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The top 15 best soccer managers of all time

Profile Picture: Jason Ence

January 14th, 2022

Managers not only develop the tactics and make the in-match decisions that shape how a soccer team performs, they scout talent, motivate players, and develop them. While many managers achieve success, very few elevate their status to the level of being an all-time great.

Let’s break down the 15 men with the greatest managerial careers of all time.

15. Udo Lattek (1965-1993)

Regarded as one of the greatest managers in the history of the Bundesliga, Lattek is one of two managers to win three major European trophies. More impressively, he is the only one to do so with three different clubs. Lattek led Bayern to their first European Cup in 1974, and did the same with Borussia Monchengladbach in 1979. Then in 1982, he led Spanish giant Barcelona to European Winners’ Cup glory.

Lattek ended his career with eight Bundesliga titles, three DFB-Pokal cups, and three European crowns. Seven years after his retirement, he achieved one final feat, managing Borussia Dortmund for five matches and saving them from relegation.

14. Brian Clough (1965-1993)

Clough was a prolific striker in his playing days, before a career-ending ACL injury. He managed four different clubs in the first nine years of his post-playing career, including five years at Derby County, where he claimed five trophies.

In 1975, he took over at Nottingham Forest, and promptly led the club to promotion. He went on to win the 1978 First Division title, four League Cups, and four other small trophies in his 18 seasons in charge. His crowning achievement was leading the club, which prior to his arrival had never qualified for a UEFA tournament, to consecutive European Cups in 1979 and 1980.

13. Bill Shankly (1949-1974)

Shankly managed five clubs in his career, but it was at Liverpool that he established his legacy. In 16 seasons at the club, he transformed the Reds into one of the biggest clubs in the world, gaining them promotion to the top flight. Within five years, he led them to the first of three league titles, and a year later won his first of two FA Cups.

In addition to three FA Charity Shields, Shankly led Liverpool to their first taste of European glory, winning the UEFA Cup in 1973.

12. Jose Mourinho (2000-present)

"The Special One" is another arrogant manager whose career warrants it. He is one of only five managers to win domestic titles in four different countries, and one of only five to win Champions League trophies with multiple clubs.

However, his abrasive managerial style has led to locker-room turmoil everywhere he has gone. Additionally, after winning six domestic titles in 10 years, he has failed to do so since 2012. 

Mourinho broke onto the scene with Porto, leading the Portuguese club to a stunning Champions League trophy in 2004 after winning the lesser UEFA Cup the previous season. He also led them to consecutive league titles.

He took Chelsea to three Premier League titles, an FA Cup, three league cups, and a 2008 Champions League runner-up finish. At Inter Milan, he won pair of Serie A crowns, achieving a "treble" in 2010 with an Italian Supercoppa and Champions League trophy.

Mourinho won a La Liga title and a Copa del Rey with Real Madrid, before leading Manchester United to UEFA Europa League glory. However, he went trophy-less in less than two seasons at Tottenham, and now is already on the hot seat in his first year at Roma.

11. Matt Busby (1945-1971)

Great managers build great teams. Sir Matt Busby had to build two of them at the same club. "The Busby Babes" were a brilliant team full of some of the best young talent in England. They won the FA Cup and a First Division title, and qualified for the semifinals of the European Cup in 1958. Unfortunately, the Munich Air Disaster saw the death of 23 individuals, including eight players and multiple members of the club. It also put Busby in the hospital for three months.

Busby resurrected the club, which nearly fell apart following the tragedy, and led them to the European Cup exactly 10 years later. Busby also won five league trophies, two FA Cups, and five FA Charity Shields before retiring.

10. Giovanni Trapattoni (1972-2013)

"Il Trap" is one of the best managers in Italian history, and managed nine different clubs and three national teams in his tenure. His biggest period of success was with Juventus, where he led the Old Lady to six Serie A titles, two Coppa Italias, a European Cup, two UEFA Cups, a UEFA Winners’ Cup, a European Super Cup, and an Intercontinental Cup over a 10-year span.

He added another Serie A and UEFA Cup title with Inter Milan, and the Bundesliga crown with Bayern Munich. He also won domestic crowns with Benfica and Red Bull Salzburg, making him another of the five managers with four different domestic titles. He is also the second manager, with Lattek, to win all three of Europe’s major club competitions.

9. Helenio Herrera (1944-1981)

The pioneer of "managerial mind games" in soccer, Herrera was notorious for convincing his players they could do anything, and getting in the heads of opponents. He was also one of the first to recognize that crowd support could influence matches. He managed 13 different clubs and two national teams in his career, winning 16 major trophies.

Herrera led Atletico Madrid to a pair of La Liga titles, and then did the same with Barcelona, adding a pair of Copa del Rey crowns. At Inter Milan, he won three Serie A titles, consecutive European Cups, and consecutive Intercontinental Cups.

8. Carlo Ancelotti (1992-present)

Ancelotti was an assistant for the Italian national team, finishing runner-up at World Cup 94. He has managed 10 different clubs in 27 years, including a current second stint at Real Madrid. He is another of the five managers with domestic titles in four different nations and Champions League success at two clubs, and the only manager to have won a league title in four of Europe’s five biggest leagues.

Ancelotti achieved his greatest success with AC Milan, leading them to three Champions League finals in five years, winning in 2003 and 2007. This was in addition to a Serie A title, a Coppa Italia crown, a Supercoppa Italiana, two UEFA Super Cups, and a FIFA Club World Cup.

