To get you that football fix that is ever so elusive at the moment, we began this series in which we tasked our writers to put together 200 words on their greatest elements from football history. This week, our writers take a short delve into their greatest manager of all time. With hundreds of fantastic managers throughout the history of football to choose from, these are 15 spectacular picks which we hope help to scratch your football itch.
David Nesbit – Howard Kendall
As a manager, Howard Kendall is best known for his spell in charge of Everton during the club’s greatest-ever era of 1984 to 1987. He started his managerial career at Third Division Blackburn in 1979 where he was employed as player-manager. Immediate promotion to the Second Division was followed by near miss on a second consecutive success.
When Gordon Lee was fired as Everton manager in the summer of 1981, Kendall took over and to start with progress was steady rather than spectacular. In the autumn and winter of 1983, however, Everton looked to once again be regressing and calls for Kendall’s head were coming from certain sectors of the Goodison faithful.
Luckily for all concerned, the Everton board stood by Kendall and the FA Cup was secured in 1984. This was followed by league titles in 1985 and 1987, and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1985. In 1987 Kendall left Everton to try his hand abroad at Atletic Bilbao. Further spells at Manchester City, Notts County, Sheffield United and in Greece also followed.
Feeling the lure of Goodison Park, Kendall twice returned as manager but neither met with the same level of success as the first time around.
James Jackson – Johan Cruyff
One of the greatest footballers of all time, even during his playing days he was at times portraying as the manager but from on the pitch. When he wasn’t carrying the ball or picking out the top corner, he was orchestrating his teammates.
It was already written into the history books that Cruyff would become one of the greatest managers ever, you could see it coming. Adapting and evolving the Total Football that he played for his mentor and coach Rinus Michels. Cruyff managed his hometown Ajax and his second home Barcelona.
Cutting his teeth at Ajax, by the time he went to Barcelona he was ready to show the world Total Football again. Winning 11 titles, the pinnacle being his ’dream team’ that won four straight league titles along with the Champions League. He inspired his nation in the ’70s as a player and as a coach helped shape the future of world football with his beliefs and strategies.
His trophy haul as a manager speaks for itself, however, staying true to his Dutch roots it’s the legacy that he has left behind that made him even more proud. Even after his death, what he built will continue to grow and bring success to those who follow it.
“Quality without results is pointless. Results without quality is boring.” – Johan Cruyff.
James Bolam – Carlos Bianchi
Bearing an uncanny resemblance to Larry David, Carlos Bianchi finds himself as the most successful manager of not just one but two clubs.
Bianchi’s playing career started at Velez Sarsfield, the club he supported and where he remains their all-time top scorer. He moved into management in France after a successful playing career there but achieved little in the dugout.
It was back in Argentina where Bianchi became a legend. At Velez, he led them to three league titles and a Copa Libertadores. Not bad going for a club not part of Argentina’s big five. He topped it off with the Intercontinental Cup, a competition that doesn’t mean a great deal in Europe but in South America, where resources are fewer, it’s the pinnacle.
At Boca Juniors, he won four league titles and a staggering three Copa Libertadores. To put that into perspective, Flamengo, Brazil’s biggest club, have only won two. Real Madrid and AC Milan were both beaten in the Intercontinental Cup.
Bianchi didn’t achieve much in Europe. Disappointing spells at Roma and Atletico Madrid raised question marks. He never proved himself at international level, declining the opportunity to coach Argentina. Nevertheless, seven league titles and four continental cups make him one of the greats.
Chris Darwen – Brian Clough and Peter Taylor
Why does it have to be one person who is the greatest manager of all time? For me, there is only one answer to this debate and it is two people who, together, created the perfect (and therefore the greatest) manager of all time – and their time apart only adds to strength to the argument.
From the moment the older Taylor met Clough as a young, hopeful striker in a trial match at Middlesbrough FC in 1955 a partnership that would include two major fairytales started to form.
They cut their teeth together at Hartlepools in the bottom half of the old Fourth Division where success meant not having to beg for re-election. It was when the begging bowl became a thing of the past that Derby County, then loitering in the Second Division, took both men to the Baseball Ground. Within a matter of years, Derby were not just promoted but First Division champions and had it not been for the desire of the chairman to force the pair out it would have been Derby, not Nottingham Forest, winning the European Cup.
