The Special Ones - Managers in the Game

Zososoxfan

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There's been some good discussion in various threads about manager performance and I thought it would be a good time to do a list. Topic is simple, who are the top 10/20 managers in the club game right now at the highest levels. In other words, I don't have enough knowledge about midtable managers in Bundesliga, but if you think they are good enough to discuss, by all means include them.

1. Klopp - best system in football.
2. Pep - obviously a genius, but needs the absolute best players to do it.
3. Conte - young fiery manager leading the 'defensive but with results' ilk.
4. Poch - this year has shown weaknesses in high level management and interpersonal skills, but still tactically astute.
5. Sarri - getting it done at another major club, not sure if he should be this high though.
6. Simeone - has shown he can do his thing with new players, but needs a better offensive approach to evolve.
7. Ancelotti - the highest of the old order managers. This guy has gotten it done EVERYWHERE. You know you're in good (possibly great) hands with Carlo.
8. Rodgers - back from relative obscurity and impressing early on.
9. Gallardo - doesn't get enough credit because he plies his trade in South America. Could probably be said for a number of managers, but with River flying high for another year el Muneco makes the top 10.
10. Allegri - only manager on the list who started the season on sabbatical. Feels a bit like Carlo junior.
11. Tuchel - the heir to Klopp at Dortmund still needs to show he can produce new stars in attack as Klopp's recruits dry up.
12. Marcelino - will not be unemployed long. Wouldn't mind him at Barca.
13. Lopetegui - doing great work this season and has likely/hopefully learned from his bizarre experiences in Madrid.
14. Ten Hag - gets docked for degree of difficulty, but the Dutch seem on the precipice of another golden era, lead by Ajax.
15. Zidane - possibly too low considering his UCL success in the first go round. Clearly more of a man manager than tactician.
16. Pellegrini - hanging around, but finding success where it wasn't expected.
17. Emery - bloom off the rose on this one. Will be interesting to see if he goes up or down from here.

HM: Heinze (doing really notable work in Argentina right now), Kovac (can we get a Bayern fan to help on this one?), Marco Rose (seems like he has an unreal track record - can anyone comment?)

Notably absent: Solkjaer (had one good tactical match against Liverpool), Valverde (is capable of guiding an F-15 on autopilot, GJGE).
 

Vinho Tinto

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Brendan Rodgers needs to win a trophy outside of Scotland before he gets named the 8th best manager in the world. However, unlike Julen Lopetegui (Who has already failed to win anything at Porto and Real Madrid), he has trophies.

If Jose Mourinho gets hired does he make list or are we going to pretend all of the names listed are better than him?
 

Dummy Hoy

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I mean, making ranking lists is fun, but there's absolutely no method here. What criteria are we using? It's sure a shit not trophies, because Klopp (who is probably as good as anyone in the world) was what, 0-6 in finals until last season?

It'd be far more valuable to start a discussion (and maybe the initial post can help with that) about what makes a great manager or what certain managers do well or could do better. Why is Brendan Rodgers a good manager (and he is, ass or not). What makes him better than Allegri (he's probably not). I mean, there's a million questions that spring to mind here- was Allardyce right in that if his last name was Allardychi he'd be more respected? Could Eddie Howe coach world class players? Sean Dyche? Could Ancellotti coach mediocre players?

I heard this somewhere else, but I thought it was spot on- the answer to the question, what would it look like if Pep managed a team that wasn't an all world XI? It would look like Marcelo Bielsa.
 

67YAZ

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If Jose Mourinho gets hired does he make list or are we going to pretend all of the names listed are better than him?
Can we break up Jose into his patented 3-season arc:

Season 1 - top-10, reshapes a squad on the fly into a Champions League contender

Season 2 - top-3, creates a fierce defending and counter attacking machine and plays mind games with opponents, challenges for league trophy

Season 3 - bottom-10, feuds publicly with the board, throws players under the bus, and leaves the entire club in disarray.
 

Zososoxfan

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I read #1, it wasn't Marcelo Bielsa, I was too disgusted to read further
Bielsa is one of the most important tacticians from a historical perspective, but I mean how do you judge a manager's current acumen when he's managing in a second division?


Brendan Rodgers needs to win a trophy outside of Scotland before he gets named the 8th best manager in the world. However, unlike Julen Lopetegui (Who has already failed to win anything at Porto and Real Madrid), he has trophies.

If Jose Mourinho gets hired does he make list or are we going to pretend all of the names listed are better than him?
I definitely value this season's results highly in my list. Rodgers also should get some credit for his good 1.5 seasons at Anfield. But yes, he's likely too high.

