Best Managers

To a certain extent even the greatest football manager can only ever be as good as the players at his disposal allow him to be. Even the best of tacticians can’t turn a dismal side into a championship winning team. However, some coaches have stood out from the crowd due to their ability to get the best out of their players, or because of their revolutionary approach to the game. Here’s our top 10 of all time greatest football coaches.


1. Rinus Michels

rinus michelsDutchman Rinus Michels (1928) is remembered as the father of the ‘Total Football’ style that a Dutch national team featuring players like Cruyff, Van Hanegem and Neeskens used during the 1974 World Cup. Michels favoured a dominant and attacking style of play in which the offside trap played an important part. He took over the reigns at Ajax when the club was in serious danger of relegation. When he left they were the premier side in Europe. Bizarrely, some of the players were actually quite happy to see the back of Michels because of the ruthless discipline he maintained. In 1988 he led Holland to their first (and to date only) major title, when a side featuring Gullit, Van Basten and the Koeman brothers won the European Championship.
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2. Helenio Herrera

Helenio HerreraNobody can deny that Argentinean born Helenio Herrera (1916) is one of the most successful and influential managers of all time. However, whether the football world should be all that happy with Herrera’s impact on the game is quite a different matter. The reason for that being the fact that Herrera is widely recognised as the inventor of the ultra-negative catenaccio system, which favoured quick counter-attacks from a tight defence. He came up with the system during his time at Inter Milan in the 1960’s. Under Herrera’s guidance the club managed to win three Serie A titles, a Coppa Italia, two European Cups, and two Intercontinental Cups. Herrera was also successful with Barcelona, Atlético Madrid, and (to a lesser extent) AS Roma.
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3. Herbert Chapman

Herbert ChapmanEnglishman Herbert Chapman (1878) was one of the first modern football managers. In a time when it was still quite common for selection committees or board members to pick teams, Chapman demanded complete control. It wasn’t the only area in which he proved himself an innovative coach. Realising the importance of physical fitness, he subjected his players to a strict regime of physical exercise and was one of the first persons to add physiotherapists to the staff. Tactically he is associated with the introduction of the 3-2-5 system, which took advantage of a change in the offside rule in 1925. He first rose to prominence at Leeds, but Chapman’s biggest successes came during his time at Arsenal, a club that only established itself as one of the premier sides of English football under his guidance.
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4. Ernst Happel

Ernst HappelAustrian Ernst Happel (1925) had a remarkable talent for getting the best out of his players. Very much the product of the Viennese school of football, Happel favoured an attacking style of play in which the offside trap featured heavily. Under no circumstances should the opposing team be allowed to settle in to their preferred game. By pressurising their opponents or, alternatively, by playing for possession, his teams sought to dictate the game. It proved a successful recipe, as Happel goes down in history as the first coach to win the European Cup with two different clubs, winning the prestigious trophy first with Dutch club Feyenoord in 1970, and once more in 1983 with Germany’s HSV. In between those two wins, he also took Belgium’s Club Brugge to the final, which was a remarkable achievement in itself.
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5. Matt Busby

Matt BusbyScotsman Matt Busby (1909) was instrumental in the creation of two great Manchester United teams, both of which played a positive attacking style of football. In the 50’s Busby guided a remarkably young team containing talented players like Bobby Charlton and Duncan Edwards to three league titles. The team became known as ‘the Busby Babes’ and seemed destined for even greater things. However in 1958 disaster struck as eight of the players were killed in an air crash at Munich Airport. Busby barely survived himself, but eventually returned to the club and set about building a new team. His efforts culminated in the winning of the championship in 1967, and the European Cup in 1968. In Charlton, who had survived the crash, Dennis Law and George Best, the team featured three European Players of the year.
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6. Arrigo Sacchi

Arrigo SacchiIn appointing Arrigo Sacchi (1946) manager of AC Milan in 1987, Silvio Berlusconi opted for an inexperienced coach with a distinctly un-Italian love of attacking football. Winning in itself was not enough for Sacchi, the way a match was won was just as important. Berlusconi’s gamble paid off, under Sacchi’s guidance Milan won two European Cups and two Intercontinental Cups. During the rest of his career Sacchi would find himself unable to reproduce those successes. The system he favoured proved to be too dependent on intelligent players like Baresi, Donadoni and Rijkaard that were able to preserve the balance between attack and defence. However as one of the inspirers of the renaissance of attacking football in the early 90’s, Sacchi certainly deserves to be included in this list of greatest ever football coaches.
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7. Johan Cruyff

Johan CruyffBuilding on the legacy of his mentor Rinus Michels, Johan Cruyff (1947) proved himself the most unrelenting apostle of attacking football in the history of the game. Possession of the ball played a crucial part in his football philosophy. Cruyff abhorred the overly physical game that was dominant in the 1980’s. He instructed his players not to go running mindlessly up and down the pitch, but to concentrate on combination play and let the ball do the work instead. He began his coaching career at Ajax, but it was at Barcelona that his revolutionary vision of a free flowing attacking style of football came to real fruition when he assembled a team that included Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov, Ronald Koeman and Josep Guardiola. Fondly remembered by Catalonians as the ‘Dream Team’, they succeeded in winning a host of domestic trophies as well as the first European Cup in the club’s history.
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8. Béla Guttmann

Béla GuttmannHungarian Bela Guttmann (1900) was very much the product of the Danubian School of football, which the English football missionary Jimmy Hogan had inspired in the 1910’s and 20’s. Hogan had introduced the Austrians and Hungarians to the ‘Scottish System’, which favoured a short-passing game with the ball kept on the ground (as opposed to English ‘Kick and Rush’). It was a football philosophy that Guttmann would adhere to all his life, favouring an dynamic and attacking style of play. The Jewish born Guttmann worked in nearly a dozen countries including Brazil. There he was instrumental in introducing the famed 4-2-4 system, which the Brazilians would go on to use to great effect during the 1958 and 1970 World Cups. Guttmann’s biggest triumph came whilst coaching Benfica, when he guided the Portuguese club to two consecutive European Cup wins (1961, 1962).
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9. Valeri Lobanovsky

Valeri LobanovskyThough he would be reinvented as an Ukrainian national hero in the 1990’s, perennially stony-faced Valeri Lobanovski (1939) was the very epitome of the Soviet School of Football during the 70’s and 80’s. Fittingly, the collective reigned supreme in his football philosophy. Lobanovski prided himself on his scientific approach to football, utilising a range of physiological and psychological tests to determine his players’ potential and help them improve their game. Lobanovski’s revolutionary approach paid dividends as he took Dinamo Kiev, the club he coached for a total of more than twenty years, to 13 championships, 10 domestic cups, 2 European Cup Winners Cups, and a European Super Cup. In addition he took the USSR to the final of the 1988 European Championship. All the while his teams were famed for playing a dynamic and effective passing-game.
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10. Brian Clough

Brian CloughBrian Clough (1935) wasn’t one of the great theoreticians of the game, his strength lay in his ability to consistently get the best out of his players. He was the first manager since Herbert Chapman to win the English championship with two different clubs. Amazingly he did so with clubs, Derby County and Nottingham Forrest, that had been languishing in the relative obscurity of the English second division when Clough took charge. At Forrest he went one further, bringing the European Cup to Nottingham in both 1979 and 1980 in what must count as one of the greatest upsets in the competition’s history. The football Clough’s men played may not have been pretty to watch, based as it was on physical strength and sheer determination to win, but it was effective and the achievement in itself deserves the highest respect.
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