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.

Honours

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.

Honours

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.

Honours

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.

Honours

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.

Honours

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.

Honours

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.

Honours

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.

Honours

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.

Honours

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.

Honours

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.