I didn't include Mou on this list because I don't like him. I also didn't include other managers who didn't start this season managing a club but might be on a list like this (Lucho, Van Gaal, etc.).

I mean, making ranking lists is fun, but there's absolutely no method here. What criteria are we using? It's sure a shit not trophies, because Klopp (who is probably as good as anyone in the world) was what, 0-6 in finals until last season?

It'd be far more valuable to start a discussion (and maybe the initial post can help with that) about what makes a great manager or what certain managers do well or could do better. Why is Brendan Rodgers a good manager (and he is, ass or not). What makes him better than Allegri (he's probably not). I mean, there's a million questions that spring to mind here- was Allardyce right in that if his last name was Allardychi he'd be more respected? Could Eddie Howe coach world class players? Sean Dyche? Could Ancellotti coach mediocre players?

I heard this somewhere else, but I thought it was spot on- the answer to the question, what would it look like if Pep managed a team that wasn't an all world XI? It would look like Marcelo Bielsa.
All fair points and questions. I mean, I love football and think I know a thing or two about the sport, but I'm by no means well-versed in the managerial acumen outside of the top 4-6 in the big 4+0.5+0.5 leagues (Portugal and Netherlands comprising the 0.5s). With that in mind, I'm not in a position to comment on any manager's ability to take a midtable quality squad to finish in an EL position.

So that being the case is why I felt ranking the top 20 or so managers was appropriate. As for the criteria and categories, there's probably a good argument to be made for ranking managers of superclubs who pretty much get to pick their squad with minimal constraints (MANC, Liverpool, Juve, Bayern, Barca, Real, Chelsea, PSG) versus clubs just below those tiers (because even within that group there are clear tiers) who obviously have many world class players but have to try and make up the gap with systems. A case like Liverpool is very interesting because even though they are top 10 in spend currently, they've been a top 5 club in performance for the past 2 years (not seasons).

It's a rudimentary tool I've cited before, but looking at the top 20 highest wage bills (from last season I believe) may be helpful:

1. Real Madrid: €406m
2. Barcelona: €378m
3. Manchester City: €334m

4. Manchester United: €306m (big increase I believe)

5. Bayern Munich: €276m
6. Paris Saint-Germain: €272m
7. Juventus: €264m

8. Chelsea: €256m
9. Liverpool: €244m (big increase)
10. Arsenal: €234m (notable increase IIRC)

11. Atlético Madrid: €178m
12. Borussia Dortmund: €178m

13. Inter Milan: €155m (big increase)
14. Tottenham Hotspur: €148m (big increase)
15. Roma: €145m
16. Wolfsburg: €139m
17. Crystal Palace: €133m
18. Leicester City: €132m
19. Southampton: €131m
20. AC Milan: €128m

Those gaps are intended to show rough tiers of spending, with the additional division between 5-7 and 8-10 because Bayern, PSG, and Juve make a nice category of clubs that typically dominate their leagues, versus 8-10 which are all EPL clubs (i.e. I recognize there's not a big gap between Juve and Chelsea spend). It's also interesting to me that the top 10 in spend all win or compete for domestic titles regularly (Arsenal and MANU the exceptions). Atleti and Dortmund have both won titles recently but are fighting against goliaths in Barca, Real, and Bayern. It also puts the position of clubs like Inter and Spurs into clarity--by increasing wages into the next tier the hope is that they can challenge for major trophies.

More questions than answers, but to @Dummy Hoy 's point, a matrix of different criteria is probably more useful. e.g. tactics, in-game management, player development, etc.
 

Vinho Tinto

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Can we break up Jose into his patented 3-season arc:

Season 1 - top-10, reshapes a squad on the fly into a Champions League contender

Season 2 - top-3, creates a fierce defending and counter attacking machine and plays mind games with opponents, challenges for league trophy

Season 3 - bottom-10, feuds publicly with the board, throws players under the bus, and leaves the entire club in disarray.
This is patented if his career was just Chelsea 2.0 and ManU; but I think it’s more likely this is who he is going forward. He’s his generation’s Arrigo Sacchi.

If we are including South American League managers, Jorge Jesus could become the 2nd European manager to win the Libertadores. Because of his age, and language limitations, I think he no longer has a chance to manage beyond a small club in Spain. Maybe he will get consideration to manage Brazil after Tite, but he would be nearly 70 then.
 

teddykgb

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One of the great battles in football is between the manager and board/dof. It’s very hard to separate the two. Is Mourinho a bad manager because he has struggled at United, who are clearly bereft of the necessary talent? Does the fact that he had a part in signing some of that talent matter? Maybe he was never able to select players he truly wanted?

