It’s been eighteen months since the completion of The Equaliser’s 20 Greatest Managers series, a list which attempted to rank football’s most significant pioneers, thinkers and tacticians according to their strategic and philosophical legacies. While the series proved popular and sparked some healthy debate, I’ve always had some nagging doubts about the order and have wanted to revisit it, to amend oversights and update the order, for some time.
What follows is a revised list featuring many of the same names as before, but with several shifts in position and the odd new entry to amend weaknesses in the original series and hopefully reflect some of the changes in opinion and developments within football that have taken place over the last year and a half.
#1 Jimmy Hogan (-)
There were some complaints that the number one spot went to a manager so relatively obscure, but Hogan’s ability to communicate strategic ideas and implement his wide-reaching vision were unprecedented and unmatched in his time. Rejected by his homeland but embraced by continental Europe, Hogan not only laid the philosophical foundations for the great Austrian and Hungarian sides of the 1930s and 50s respectively, he also pioneered physical conditioning in an era where such practices were non-existent. His legacy may have been obscured by the mists of time, but Jimmy Hogan is surely the single most important figure in the history of football’s professional and theoretical development.
#2 Viktor Maslov (-)
European football’s scientist-in-chief, Viktor Maslov was an experimental coach who did much to influence tactical approaches to the game during the 1960s. At a time when 4-2-4 was the continent’s dominant system, Maslov is thought to have been the first manager to drop his wingers deep to create the 4-4-2, combining his innovation with an unparalleled mastery of both zonal marking and pressing to turn Dynamo Kiev into the dominant force in Soviet football. Viewed by some as the father of modern tactical thought, Maslov’s legacy lives on in the spatially aware football of many of the world’s best teams.
#3 Rinus Michels (-)
Michels was undoubtedly the benefactor of a coaching legacy that long pre-dated his involvement with football, but the refinements the Dutchman made to existing systems gave rise to the greatest, most intricate incarnation of Total Football ever seen. The complex beauty of his Ajax and Holland teams, Johan Cruyff the on-field embodiment of his theory, mean that he will forever be remembered as one of the game’s finest thinkers.
#4 Herbert Chapman (Up 1)
England has never been famed for producing particularly progressive coaches, but Herbert Chapman is entirely deserving of his reputation as one of football management’s true pioneers. Aghast at the lack of tactical organisation in the game at the turn of the century, Chapman shunned the popular ‘kick-and-rush’ approach in favour of a more measured counter-attacking game that saw the midfield drop deep to afford the forwards more space in which to work. Consecutive First Division titles with Huddersfield Town led to his appointment at Arsenal in 1925, the beginning of a nine-year period which would yield two further championships and an FA Cup triumph. The inventor of the famed W-M formation and one of the first coaches to schedule regular, focussed training sessions, in many ways Chapman created what we would now recognise as the role of the ‘modern’ manager. While it’s difficult to justify a move into the top three, a shift from fifth to fourth feels right.
#5 Valeriy Lobanovskyi (Up 2)
Having originally placed Lobanovskyi seventh, on reflection I felt that I probably underestimated both his overall influence and the uniqueness of his approach to strategy. Turning the game into a mathematical exercise, the Ukrainian coach focussed not on how to get the best out of individual players, but on the most efficient ways to improve the connections between them. An advocate of analytics before analytics were even formally recognised, Lobanovskyi — a disciple of Viktor Maslov’s studied approach to management — surrounded himself with masses of data on everything from opposition strategy to the dietary habits of his own players. The man who turned Dynamo Kiev into a genuine continental force, Lobanovskyi is one of the most important visionaries the game has ever borne.
#6 Arrigo Sacchi (-)
A man with no formal experience as a player, Arrigo Sacchi was a shoe salesman who broke through barriers of snobbery in the late eighties to become arguably the most influential coach of his generation. The architect of the great Milan side that won the European Cup in 1989 and 1990, Sacchi emphasised the importance of the collective over the individual, his obsession being the control of space and detailed organisation of movement. Borrowing from and refining principles first introduced by Viktor Maslov, Sacchi’s Milan became arguably the greatest exponents of zonal marking while their unitary movement also made them an attractive attacking side. The pinnacle of his success may have been relatively short-lived in comparison with some of the other names on this list, but his creation of one of the most tactically advanced sides in the history of European football was an astounding achievement.
