Greatest manager of all time?

Choosing the best footballer of all time. Easy. Ask a terrace full of football fans that question and half will answer you Pele, the other half Maradona, then toss a coin between the two. Neither answer would be controversial. One day in the near future Lionel Messi might join that shortlist, but for now it’s a pretty straight forward either or debate. Ask who is the greatest manager of all time however and you end up with a shortlist of at least 50.

A great player will always find their way to the top of the game, win the biggest prizes and deliver on the biggest stage, but for a manager it can be an all together different story. Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley, Brian Clough nor Jose Mourinho have ever taken a team to a World Cup, the biggest prize of them all, in fact very few of the ‘greatest’ have, and them that have won the World Cup are still not regarded as legends of the game. Vincente Del Bosque, Luis Scolari and Aime Jacquet don’t make the shortlist of many as the best that history has to offer.

So what is the criteria by which you measure a managers ability? Do you measure success strictly in accordance with the number of trophies in the cabinet? If so Sir Alex Ferguson is probably your answer? Or do you push for the great one club men like Bob Paisley or Sir Matt Busby, who won everything the domestic game had to offer with the club they loved? Do you go for those who have proved they can succeed almost anywhere, with any club like Fabio Capello, Jose Mourinho and Giovanni Trapattoni? Do you give bonus points for the games great thinkers and tactical innovators like Rinus Michels, Johann Cruyff, Ernst Happel and Arsene Wenger? Do you look for a manager who built a club from nothing and created a legacy, an institution long after their passing, such as Bill Shankly at Liverpool and Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest? How do you quantify the success of someone like John Toshack, who took Swansea City from the 4th division of English football to the top flight in only four years and then went on to win La Liga with Real Madrid? You would find few who would give him a mention in the ‘all time’ greatest list, but his achievements deserve consideration.

Anyway, I’m not going to attempt to decide who is the ‘greatest manager of all time’. But, I would like to open up the debate and canvas comment and opinion. So here’s a shortlist of 10, with their achievements in no order other than alphabetical.

Please leave your thoughts and comments at the bottom of the page.

Sir Matt Busby

If club building scores highly than Sir Matt Busby is up there, for building up Manchester United, then rebuilding them after the Munich air disaster in which he nearly lost his own life. Busby laid the foundations for the success Manchester United currently enjoy, youth development, the expansion and improvement of Old Trafford and winning trophies. He also managed to enjoy spells as a player for Manchester United’s two greatest rivals, Liverpool and Manchester City.


European Cup x 1

English First Division x 5

FA Cup x 2

FA Charity Shield x 5

Brian Clough

If Brian Clough were making this list I’m sure there would be no debate as to who is the greatest. ’The best English manager, England never had’ made do with taking unknown clubs Derby County and Nottingham Forest from the depths of the Second Division to becoming champions of England. With Nottingham Forest he managed to win consecutive European Cups, the FA Cup always eluded him though, as well as the England job.


European Cup x 2

European Super Cup x 1

English First Division x 2

English League Cup x 4

FA Charity Shield x 1

English Second Division x 1

Inter League Cup x 1

Sir Alex Ferguson

After knocking over the Old Firm in Scotland, Sir Alex Ferguson headed south to take over the reins at Manchester United. In his 25 years in Lancashire, Manchester United have dominated English football in an era of success only matched by Liverpool’s in the 1970’s and 1980’s. A giant of football, Ferguson is desperate to add a third European Cup to his CV and cement his place as the most successful manager of all time.


Sir Alex Ferguson 'treble in 1999' of the FA Premier League, FA Cup & UEFA Champions League.

UEFA Champions League x 2

UEFA Cup Winners Cup x 2

FIFA World Club Cup x 2

European Super Cup x 2

FA Premier League x 12

Scottish Premier League x 3

FA Cup x 5

English League Cup x 4

FA Charity / Community Shield x 9

Scottish Cup x 4

Scottish League Cup x 1

Bella Guttman

Bella Guttman is credited with creating the ‘cult’ of the manager, pioneering the attacking 4-2-4 formation which heavily influenced the development of Portuguese and Brazilian football. He won successive European Cups with Benfica and is described as the ‘true special one’ by Jose Mourinho.