Regardless, I think the notion that a manager like Pep requires talent and any other manager on the list doesn’t require the same is pointless. Every manager on that list needs world class talent to win, only some like Ten Haag get the world class talent while it is emerging and others purchase the finished product.

I think Pep’s success in complete domination of three leagues has him comfortably #1. If have said the same about 2 leagues before he set foot in England.

As for managerial skill, I think the next group involves Klopp for sure, Conte for sure, Simeone, Ancelotti, and if he’s being included , Mourinho. I’d also put Bielsa there. These are proven managers who have implemented a system in multiple places to great success. There’s no question that they can sustain their success. Simeone sneaks in here for me as he’s competed with multiple sets of talents against two huge clubs. But if you dropped him from this tier I wouldn’t have a huge argument. I know remarkably little about Serie A so probably a few more guys belong here. Maybe Pochetttino belongs in this group too even if his current Spurs side is struggling

After that you get guys who certainly have talent and merit inclusion on lists like this but just don’t have the multi team multi league track record. Whether that’s Rodgers, Ten Hag,
 

coremiller

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I think Simeone is underrated here. He should really be in the top 3. Breaking the Real/Barca duopoly and taking Atletico to two CL Finals are massive achievements. He's also managed to turn over most of the team while remaining competitive at the top level.

But I think Guardiola has to be #1. It's not just that his teams have won the league a lot, although they have. All of Pep's teams have achieved a level of dominance never seen before. A lot of clubs have spent a lot of money, but nobody else has been able to produce the kind of consistently dominant football Pep has. Pep revolutionized the game and everyone has been reacting to him and his ideas for a decade.
 

67YAZ

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But I think Guardiola has to be #1. It's not just that his teams have won the league a lot, although they have. All of Pep's teams have achieved a level of dominance never seen before. A lot of clubs have spent a lot of money, but nobody else has been able to produce the kind of consistently dominant football Pep has. Pep revolutionized the game and everyone has been reacting to him and his ideas for a decade.
Pep kind of suffers from the Phil Jackson problem - sure, he’s won a ton not trophies, but has he ever actually exceeded expectations? He won everything under the sun with a squad built around Messi, arguably the GOAT, and several other legends. Then he’s dominated at Bayern and City, placing them exactly where their payrolls suggested they should finish.

Has Pep’s failure to win a Champions League without Messi, Xavi, Iniesta & Co revealed some kind of shortcoming? Or does it reveal the outsized roll of luck in tournaments?

Surely, connecting with and motivating world class players is a skill, and Pep has an outstanding record of developing (world class) youth. His tactical innovations have routinely been copied and implemented widely (eg, the long diagonal from a CB to the attacking wing...which way too many teams attempt without the skilled CBs to actually pull it off these days).

The hole in his resume is that he’s never done more with less, which can be said for Mourinho, Klopp, and others in the elite tier.
 
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Vinho Tinto

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Graham Hunter is a Barcelona fanboy with a media badge, but his book on Barcelona lays out the interesting challenge Pep had when he took over. The roster had to turn over. Core veterans were physically and mentally fat. Way too content with what they had accomplished. It’s easy to forget, but 07/08 Barcelona was a fucking disaster. ManU shut them out of both legs in the CL semis while carrying play. They finished in 3rd, 18 points behind Madrid. He ushered out stars like Ronaldinho and Deco while overhauling how the club ate/drank/trained. It’s a culture change on par with what Wenger did at Arsenal. No other manager could have pulled off what he did at Barca.
 

Zomp

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I don't watch enough football anymore where i could possibly rank a list of the top 20 managers outside of the Premier League, however to me Pep Guardiola is clearly the best manager in the world. He ticks all the boxes. Style of play, developing talent, trophies.
 

Morgan's Magic Snowplow

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I think Zidane is far too low. Winning the Champions League three times in a row is an amazing accomplishment. He may not be a great tactical innovator but he certainly was effective at tweaking tactics in a lot of those cup ties during those runs and his teams won knockout ties against a lot of the managers higher than him on that list (Klopp, Simeone, Ancelotti, Allegri, Sarri, Pellegrini). While we haven't really seen him try to build a team yet, he hasn't failed at that either. At the very least he should be above the likes of Tuchel, Rodgers, etc who have never really accomplished anything.
 