#7 Helenio Herrera (Down 3)
The master of catenaccio and a relentless leader in the field of sports psychology, Herrera enjoyed a largely unbroken spell of managerial success with four different clubs (Atlético Madrid, FC Barcelona, Internazionale and AS Roma) between 1950 to 1970. Often categorised as a negative manager given the defensive supremacy of his two-time European Cup-winning Inter team, the abrasive Argentine’s sides were far more stylish going forward than he is often given credit for. That said, I’ve relegated him from fourth to seventh on the basis that I paid very little attention to the persistent allegations of steroid abuse that dogged Inter during Herrera’s tenure first time around. His achievements and innovations are undeniably remarkable, but it can be hard to separate them from the darkness of the accusations that often cloud his legacy.
#8 Alex Ferguson (Up 3)
It is generally accepted that managerial reigns come with a sell-by-date, that players become tired of the same methods and instruction after a certain amount of time. Coaches, so we are told, lose their impact, systems become outmoded, and football becomes stale. By that logic, Sir Alex Ferguson is a freak. After twenty-five years in the job, the Scotsman is still finding ways to reinvigorate and reinvent Manchester United, continually developing his squad in order to maintain the level of success the club expects. A quarter of a century, twenty-six major trophies. When you take the time to fully appreciate the scale of Ferguson’s achievements in an instant age, their magnificence is astounding. Why I didn’t include him in the original top ten I’ll never know.
#9 Brian Clough (-)
A whirlwind of charisma and personality, Brian Clough made it his business to confront stereotypes and challenge the footballing establishment as scaled the very heights of European football. Although not a particularly innovative coach, Clough’s great strength was his ability to identify the right players for his system and then have them buy-in to the depth and passion of his vision. Having made his name by taking an impoverished Derby County from Second Division obscurity to First Division champions within five years, Clough — via dark, bizarre spells with Brighton and Leeds — established his own greatness with Nottingham Forest. A provincial team that had previously achieved little in the way of success, Forest were transformed by Clough’s methodological approach, their consecutive European Cup triumphs in 1979 and 1980 the fruits of his considerable labours and the most glorious chapter in one of football’s most romantic stories.
#10 Bob Paisley (Up 2)
The man who took up where Shankly left off, Bob Paisley took Liverpool’s boot room philosophy to the next level, turning the Anfield club into the dominant force of European football. Historically overshadowed by his predecessor, I undersold Paisley’s individual impact in the original list, something I later came to regret when I read more about his phenomenally successful time at Liverpool. A coach under Shankly, it is often said that Paisley was the tactical brain behind The Reds’ early success, his talents becoming more obvious when he eventually took the top job. Bringing in players such as Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Ian Rush, Paisley remains the only manager to have won the European Cup on three occasions, his success both an extension of the groundwork he shared with Shankly and his own undeniable brilliance.
#11 Bill Shankly (Down 1)
Arguably the greatest club-builder there has ever been, between 1959 and 1974 Bill Shankly transformed Liverpool from a destitute, poorly-run Second Division club into one of the most evocative names in European football. Putting together a revolutionary new training schedule for the players, Shankly’s incredible attention to detail was what set him apart from other managers. Identifying talented young players that could be brought in at relatively low prices, Shankly quickly got Liverpool competing at the top level and cultivated a famous atmosphere of professionalism and self-belief amongst his squad. The three First Division titles and two FA Cups he won, triumphs which paved the way for Paisley but were perhaps not as significant in his predecessor’s tenure as might be commonly believed, means that a drop to just outside of the top ten — just one place below his more successful boot room descendant, feels about right.
#12 Jock Stein (New Entry)
Undoubtedly the most significant oversight of the original series, Stein’s achievements deserve to be a major part of any discussion about managerial excellence. Ten league titles and eight Scottish Cups with Celtic made him one of the most relentlessly successful coaches of his generation, while victory in the 1967 European Cup with a system based on attacking flair and the technical proficiency of its wingers brought about the downfall of a great Internazionale side and enshrined Stein in history as the manager who put Scottish football on the map.
#13 Matt Busby (-)
Sir Alex Ferguson may be the most successful manager in Manchester United’s history, but it was Sir Matt Busby who first positioned the club as one of the finest in Europe. Taking the job in 1945, Busby achieved some early success with United before developing a group of young players in the early 1950s who would bring unprecedented success to the red half of Manchester. Those players, ‘The Busby Babes’, would come to represent both the zenith and the nadir of the Scotsman’s time with the club. The three titles they won between 1952 and 1957 showcased some of the best football the English game had ever seen, and yet their tragic demise in the Munich air disaster of 1958 would be the defining moment of Busby’s tenure. Victory in the European Cup ten years later with a team built around the survivors of the crash was — and still remains —the greatest moment of both Busby’s career and the illustrious history of Manchester United.
