victory. There’s always been a bigger, better – and, in Wenger’s eyes, less-principled – rival. With Monaco it was Marseille and in England it was Alex Ferguson, Jose Mourinho and now, belatedly, Manchester City’s millions.

None of this to say he shouldn’t be admired. He is undeniably one of the game’s greats. But it does mean he is far from its best. Whatever of the philosophies.

Career Nancy-Lorraine 1984-87; Monaco 1987-94; Nagoya Grampus Eight 1995-96; Arsenal 1996-
Trophies 4 domestic titles (3 England, 1 France); 6 domestic cups


28. Louis van Gaal

Points 1070
Nationality Dutch

Louis van Gaal didn’t like what he was seeing. There, in the Bayern canteen, was Luca Toni slouching over the table. Like an old matron, the new manager marched over, angrily pulled one of Toni’s ears and ordered him to sit up straight.

It was probably a little too literal an illustration of one coach’s description that Van Gaal “demands maximum concentration. He doesn’t let the players relax.”

That, of course, was the main problem with Toni. He refused to properly obey Van Gaal’s instructions on the pitch. Because, as the Dutchman has admitted himself, he’s the ultimate ‘systems manager’. A player can only ever really be a cog.

“The coach is the team’s focal point, so preparing the tactical formation is essential. Every player must know where he has to be and support his teammates. There has to be absolute discipline and mutual understanding. Discipline is the basis of creativity and flexibility.”

And, so long as players go along with that discipline, the results can be spectacular. Van Gaal’s Ajax team were among the Champions League’s most thrilling. So terrific was the passing, you could have assumed it was telepathic rather than trained.
But it’s also no coincidence that Van Gaal’s main successes have come with squads that were willing to be moulded: a young Ajax, a moderate AZ Alkmaar and a Bayern team requiring rejuvenation and a fresh approach after the toils under Jurgen Klinsmann.

By a contrast, he couldn’t get a personality-filled Dutch squad to the World Cup and lost control of Bayern after the progress of 2009-10.

Barcelona maybe represented a half-way point. With a squad made up of his old Ajax loyalists but also stars like Rivaldo, they dominated domestically but toiled in Europe. As his career has repeatedly shown, Van Gaal finds total commitment for consistent trophies.

Career Ajax 1991-97; Barcelona 1997-2000; Holland 2000-02; Barcelona 2002-03; AZ Alkmaar 2005-09; Bayern Munich 2009-11
Trophies 1 Champions League; 1 Uefa Cup; 7 domestic titles (4 Holland, 2 Spanish, 1 German); 3 domestic cups


27. Albert Batteux

Points 1080
Nationality French

Possibly the most underappreciated manager in football history. As well as winning nine domestic titles, Batteux guided lowly Reims to two European Cup finals, brought France to the 1958 World Cup last four and created one of the most spectacular St Etienne teams.

It is the alchemy at Reims that stands above all, however. And that is only accentuated by the fact the club effectively disappeared from the top level once he left.

As Michel Hidalgo said of his team at the time, Reims “boiled down to three men, an office and the fans”. But, by bringing on a core of young players such as Raymond Kopa, Just Fontaine and Hidalgo himself, Batteux made them so much more than that. Indeed, they were Real Madrid’s great rivals in the early days of continental competition as they also won five French titles.

“We played fast one- or two-touch football and he was able to align different styles of players to form a homogenous unit,” Hidalgo explained. “He was years ahead of his time. Batteux had the gift of the gab. His team talks were a model of simplicity and efficiency. His philosophy revolved around the beauty of the game. He married beauty with winning style. I always tried to preach the same thing myself when I became a coach.”

Career Reims 1950-63; France 1955-62; Grenoble 1963-67; Saint Etienne 1967-72; Avignon 1976-77; Nice 1979; Marseille 1980-81
Trophies 9 French championships, 3 French Cups


26. Johan Cruyff

Points 1090
Nationality Dutch

Given what has happened in the last few years and the current debate over the competitiveness of the Spanish league, it’s almost impossible now to imagine the malaise Barcelona were enduring in May 1988. Seemingly lurching from one political crisis to the next, they had only won two league titles in the preceding 28 years and had still never claimed the European Cup.