67YAZ

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Graham Hunter is a Barcelona fanboy with a media badge, but his book on Barcelona lays out the interesting challenge Pep had when he took over. The roster had to turn over. Core veterans were physically and mentally fat. Way too content with what they had accomplished. It’s easy to forget, but 07/08 Barcelona was a fucking disaster. ManU shut them out of both legs in the CL semis while carrying play. They finished in 3rd, 18 points behind Madrid. He ushered out stars like Ronaldinho and Deco while overhauling how the club ate/drank/trained. It’s a culture change on par with what Wenger did at Arsenal. No other manager could have pulled off what he did at Barca.
Yes, by the absurd standards of Barca finishing 3rd and going out of the CL in the semis is a fucking disaster. But he walks into a team with Valdés (age 27), Puyol (31), Xavi (29), Iniesta (25), Eto’o (28), Henry (31), and Abidal (29). Messi is a prodigal 21. Pedro and Busquets are breaking in. Pique, Dani Alves, and Keita are new arrivals. Pep did a masterful job, but it’s not Mourinho at Porto on terms of getting a squad to exceed its talents.
 

coremiller

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Pep kind of suffers from the Phil Jackson problem - sure, he’s won a ton not trophies, but has he ever actually exceeded expectations? He won everything under the sun with a squad built around Messi, arguably the GOAT, and several other legends. Then he’s dominated at Bayern and City, placing them exactly where their payrolls suggested they should finish.

Has Pep’s failure to win a Champions League without Messi, Xavi, Iniesta & Co reveal some kid of shortcoming? Or does it reveal the outsized roll of luck in tournaments?

Surely, connecting with and motivating world class players is a skill, and Pep has an outstanding record of developing (world class) youth. His tactical innovations have routinely been copied and implemented widely (eg, the long diagonal from a CB to the attacking wing...which way too many teams attempt without the skilled CBs to actually pull it off these days).

The hole in his resume is that he’s never done more with less, which can be said for Mourinho, Klopp, and others in the elite tier.
While Guardiola has always coached wealthy teams, we shouldn't take his success for granted. Man Utd's travails since Sir Alex retired show that spending is no guarantee of success.

I also think, w/r/t expectations, it matters that not only have Guardiola's teams won the league in 8 of his 10 seasons, they have done so in absurdly dominant style. His average league season in 10 seasons is 94 points with a +71 goal differential (straight-line adjusting his Bayern seasons to 38 games). Sir Alex Ferguson won 13 league titles but never had a single season with either 94 points or a +71 GD.

I don't think Phil Jackson is a good comparison at all. Jackson was a mediocre tactician and a poor deep strategic thinker (as his disdain for the three-point shot and his Knicks tenure show), but he was an excellent man-manager who got the most out of extremely talented teams by getting everyone to buy into a team concept and knowing which buttons to push. Guardiola on the other hand is directly responsible for THE major strategic revolution in world football in the last decade (extreme possession coupled with high pressing), and has also introduced/revitalized a number of innovative tactical ideas (the false nine, inverted wingers, building attacks to target the halfspaces between the fullback and the centerback, ball-playing centerbacks and sweeper-keepers, passing fullbacks tucking into midfield, playing midfielders at centerback and even fullback, free eights, etc.).
 

Zososoxfan

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I think Simeone is underrated here. He should really be in the top 3. Breaking the Real/Barca duopoly and taking Atletico to two CL Finals are massive achievements. He's also managed to turn over most of the team while remaining competitive at the top level.

But I think Guardiola has to be #1. It's not just that his teams have won the league a lot, although they have. All of Pep's teams have achieved a level of dominance never seen before. A lot of clubs have spent a lot of money, but nobody else has been able to produce the kind of consistently dominant football Pep has. Pep revolutionized the game and everyone has been reacting to him and his ideas for a decade.
I agree that I had Simeone too low, but I think he hasn't taken his philosophy to the next level by improving goals scored and overemphasizing goals conceded:

Year (Finish) ATM Goals Forward ATM Goals Against Barca Goals Forward:Against Real Goals Forward:Against
2018 (2) 55 29 90:36 63:46
2017 (2) 58 22 99:29 94:44
2016 (3) 70 27 116:37 106:41
2015 (3) 63 18 112:29 110:34
2014 (3) 67 29 110:21 118:38
2013 (1) 77 26 100:33 104:38


So you can see that Atleti has been remarkably consistent in keeping the ball out of their net better than Barca or Real, but they lag significantly behind in goals scored. More importantly, when they won the title in 2013-14 they had their highest goals forward tally for this data set. Simeone is the man, but he should've mixed it up sooner.