This success was followed by league titles with Chelsea, Paris St-Germain, and Bayern Munich, while also leading Real Madrid to the 2014 Champions League crown, making him the second manager to win three. He currently has Madrid sitting atop the La Liga table, the lone remaining "Big Five" league he has yet to conquer.

7. Bob Paisley (1959-1983)

Paisley was on Shankly’s staff for 14 years, before moving into the managerial role following his mentor's retirement. In nine years in charge at Anfield, he built on Shankly’s strong foundation and won 19 trophies. This included six league crowns, three league cups, and five Charity Shields.

It was his European success that made Paisley a legend, as he became the first of three managers ever to win three European Cups. He also added a UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup, winning an average of 2.2 trophies per season.

6. Arrigo Sacchi (1973-2001)

Sacchi managed seven clubs and the Italian national team in his storied career, but it was at Milan that he established his greatness. He introduced a style of fluid football to a league that was heavily defensive, comparing it to "an orchestra" in a league of "solo artists" His style later influenced Pep Guardiola.

In four years with the Rossoneri, Sacchi won a Serie A title, an Italian Supercup, and was runner-up in a Copa Italia. However, he won the European Cup, European Super Cup, and Intercontinental Cup in both the 1988-89 and 1989-90 seasons. It is one of the most dominant two-year runs in the history of UEFA, and it made him the last manager to win consecutive trophies in the competition.

Sacchi rounded out his greatness by leading the Italian national team to the final of the 1994 World Cup, where they lost to Brazil on penalties.

5. Johan Cruyff (1985-1996; 2009-13)

One of the greatest players in the history of the sport, Cruyff was also one of its best managers. He led Ajax to a European Cup Winners’ Cup and two KNVB Cups, but it was at Barcelona that he truly became a legend.

After overhauling the club from the ground up, including the youth academy, he built the "Dream Team" that dominated Europe in the early 1990s. He won four consecutive La Liga crowns, along with a Copa del Rey and three Spanish Supercups. He also won the 1992 European Cup, another European Cup Winners’ Cup, and the European Super Cup. He led them to the 1994 Champions League final, but a historic 4-0 upset by Milan marked the beginning of the end of his run.

4. Ernst Happel (1962-1992)

Happel was the first manager to win European Cups with multiple clubs, and one of the five with titles in four different leagues. He was one of the first managers to employ a three-man midfield, which became an inspiration for the "total football" movement.

Happel managed nine domestic clubs and two national teams, and is the only manager to take three different clubs to the Champions League/European Cup final doing so with Club Brugge, Feyenoord, and Hamburger SV. He would win eight domestic titles, six domestic cups, and three continental trophies in his career, finishing runner-up in two others. He also led the Dutch national team to a runner-up finish at the 1978 World Cup.

3. Pep Guardiola (2007-present)

The best active manager in the world, Pep was a club legend player at Barcelona, part of Cruyff’s "Dream Team", and he became senior manager in 2008. In just four seasons, his tiki-taka style led the club to three league titles, two Copa del Rey trophies, three Spanish Supercups, and a pair of Champions League crowns. He also won two UEFA Super Cups and two FIFA Club World Cups.

He had further domestic success at Bayern Munich, winning the Bundesliga in each of his three seasons and adding another FIFA Club World Cup, two DFB-Pokal titles, and a UEFA Super Cup. He is now in his sixth season at Manchester City, where he has claimed three Premier League titles, an FA Cup, four league cups, and the FA Community Shield. However, Champions League success continues to elude him, with a loss in last year’s final being the closest he has come to repeating his European success at Barcelona.

2. Rinus Michels (1953-1992)

The architect of "total football", Michels saw success at both the domestic and international level. He won four Dutch league titles, three KNVB cups, and the 1971 European Cup with Ajax, two years after losing in the final. At Barcelona, he added a La Liga crown and a Copa del Rey, before leading FC Koln to a DFB Pokal trophy a few years later.

At the international level, Michels' style became world-renowned as he turned the Dutch national team into a machine. He led them to a runner-up finish in the 1974 World Cup, before claiming victory with the Oranje in the 1988 European Championships. He was named the UEFA Coach of the Century, and is considered the most influential manager in history.

1. Sir Alex Ferguson (1974-2013)

When discussing the greatest soccer managers of all time, the list must always begin with Sir Alex. The winner of 49 trophies in his illustrious career, more than any manager in history, "Fergie" won his first trophy as the manager of St Mirren in the Scottish first division, leading them to the league title in 1977. He then moved to Aberdeen, where he took the Scottish Premier club to three league crowns and four domestic cups. It was through leading them to a stunning European Cup victory in 1983, followed by a European Super Cup victory, that he truly began his rise.

Ferguson was hired to Manchester United in 1986 and after a few tumultuous seasons was on the verge of being sacked. He salvaged his job with an FA Cup title in 1990, the first of five times he won the competition. He returned United to their former glory as one of the biggest clubs in the world, culminating with the famous "treble" in 1999 where they became the only British club to win the Premier League, FA Cup, and Champions League in the same season.

Ferguson was knighted for the achievement, and in 2013 would retire after winning his record 13th Premier League crown. In addition, "The Boss" won four League Cups, 10 FA Community Shields, one European Winners Cup, one European Super Cup, one Intercontinental Cup, one FIFA Club World Cup, and two Champions Leagues in 1999 and 2008 in his 26 seasons at United.

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