Bela Gutmann and Eusebio after capturing the 1960/61 European Cup.


European Cup x 2

Portuguese Primeira Liga x 3

Hungarian NBI League x 2

Portuguese Cup x 1

Hungarian Cup x 1

Sao Paulo State Championship x 1

Ernst Happel

Ernst Happel won the domestic league in 4 countries (Germany, Holland, Belgium & Austria) as well as winning 2 European Cups, with unfashionable Hamburg & Feyenoord. In 1978 he led Holland to the FIFA World Cup Final, where they narrowly lost in extra time to host nation Argentina.


UEFA European Cup x 2

Ernst Happel with the European Cup and Bundesliga trophy which he won with Hamburg 1982/83.

FIFA Intercontinental Cup x 1

German Bundesliga x 2

Dutch Eredivisie x 1

Belgian Pro League x 3

Austrian Bundesliga x 2

German Cup x 1

Dutch Cup x 1

Belgian Cup x 2

Belgian Super Cup x 1

Austrian Cup x 1

Rinus Michels

According to FIFA, Rinus Michels is the greatest of them all, being awarded the ‘coach of the century’ award in 1999, which naturally has only been won once. Michels is credited with the invention of one the greatest tactical innovations: total football – where each player is comfortable playing in any other players position, creating attacking, fast flowing football. This philosophy helped him guide the Dutch national team to winning the 1988 European Championships as well as narrowly losing the 1974 FIFA World Cup Final to host nation West Germany. Michels won domestic titles in Spain and Holland as well as winning the European Cup with Ajax in 1971.

Rinus Michels with the Henri Delaunay after winning the European Championships with Holland in 1988.


UEFA European Championships x 1

European Cup x 1

Inter-Cities Fairs Cup x 1

Spanish La Liga x 1

Dutch Eredivisie x 4

Spanish Cup x 1

Dutch Cup x 3

German Cup x 1

Jose Mourinho

‘The Special One’ is the ultimate tactician, winning every major prize Europe has to offer, on occasion with largely inferior teams. His 2004 UEFA Champions League win with FC Porto, who entered the tournament as 100/1 rank outsiders will go down as one of the tournaments major shocks.


UEFA Champions League x 2

UEFA Cup x 1

FA Premier League x 2

Portuguese Primeira Liga x 2

Italian Serie A x 2

F.A. Cup x 1

English League Cup x 2

FA Community Shield x 1

Portuguese Cup x 1

Portuguese Super Cup x 1

Italian Cup x 1

Italian Super Cup x 1

Spanish Cup x 1

Bob Paisley

Inherited the reins at Liverpool after Bill Shankly’s shock retirement in 1974, Bob Paisley is the only manager to win three European Cups, although he’s never been knighted for his achievements, something that rankles with many Liverpool fans to this day. In total Paisley spent 46 unbroken years at Anfield as player, physio, coach, assistant manager and manager winning every trophy available apart from the FA Cup.

Bob Paisley - The only manager to win '3' European Cups.


European Cup x 3

UEFA Cup x 1

European Super Cup x 1

English First Division x 6

English League Cup x 3

FA Charity Shield x 5

Bill Shankly

“My idea was to build Liverpool into a bastion of invincibility. Napoleon had that idea. He wanted to conquer the bloody world. I wanted Liverpool to be untouchable. My idea was to build Liverpool up and up until eventually everyone would have to submit and give in.” Bill Shankly took Liverpool from the bottom of the Second division and established them as one of the best teams in the country winning 3 league titles, 2 FA Cups and a UEFA Cup. The colossal achievements of his successor Bob Paisley owe everything to the foundation that Shankly built.