The pair went to Brighton before their first split – Clough heading to Leeds with Taylor opting to remain on the South Coast. The result? Clough failing at Leeds within 44 days and Taylor eventually parting ways with Brighton calling himself a ‘failure’.
By then Clough had sorted out the structure and discipline at Forest but couldn’t get the team right on the pitch – and Taylor returned to once again demonstrate why these two are the best manager the world has ever seen.
For all of Clough’s expert motivation, amazing PR and the ability to get a city, not just a team, hanging off his every word he was, by his own admission, no judge of a player. And Taylor, who hated the limelight and the ‘other side of management’ that was anything more than ‘signing good players’ was damn good at spotting talent.
Together, they took another team from the Second Division to the First Division title in the blink of an eye and then further still – the European Cup. Not once, but twice.
They sadly fell out and the latter end of Clough’s time at Forest will not be remembered as fondly as the first – and this is only down to one thing. The lack of Peter Taylor by his side. Apart, they were average. Together, they were unstoppable.
Cameron Brooks – Jose Mourinho
Football is in the entertainment industry. It’s showbusiness, and there is no better showman than Jose Mourinho. Volatile, arrogant, and overindulged with the purse strings to purchase his way to success. Or, a pragmatic and charming tactical genius?
Well, often he is a bit of both. Things normally turn sour for Mourinho after two years or so of managing a club, but that initial period is almost always fruitful as he has collected 20 major trophies at five clubs.
Sir Bobby Robson certainly saw something in the young Portuguese man back in 1992. Mourinho arrived as his translator at Sporting Lisbon, progressing to become the assistant manager to Louis Van Gaal at Barcelona after Robson stepped aside in 1997.
During this time a certain Pep Guardiola was captaining the Catalan club as his playing career was entering its twilight years. While Guardiola immersed himself in the style of the previous coach Johann Cruyff, Mourinho further developed his defensive tactical prowess that had been so important to his partnerships with Robson. Going on to win the Champions League with Porto, become the Special (and happy) One at Chelsea and win an unprecedented treble at Inter.
What remains to be seen is whether these successes were his heyday or if Mourinho can reignite his managerial career and combat the progressive playing styles of his once colleague Guardiola amongst others.
Andrew Haines – Rinus Michels
Choosing the greatest manager of all time is certainly no easy task as there are hundreds of plausible and capable candidates. However, my choice would not only have to have achieved at the highest level of management but also changed the beautiful game itself, which greatly narrows down the options.
In football, arguably, the game’s Holy Grail is Total Football. So, the obvious choice for the greatest manager of all would be Johan Cruyff, and believe me it is incredibly close, however, my choice is further toward the root of Total Football.
Of course, I could venture all the way back to the seeds of the game’s ultimate style being sown at Ajax with options such as Jack Reynolds or Vic Buckingham but for me, Rinus Michels must be the all-time great.
While the great Dutchman claimed only two pieces of silverware as a player in the form of two Eredivisie titles with Ajax, he would add 13 further pieces of silverware to that as a manager, including the European Cup and European Championships.
However, under the stewardship of the man who sadly passed away in 2005, Total Football was not totally completed. The blueprint was certainly drawn up and the wheels well in motion, but it would be Cruyff that would perfect the ultimate version.
By Cruyff’s own admission in his autobiography, My Turn, though, he stated that from his teenage years at Ajax Michels would persistently discuss tactics with a young Cruyff to develop his tactical nouse and understanding. So, without the interjection of Michels, it could be argued that Cruyff would never have been the Total Football master that he became.
The Dutch duo, for me, is neck and neck at the front of the list of the greatest manager of all time but in a photo finish, Michels just pips his prodigy to the title.
Finn Janning – Vincente del Bosque
Vincente del Bosque is an enigma. How did this humble man become the greatest football manager? Del Bosque is the only manager to have won the Champions League, the European Championship and the World Cup. He has coached both Real Madrid (1999-2003) and the Spanish national team (2008-2016).
When he took over the national team from Aragonés, who had won Euro 2008, he did so without shaking on his hands. Other managers often stumble in the footsteps of their successors. Del Bosque showed that he was capable of maintaining the national team’s hunger for more trophies. Even more extraordinary, he kept the Spanish players united for almost ten years.
As most people know, the Spanish team consisted of several key players from the two giant and eternal rivals: Real Madrid and F.C. Barcelona. In an interview, he said that the team is “como una familia.”