#14 Jose Mourinho (Up 2)
There were a few who disagreed with the inclusion of Mourinho on the original list, but I don’t see how his place can be contested. The winner of two Champions League trophies and domestic titles in three (soon to be four) major European leagues at the age of just 49, the Portuguese is surely the finest tactical mind of his generation. This season’s outmanoeuvring of an epoch-defining Barcelona team, not to mention his continual strategic adaptation, sees him rise two places in the standings. More success seems inevitable in the years to come.
#15 Vittorio Pozzo (Down 6)
The victim of the furthest fall down the rankings, Pozzo suffers from both a lack of club success and also having achieved his greatest victories with Italy at a time when the field of international competition was relatively thin and under-developed. The winning of two World Cups is clearly not something to be sniffed at, but the accusations of match-fixing at the 1934 tournament do taint the reputation of a coach who was without doubt one of the finest tacticians of the twentieth century. Pozzo’s creation of inside forwards in the 2-3-5 Metodo system was a significant moment in the development of tactical thinking, but I found it increasingly hard to justify his inclusion in the top ten, hence the rather dramatic drop to fifteenth.
#16 Pep Guardiola (New Entry)
FC Barcelona has always been synonymous with attractive, pioneering styles of football, and the team Pep Guardiola built between 2008 and 2012 will surely stand as the club’s aesthetic pinnacle. Playing a patient passing game which gave way to intensive, full-pitch pressing as soon as the ball was lost, the eight major trophies (3x La Liga titles, 2x Champions Leagues, 2x World Club Cups, 1x Copa del Rey) won during the last four seasons are testament to the team’s mastery of its manager’s near-perfect system. Never afraid to innovate and adapt, Guardiola has already firmly established himself as a managerial great despite having less than five years’ experience. His decision to leave the club this summer, though taken wisely, will be a profound loss to the game.
#17 Giovanni Trapattoni (Down 2)
Pushed down two places as a result of the inclusions of Stein and Guardiola, I still feel that Trapattoni’s position accurately represents his sizeable influence on the game. One of only two (soon to be three) coaches to have won a league title in four different countries, the current Ireland manager is best known for his first spell with Juventus between 1976 and 1986, years which brought six Scudetti and a European Cup to Turin. The only manager to have won all UEFA club competitions, he may not be coaching at the game’s very highest level any more, but Giovanni Trapattoni will quite rightly be remembered as one of the finest managers Italy, and indeed Europe, has ever produced.
#18 Jack Reynolds (-)
A man unfortunately overshadowed by those who followed him, Jack Reynolds enjoyed almost three decades in charge at Ajax, putting in place the infrastructure and the philosophy which would make the club great. The exponent of a system that is seen as the immediate forerunner of Total Football, Reynolds led the club to eight Eredivisie titles and set Ajax on the path to the continental glory it would later achieve under Rinus Michels. Although the significance of his legacy may have been partially lost over the decades, Reynolds’ achievements more than merit mention alongside names more far vaunted and famous than his own.
#19 Belá Guttmann (-)
A nomadic eccentric who lived by his rule that “The third year is fatal”, Guttmann was a great tactical thinker who managed everywhere from Vienna to Montevideo, pioneering the 4-2-4 formation in Brazil and constantly espousing positive, attacking football along the way. The Hungarian’s greatest triumphs came in the early 1960s with Benfica, his team — featuring a young Eusebio — winning the European Cup in 1961 and ’62 before, in typically enigmatic fashion, he placed a curse on the club and disappeared off into the sunset. Belá Guttmann: a maverick and a great.
#20 Johan Cruyff (New Entry)
After Jock Stein, it was Johan Cruyff who I most regretted leaving out of the original series. A tactically masterful player, the Dutchman transferred his philosophy into the managerial arena to great effect with Barcelona in the late 1980s and early 90s, his ‘Dream Team’ becoming one of the most respected club sides in history. Featuring the likes of Pep Guardiola, Txiki Begiristain, Ronald Koeman and Hristo Stoichkov, Cruyff’s Barça won four La Liga titles and the 1992 European Cup playing an attractive brand of possession football in a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 system. In the success of the current Barcelona side and the Spanish national team, Cruyff’s managerial legacy lives in a form evolved for the modern game.
Managers dropped from the original list: Carlos Bianchi, Otto Rehhagel, Guy Roux.