Until, that was, the second coming. Cruyff the former player returned to Camp Nou as manager and ushered in a period of domination that had been simply unseen at any Spanish club other than Real Madrid. As the most elementary example of the extreme difference he made, Cruyff brought back Spain’s first Champions League to a trophy cabinet other than the Bernabeu and created the first team beyond Real to win more than two league titles in a row. Cruyff’s Barca won four.

But it wasn’t just the success. It was the style and depth of it. Most famously, Cruyff’s side were nicknamed the Dream Team for the dynamics of their football. Moreover, they played it thanks to all the deep-rooted changes underneath. Cruyff totally focused the club’s La Masia philosophy, properly coaching a series of local Catalan stars – among them Pep Guardiola.

In truth, Guardiola has actually improved Cruyff’s initial work at the club. The 1991-94 side won three of their titles in tremendously fortunate circumstances on the last day while it’s also impossible to enviage the current team being overwhelmed in the way Cruyff’s were in the 1994 Champions League final.

Perhaps a certain amount of imperfections were revealed, too, in the manner that Cruyff’s Ajax played second fiddle to PSV in Holland.

But the true difference is the drastic transformation that Cruyff caused at Camp Nou. It isn’t an exaggeration to argue that Guardiola wouldn’t have experienced such current success without him.

In that, Cruyff was probably a more influential than effective coach. But there’s no debating that he was still a monumentally successful one.

Career Ajax 1985-88; Barcelona 1988-96
Trophies 1 Champions League; 2 Cup Winners Cups; 4 Spanish titles, 3 domestic cups


25. Jose Villalonga

Points 1095
Nationality Spanish

With president Santiago Bernabeu above, Alfredo Di Stefano below and five successive European Cups safely in the middle of the cabinet, it’s often easy to assume that any Real Madrid manager during the 1955-60 period was no more than a figurehead. That would be unfair on the man to win the first two of those continental trophies though. It was Villalonga’s independent spirit that actually cost him his job.

Realising that Real were becoming increasingly lop-sided, he had the temerity to tell Di Stefano to stay higher up the pitch. But it wasn’t just the Argentine’s feathers that Villalonga ruffled. By the summer of 1957, his relationship with assistant coach Juan Antonio Ipina had unravelled to the extent they stopped speaking to each other. And, already cultivating the image of a cultured club, Bernabeu found the situation so distasteful he dismissed Villalonga. Insult was added to injury when Di Stefano waved him off with the words “Villalonga told me to stay up in attack. But we knew it was not working.”

Vindication would come though. First of all, whatever of Di Stefano’s positioning, the defensive problems that Villalonga had pinpointed would actually cause Real to struggle to win the domestic title. They only won one more in three years until former back Miguel Munoz arrived to instil more discipline.

Secondly, Villalonga would directly deny Real two domestic cups by creating a force out of their local rivals. At Atletico Madrid, his team defeated Di Stefano and co in the finals of the 1960 and 1961 competitions, before also claiming the Cup Winners Cup and even pushing Real all the way in the league.

And, in 1964, Villalonga would finally push Spain all the way. Guiding his country to that year’s European Nations Cup, he won their only trophy for generations. Real may not have had to wait too long for a successor to Villalonga. But Spain certainly did.

Career Real Madrid 1955-57; Atletico Madrid 1959-62; Spain 1962-66
Trophies 1 European Championships; 2 European Cups; 1 Cup Winners Cup; 2 Spanish Cups


24. Hennes Weisweiler

Points 1280
Nationality German

During his career as a physically imposing defender for Koln, Hennes Weisweiler once fractured his skull during a promotion game but continued playing until the end regardless. Little wonder he developed a reputation for hard-headedness. Less wonder he’s been cited as one of Arsene Wenger’s main influences.