Del Bosque’s management style is a mixture of emotional intelligence and discipline, stressing that a manager should never be too sweet, nor too sour. He knows when and how to listen to others, just as he knows when to step aside and, with confidence, let the players play freely. He plays with heart and brain.
Pete Spencer – Bob Paisley
How do you follow a managerial legend?
This question has puzzled clubs like Manchester United and Arsenal in recent years. But one man who not only replaced a legend but was arguably more successful is Bob Paisley.
Paisley was part of the famed Liverpool Boot Room under Bill Shankly. A group which spawned future managers, Joe Fagan, Ronnie Moran, Kenny Dalglish and Roy Evans.
Not a motivator like Shankly, yet he knew how the footballer’s mind worked. He never let success get to their head, always challenging them to achieve more.
He took over the FA Cup winners, a side which had won the League a year earlier. He never won the FA Cup but he won virtually everything else. His first year was trophyless. None of his further eight seasons would be.
In nine years he won six league titles, three European Cups, three League Cups, one UEFA Cup and one Super Cup. 14 major trophies in nine years. No manager in the history of English football has a better trophy/season record.
A quiet man, who avoided the limelight. He didn’t really want the job, but what a success he made of it.
Jonny Brick – Graham Taylor
When Graham Taylor passed away in 2017, obituaries noted his time as England manager. This was, in 1992, the pinnacle of coaching in England. He tried to coax Paul Gascoigne into being the pivot of the 1994 World Cup qualifying campaign. Taylor was then undone by the PR disaster of The Impossible Job. He is far more than the chap who shouted: ‘Can we not knock it?!’
Between 1977 and 1988, he was Mr Watford, the pivotal figure in the club’s history. He had been recommended to young Elton John as the brightest coaching talent in England thanks to his work with Lincoln City. On coming to Watford, Graham took one look at the dressing room and more or less ripped up the carpet.
John Barnes and Nigel Callaghan came in, while Luther Blissett was told he had a name like a movie star. With those three players, Watford went from the bottom of the pyramid to the UEFA Cup, finishing a distant second behind Liverpool in the 1982/83 First Division. Four players represented the club in all four divisions.
The 1984 FA Cup final loss to Everton was Watford’s first appearance at the Twin Towers of Wembley Stadium. Graham also led the club to their second appearance, and first victory, in the 1998/99 Play-off final. He has earned his statue outside Vicarage Road.
Marco Jackson – Ernő Egri Erbstein
After proving his managerial skills with third-tier promotions at both Cagliari and Lucchese, Erbstein was recruited by the ferociously ambitious Ferrucio Novo to work with his Torino side.
Every bit as much a coach as a manager, Erbstein would run up and down the touchline encouraging the Granata players to greater and greater levels of achievement.
With Erbstein putting the ideas into play, and by adapting tactics from abroad, released the full potential of the likes of Valentino Mazzola and Guglielmo Gabetto. Torino soon became the best team in Italy, probably the best Italian team ever.
Events in the build up to World War Two meant he had to leave Turin for his native Budapest. There, the situation worsened so that eventually he was cut off from his family and forced to attend a Jewish work camp, but he was able to survive the ordeal.
At the end of the war, he returned to Torino, and the returning Erbstein picked up where he had left off. Torino, Il Grande Torino won Scudetti in 1947 and 1948,
In May 1949, he was killed in the air disaster at Superga with his team, who was posthumously awarded another Scudetto.
Roddy Cairns – Jock Stein
It is a near-impossible task to adequately describe the shadow cast by Jock Stein’s 13 years as Celtic manager. The bare numbers of trophies are scarcely credible: one European Cup, ten Scottish league championships, eight Scottish Cups (and one with Dunfermline), six League Cups. However, what makes Stein’s career so dazzling is the unprecedented nature of his achievements.
Even pre-Celtic, Stein delivered a first-ever Scottish Cup to Dunfermline Athletic in 1961 (defeating his future employers in the final). His domestic dominance at Celtic might seem inevitable when considered through a modern lens, but he transformed a side struggling in a strong Scottish league into the most dominant the country had ever seen. His team’s nine titles in a row has never been bettered (and is certainly never likely to be matched by a single manager).
Stein’s crowning glory, of course, was leading Celtic’s fabled Lisbon Lions to European Cup success over Inter Milan in 1967. It is hardly surprising that they were the first Scottish club to win the competition, but they also did so before any of their English counterparts (or indeed any other non-Latin European team). Jock Stein was a groundbreaking manager who made excellence a habit.