UEFA Cup x 1

English First Division x 3

FA Cup x 2

FA Charity Shield x 4

English Second Division x 1

Jock Stein

Managed the first British side to ever win the European Cup, when his Celtic team achieved the feat in 1967, with a team of entirely home grown players. All of the starting XI had been born in Glasgow, even Barcelona can’t compete with that statistic. He also won 9 consecutive Scottish League titles as well as 15 domestic cups. He spent 45 days in England managing Leeds United, only one day more than Brian Clough managed.


European Cup x 1

Scottish League x 10

Scottish Cup x 9

Scottish League Cup x 6

I would really appreciate your comments below on who you think is the greatest and what criteria we should look at. Let’s open up the debate.


One Cap Wonders

International friendly week can often throw up an odd inclusion or a player drafted in as a stop gap. In most sports the pinnacle is representing your country and every young English footballer must dream that one day they’ll represent England and wear the famous ‘Three Lions’. But, there is one exclusive club that nobody wants to join, the ever growing list of ‘One Cap Wonders’, with that in mind, I decided to look at some of the players who appeared once for their country and then never again.


Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock (1/0)

vs Nigeria; 1-0; Nov’ 1994

Neil ‘Razor’ Ruddock was at the heart of Liverpool’s defence during the mid 90’s and it was at this time that he got his first and last call up to represent his country. Ruddock says he was at a funeral when he received word that he had been called up to one of Terry Venables pre Euro’96 squads and “believed it to be a wind up”. Ruddock played well in the game, getting a full 90 minutes and helping England keep a clean sheet against a talented Nigeria side, but it wasn’t enough to earn him another chance with the national team.

Throughout his career he battled with weight problems and was often criticised for being unfit, as well as disciplinary problems, which saw Ruddock break both of Andy Cole’s legs in a reserve fixture and Peter Beardsley’s cheek bone in a testimonial match. The emergence of Gareth Southgate and Sol Campbell at centre back led to Ruddock being marginalised.

Ruddock went on to make 115 appearances for Liverpool and had spells at QPR, West Ham, Crystal Palace and Swindon Town. Ruddock retired from football in 2003 and he currently makes regular reality tv appearances.

Seth Johnson (1/1)

vs Italy; 0-1; Nov’ 2000

 Seth Johnson, a tenacious young central midfielder, plying his trade in the lower leagues with Crewe  Alexandra, began to win plaudits for his role in the clubs survival in the Championship by a single point  in the 1998/99 season. Part of Dario Gradi’s fantastic production line at the south Cheshire club, which  had produced England internationals such as David Platt, Danny Murphy, Rob Jones and fellow one   cap wonder Dean Ashton, Johnson’s potential led to him being recruited by Premier League outfit  Derby County for £3m.

A year into his stay with Derby, Johnson was called up to the England squad by Peter Taylor (caretaker manager for one game) to face Italy in a friendly. England suffered a 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Azzurri on a wet and windy night at a 30% full Stadio delle Alpi in Turin. The game being noted as David Beckham’s first as England captain and for Gennaro Gattuso scoring what is still his only goal for Italy in 73 caps. Johnson came on as a 73rd minute sub for Gareth Barry, making his 17 minutes in and England shirt one of the shortest international careers in history.

There is an interesting anecdote allegedly about Seth Johnson doing the rounds from his £7m move from Derby to Leeds United in 2001. In his personal terms negotiations with Peter Risdale (Leeds Chairman) Johnson and his agent agreed in advance to hold out for £16k a week. So Risdale opens up the talks with “We are willing to pay you £26k a week”. The flabbergasted agent replies “Well that wasn’t quite what we were expecting”. “Right so, £32k a week is my final offer” said Risdale. Seth Johnson is reported to have fallen of his chair.

Seth Johnson suffered multiple injury problems and returned to Derby from Leeds on a free transfer in 2005, from where he was released in 2007. He is currently without a club.