But that, it barely needs to be added, is for reasons way beyond obstinacy. On taking over second-division Borussia Monchengladbach in 1964, Weisweiler immediately noticed that they had a core of untested young players who were capable of so much more.

As Uli Hesse writes in Tor!, “he did not sign established players but started building on what he had and then added a few very young prospects… the team that won promotion for Gladbach in 1964-65 was the youngest team among more than 100 in Germany. On average, a player in Weisweiler’s squad was 21.5 years old. The club came to be known as the Foals, a nickname destined to survive the decades”.

But Weisweiler also enhanced that youthful exuberance with the kind of football that would have rejuvenated any side.
“He wants no-holds-barred attacking football for 90 minutes,” Gunter Netzer once exclaimed.

But the effects of that would still be seen for more than nine years. Under Weisweiler, Gladbach would win three German titles and a Uefa Cup. A move to Barcelona proved the wrong chance as he clashed with Cruyff. But he returned to Germany and Koln to win another Bundesliga.

In the end, the only real mark against Weisweiler is that he never won a European Cup. And, as ever, Netzer articulated one possible reason.

“About once a year we stop talking to each other… I think you should take the pace out of a match when that’s called for.”
Like Wenger, it’s possible that the qualities which took him so far also cost him at the very, very top. The very best, after all, have always adapted.

Career Koln 1955-58; Viktoria Koln 1958-64; Borussia Monchengladbach 1964-75; Barcelona 1975-76; Koln 1976-80; New York Cosmos 1980-81; Grasshopper 1982-83
Trophies 1 Uefa Cup; 6 domestic titles (4 German, 1 Swiss, 1 American); 4 domestic cups


23. Guus Hiddink

Points 1290
Nationality Dutch

Some managers are adept at imposing a system on any team. Others a philosophy or general attitude. But there never been a manager in football history who has been as accomplished as Guus Hiddink at arriving at a team and seeing immediately what could be done by simply rearranging the resources available.

As his mentor Piet de Visser once told the Guardian, “he looks at the players, gets to know their best strengths and then decides the system… Remember that Hiddink thinks more in terms of the team playing in harmony, of the players coming up and coming back together. If Guus has two fantastic strikers he will play with them if three great strikers that will be the choice.”

Little wonder, then, that Hiddink has enjoyed international football so much. He took Holland to their first World Cup semi-final in 20 years and Russia to their first in any competition in the same amount of time. In between, of course, he broke Australia’s duck in the World Cup by bringing them to the last 16. But the most eye-catching example undoubtedly came in Korea in 2002.

“He’d observed that the players were strong physically,” De Vissier added, “so he decided on a 3-4-3 in which the front three would always press the defenders. The midfield was conventional so one defended, one attacked and there were two on the wings.”

In the academic study The 90-minute Manager, Professor Chris Brady and David Bolchover argue that international management is akin to a project and a club team like running a business day to day. That possibly explains the discrepancies in the careers of Helmut Schoen and Enzo Bearzot.

Again, however, Hiddink is unique in the manner he has successfully translated his skills across two fields and decades. Over 20 years after winning a treble at PSV, Hiddink was just short of doing the same at Chelsea.

The only real unqualified failures in his management career have been at Fenerbahce and Real Betis. Otherwise, he’s shown tangible improvement at 11 of his 13 jobs. None of football’s great nomads can match a rate like that.

Career De Graafschap 1982-84; PSV Eindhoven 1987-90; Fenerbahce 1990-91; Valencia 1991-94; Holland 1994-98; Real Madrid 1998-99; Real Betis 2000; South Korea 2000-02; PSV Eindhoven 2002-06; Australia 2005-06; Russia 2006-10; Chelsea 2009; Turkey 2010-
Trophies 1 European Cup; 6 Dutch titles; 5 domestic cups


22. Luiz Felipe Scolari

Points 1320
Nationality Brazilian

A striking fact about Luiz Felipe Scolari: he is the only manager in the history of world football to have lifted both a World Cup and a Copa Libertadores – doing the latter twice.