Rodney McCain – Sir Matt Busby
It takes some man to get over the loss of his father to a wartime sniper’s bullet at the tender age of eight, move to a strange new city to pursue a footballing dream at 18 and then take over the management of a club with a bombed-out ground and no money to spend at 36.
That he made a huge success of overcoming all of those challenges speaks volumes for the resolute, determined character of the man who was Sir Matt Busby.
Busby had a very decent playing career at Manchester City and Liverpool (where he befriended a younger lad called Bob Paisley), before forging his managerial career at rivals Manchester United.
There, he built a side around an Irishman called Carey, winning the cup in 1948 and the league in 1952. However, along with assistant Jimmy Murphy, his real focus was on youth development. His ‘Babes’ became English Champions in 1956 and 1957, and Busby led them into the fledgeling European Cup competition.
Then tragedy struck. Returning home from Belgrade after clinching a victory over Red Star, United’s plane crashed in Munich, killing most of the young team and almost claiming Busby himself.
Thankfully he recovered to build yet another great side around the sublime talents of Best, Charlton and Law, and led the club to title wins in 1965, 1967 and then the ultimate crown, the European Cup in 1968.
Matt Busby built Manchester United. Without him, arguably the biggest club in the world wouldn’t exist in its current guise. He is the greatest British football manager of all time.
Ross Kilvington – Sir Alex Ferguson
Sir Alex Ferguson is the greatest manager of all time in my opinion. There are many factors which have to be considered in order to come to this conclusion, the two key ones, however, are longevity and the ability to break up winning teams in favour of long-term development.
Fergie not only had massive success with one team, but he also did it with two. His tenure at Aberdeen was the greatest era in their history and made him the prime candidate for the Manchester United job in November 1986.
The lure of managing a fallen giant and restoring the pride and success to a United side who had gone an absurd 19 years without a title, was an offer he couldn’t refuse. The next 27 years would be a time of unparalleled glory for the team and the most impressive thing about it was that he moulded three or four different sides to tackle the varying nature of the competition.
There have been better managers tactically in the history of the game no doubt, but as a man manager and the ability to carve out results with some average teams, he goes down in history as the best there has ever been.
Not bad for a wee laddie from Govan!
Sam Millne – Jurgen Klopp
Despite him toppling the mighty Bayern Munich in Germany, some in England saw him purely as a motivator. Over the last four years at Liverpool, Klopp has done similar to what he did at Dortmund, where he won two league titles, a domestic trophy, as well as steering them to the European Cup final.
On arrival at Anfield, he endeared himself to the fans immediately with his understanding of the club’s values and there was a renewed spirit in the team. Since his long-term coaching partner, Željko Buvač whom he dubbed ‘the brain’, left in 2018, Klopp has proved his incredible tactical flexibility.
With impeccable recruitment, the ability to promote youth and evolve his on-field tactics, Klopp has transformed Liverpool into the greatest team in the world and, COVID-19 permitting, will win the English league title in the most dominant fashion ever. This coupled alongside Liverpool’s incredible record in Europe over the last few campaigns have, I believe, already placed him as arguably the best manager of the modern era.
What makes Klopp special is his ability to work on a budget and organically grow, not only a team, but a club. Liverpool have spent big, but this has only been granted to him when other prized assets have been sold. He doesn’t have the bottomless of funds to spend like his rival Pep Guardiola.
Graham Hollingsworth – Sir Bobby Robson
There is a reason that the documentary about his life is called Bobby Robson: More Than a Manager. He unquestionably had a very successful managerial career, first finding success with my beloved Ipswich Town. He was at the helm for 13 seasons, winning the club’s first (and only) FA Cup and UEFA Cup. From there he took over the national side, being a penalty shoot-out away from taking England to the 1990 World Cup final.
He then did what few English managers have achieved; succeed in managing abroad. Two league titles with PSV Eindhoven, two more with FC Porto, a Copa del Ray, Spanish Super Cup and a Cup Winners Cup with Barcelona. His time in Spain was especially extraordinary considering he was recovering from one of his many battles from cancer.
But to me, what makes him stand out was how he was as a person. Known for being a kind, warm and loving man, he is universally adored throughout the world of Football. Ferguson, Guardiola, Mourinho, Shearer, Lineker, Gascoigne are just some of those who lend their testament to the documentary, to share stories on how he inspired them. He was the Gentleman of football, a true one of a kind.