Michael Ricketts (1/0)

vs Netherlands; 1-1;  Feb’ 2002

The 2001/2002 season started magically for Ricketts, after gaining promotion with Bolton Wanderers the previous season, Ricketts had a blistering start to the campaign scoring 15 Premier League goals by January, including the winner in a 2-1 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford. Sven Goran Eriksson called Ricketts up to a pre World Cup’2002 experimental squad to face the Netherlands in a friendly at the Amsterdam Arena, along with fellow debutants Darius Vassell and Wayne Bridge. Ricketts started the match and managed 45 minutes, before being substituted for Kevin Phillips.

Michael Ricketts failed to score another league goal for over a year following his first and last England cap and has subsequently only scored 26 goals in the following 9 years at 11 different league clubs.

Ricketts is currently a free agent after being released by Tranmere Rovers in January 2010, he is also serving a 12 month community order for assaulting his ex-girlfriend.

 Lee Bowyer (1/0)

vs Portugal; 1-1; Sep’2002

Lee Bowyer first drew attention in 1995, when he failed a drugs test for cannabis use. Bowyer was dropped from the England U18 squad and suspended by his club Charlton Athletic for eight weeks while he took part in a drug rehabilitation course organised by the FA. The following year Bowyer was signed by Leeds United for £2.8m, at the time a record for a British teenager.

It took some time for Bowyer to break into the Leeds first team, but under David O’Leary he soon made the central midfield role his own, becoming a key player in the side that qualified for the Champions League in 99/00, and which reached the semi finals of the competition in 2001, in which he scored crucial goals against A.C. Milan and Barcelona. He was voted the Leeds player of the year by supporters in both the 98/99and 00/01 seasons.

Bowyer’s form led to calls for inclusion in the England squad; however, the FA ruled that he could not be selected until the court case in relation to an assault on an Asian student was completed.The FA eventually cleared Bowyer for selection following the conclusion of the court case and England manager Sven Goran Eriksson called him into the squad for an international friendly against Portugal in September 2002.

Bowyer started the game, made an assist and acquitted himself well, lasting 62 minutes before being replaced by Trevor Sinclair. England drew the game 1-1, a game in which another one cap wonder made his only appearance; David Dunn coming on as a second half substitute for Steven Gerrard.

Bowyer moved to West Ham United, his boyhood club the following year, before a spell at Newcastle United where he was involved in an infamous on pitch bust up with team mate Kieron Dyer, in which they were both sent off. In 2006 he rejoined West Ham, where he spent 3 seasons before moving to Birmingham City on a free transfer in 2009.

Bowyer is currently without a club after being released by Birmingham City following their relegation to the Championship. He has made over 400 Premier League appearances scoring 58 goals.


Francis Jeffers (1/1)

vs Australia; 1-3; Feb’2003

Francis Jeffers was a prolific goalscorer with Everton as a youngster, scoring 20 league  goals in 45 games and earning the coveted strikers nickname ‘fox in the box’. In 2001 he  was recruited by Arsene Wenger to join the Arsenal revolution for £8m, linking up with  strikers Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Kanu and Sylvain Wiltord. Jeffers time at  Arsenal was dogged by injury, but the youngster who still holds the England U21 goal  scoring record (13 goals in 16 caps) managed a call up to Sven Goran Eriksson’s full  squad for a friendly with Australia in 2003 at Upton Park.

Jeffers came on as a second half substitute, replacing Michael Owen and managed to    score a terrific glancing header, but the game will be remembered chiefly for the humiliating 3-1 defeat and for the England debut of Wayne Rooney as well as Paul Robinson, James Beattie, Jermaine Jenas and Paul Konchesky. Jeffers only made a handful of further appearances for Arsenal before joining Everton on loan and moving on to a further 7 different clubs, including Rangers, Sheffield Wednesday, Blackburn Rovers and Australian A League side Newcastle Jets.

In the 8 years following his England appearance he has only managed a total of 14 league goals. Jeffers is currently playing for SPL side Motherwell, where his contract expires at the end of June 2011.