Graham Hunter is a Barcelona fanboy with a media badge, but his book on Barcelona lays out the interesting challenge Pep had when he took over. The roster had to turn over. Core veterans were physically and mentally fat. Way too content with what they had accomplished. It’s easy to forget, but 07/08 Barcelona was a fucking disaster. ManU shut them out of both legs in the CL semis while carrying play. They finished in 3rd, 18 points behind Madrid. He ushered out stars like Ronaldinho and Deco while overhauling how the club ate/drank/trained. It’s a culture change on par with what Wenger did at Arsenal. No other manager could have pulled off what he did at Barca.
This is when I became a supporter and I assure you it's not easy to forget--in fact, I'd argue that 06/07 was actually the lowpoint, after getting dumped out of UCL by Liverpool in the R16 (was at the Camp Nou match sadly). Pep also benefitted greatly from the Golden Age of La Masia coming to fruition, although he did help shape it.

I think Zidane is far too low. Winning the Champions League three times in a row is an amazing accomplishment. He may not be a great tactical innovator but he certainly was effective at tweaking tactics in a lot of those cup ties during those runs and his teams won knockout ties against a lot of the managers higher than him on that list (Klopp, Simeone, Ancelotti, Allegri, Sarri, Pellegrini). While we haven't really seen him try to build a team yet, he hasn't failed at that either. At the very least he should be above the likes of Tuchel, Rodgers, etc who have never really accomplished anything.
Zidane is a hard one to place and is a great argument for why a matrix is really better than a ranking. As you said, he is an excellent man manager and that is exactly what was called for during his successful run. But he also needs to be docked for this season's pedestrian start. More importantly, I agree that generally speaking managers who succeed at multiple clubs in multiple leagues need to get significant credit.

Yes, by the absurd standards of Barca finishing 3rd and going out of the CL in the semis is a fucking disaster. But he walks into a team with Valdés (age 27), Puyol (31), Xavi (29), Iniesta (25), Eto’o (28), Henry (31), and Abidal (29). Messi is a prodigal 21. Pedro and Busquets are breaking in. Pique, Dani Alves, and Keita are new arrivals. Pep did a masterful job, but it’s not Mourinho at Porto on terms of getting a squad to exceed its talents.
The argument is that he helped develop these players and the system that served them best. It was a perfect marriage of likely the best talented club of all time paired with a manager who knew the players very well and knew how best to get the most of their abilities. All that said, I think Pep's UCL failures at Bayern and MANC do cut against him.
 

BCsMightyJoeYoung

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Forget Wenger, what we need is to watch Klopp go to Bayern and pop some corn while the Liverpool fans make their reaction to Sterling look tame
Nah .. not Bayern .. I can see him with the national team though .. or even back to Dortmund. But I think you’re wrong about how the Pool fan base would react .. he’s going to have nothing but praise wherever he ends up (ManU and maybe Chelsea being the only exceptions). Rafa is still well liked a decade on.
 

Vinho Tinto

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Benitez left after a 7th place finish and handed millions in hush money so the club could pretend they didn’t fire him.

Teddy is proposing that Klopp leave Liverpool when they have a 6 point lead, and abandon leading the end of their title drought, for TMobile Munich.

The two scenarios are not the same. What the fuck?
 

67YAZ

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Is this like the Pep-to-Juve rumor that blew up for 24 hours this summer? Except it’s not even a rumor, just a stray musing on a message board?

What if Everton sack Silva and hire Klopp?!?!!!
 

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Can Raineri at least merit an honorable mention for what he did with Leicester? Talk about doing more with less.

Longevity a different story of course, but that's got to be up there with the best individual seasons of all time.
 

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Can Raineri at least merit an honorable mention for what he did with Leicester? Talk about doing more with less.

Longevity a different story of course, but that's got to be up there with the best individual seasons of all time.
It was the most perfectly timed good season ever, coming in a year when all the other teams were having a down period.

LCFC finished with 81 points and were 10 clear of Arsenal in 2nd. Last year's Liverpool team had 97 points and finished 2nd. Not discounting the job Raineri did with the side, but that title was as much a result of excellent timing as it was the coaching.

I still can't believe he didn't even survive the following season, though.
 

Zososoxfan

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It was the most perfectly timed good season ever, coming in a year when all the other teams were having a down period.

LCFC finished with 81 points and were 10 clear of Arsenal in 2nd. Last year's Liverpool team had 97 points and finished 2nd. Not discounting the job Raineri did with the side, but that title was as much a result of excellent timing as it was the coaching.

I still can't believe he didn't even survive the following season, though.
Fairly or not, I think that team gets viewed similarly to Monaco's golden squad. i.e. There was a unique collection of exceptional talent that helped propel them to greatness rather than the manager. Kante and Mahrez were just that good. However, Ranieri should get lots of credit for utilizing that squad to its apex. Another thing to consider for that campaign is that there was no Euro competition.