It’s for that reason that he can probably be forgiven for failing in a third field: European club football. Very, very few of even the greatest managers, after all, succeed in every possible circumstance. And eight months at Chelsea shouldn’t colour an entire career.

There may, however, be a wider issue about the exact type of conditions that Scolari does require. It is notable that his two Copa Libertadores victories – at Gremio and Palmeiras – came with squads much more known “for collective workmanship than individual brilliance”, as Brazilian journalist Fernando Duarte wrote.

What’s more, the 2002 World Cup win came a time when a bloated Brazilian squad was crying out for clear thought and an end to complacency. And yet there were still initial complaints when two unknowns in Gilberto Silva and Kleberson were made mainstays of the team.

A stereotypical patriarch, Scolari has never properly handled those who question authority. It is also interesting that his career at Chelsea and tournaments with Portugal ended in identical ways: a flurry of goals and talk of being favourites before a lot of blank scorelines as his sides lost ideas and impetus.

But, even if Scolari does have his limits, they’ve been pushed very far.

Career CSA 1982; Juventude 1982-83; Brasil de Pelotas 1983’ Al-Shabab 1984-85; Brasil de Pelotas; Juventude 1986-87; Gremio 1987; Goias 1988; Al Qadisiya 1988-90; Kuwait 1990; Criciuma 1991; Al-Ahli 1991; Al Qadisiya 1992; Gremio 1993-96; Jubilo Iwata 1996-97; Palmeiras 1997-2000; Cruzeiro 2001-02; Brazil 2001-02; Portugal 2003-08; Chelsea 2008-09; Bunyodkor 2009-10; Palmeiras 2010-
Trophies 1 World Cup; 2 Copa Libertadores; 1 Recopa Sudamericana; 2 domestic titles (1 Brazilian, 1 Uzbekistan); 3 Brazilian state championships; 4 domestic cups


21. Otto Rehhagel

Points 1335
Nationality German

It’s astonishing now to think how unsure Rehhagel was ahead of one of his first games as Greek manager. Just before taking his new team to Old Trafford for the final day of the 2002 World Cup qualifiers, Rehhagel lamented “I have good footballers at my disposal but there is a serious attitude problem. I don’t think I can change that in time for the match against England.”

Oh he’d change it alright. And more. Mere days after being battered 5-1 by Finland in Rehhagel’s first match, Greece took England right to the wire in a 2-2 draw that almost prevented qualification. It was a game that became famous for David Beckham’s heroics. It should have become famous for the genesis of that Euro 2004 victory.

Because, within three years, the only attitude problem was that towards Greece’s reductive style. It’s far to say that they were only given grudging respect in a lot of quarters.

Not that Rehhagel cared. He had made a habit of lifting modest teams light years beyond their expectations. It started in the mid-70s when he won promotion for Borussia Dortmund and continued on at Kaiserslautern over two decades later when he immediately claimed the Bundesliga just a year after going up.

His keynote job before Greece came in between at Werder Bremen, however. Fourteen months after being signed by a second-division team in 1981, Rehhagel found himself celebrating qualification for the Uefa Cup. And, fourteen years later, he had created the most lasting Germany dynasty to challenge Bayern.

Indeed, Rehhagel’s two titles at Bremen saw Bayern eventually try and sign him. His spell in Munich ended in acrimony, however, as he clashed with Franz Beckenbauer. Some even said he was too rural and old-fashioned to take over such a cosmopolitan club.
Although he beat Bayern to the title with Kaiserslautern in 1998, the true riposte came in Portugal.

“People tell me my tactics are not modern,” Rehhagel scoffed. “But modern football is about winning.”

Career Saarbrucken 1972-73; Kickers Offenbach 1974-75; Werder Bremen 1976; Borussia Dortmund 1976-78; Arminia Bielefeld 1978-79; Fortuna Dusseldorf 1979-80; Werder Bremen 1981-95; Bayern Munich 1995-96; Kaiserslautern 1996-2000; Greece 2001-10
Trophies 1 European Championship; 1 Cup Winners Cup; 3 German titles; 3 German cups



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