9 Most Successful Soccer Managers Of All Time
Even the most soccer-averse North American fans have probably caught wind that Alex Ferguson, the fabled manager of Manchester United for 26 years, is stepping down. While his name is synonymous with modern soccer success, it begs the question of how he stacks up in the pantheon of great managers throughout history. Comparing sports figures of different eras is always a tricky proposition because of context. Doing so in the realm of soccer, perhaps the most international of all sports, and played in myriad different styles, would be considered by many to be a fool’s errand. I would happen to agree, but a fool’s gotta eat, so here we go…
Jock Stein may never be considered the greatest manager (or coach, for you Yanks) of all time, but he’s certainly in the top tier. Having taken Celtic to ten league titles, with a staggering nine in a row during one stretch, his role in a generation of insanely talented and legendary Scottish managers began to demonstrate that Scotland didn't have to take a backseat to England when it came to soccer prowess. He led the Celtic to a European Cup win so staggering in 1967 that the team became known as the Lisbon Lions for their performance in Portugal.
9. Jock Stein
Being voted World Manager of the Year in 1998 is a good way to find yourself on this list (if only because it takes subjectivity out of my hands). Adding three Premiere League titles will take you a little further. Arsene Wagner had been known to overachieve as a manager for Arsenal, winning games with strategy more so than with brute talent. But, of course, when you've got both, as he did in 2004 with Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, it’s surprising if you DON’T go undefeated (which he did).
8. Arsene Wagner
Though Real Madrid has always appeared to be more about the on-field talent than the man behind the strategies, Miguel Munoz was able to guide both the Spanish club and the Spanish national team to success in a fashion that transcended the talent of their players. In his 30 years from 1959-1988, Munoz took home two European Cups, a trio of Spanish Cups, and 9 Spanish league titles. He did so while still managing in the shadow of his players. One can argue that Munoz didn't need to be as good a coach when surrounded by so much talent, but consistency over 30 years suggests that success could be attributed to the one constant among the teams and the years: their manager.
7. Miguel Munoz
Happel’s prominence (and his reason for making the cut here) isn't just his talent and the depth of his success, but his ability to do so on varied stages. Though he hung his hat in Austria, Happel led teams in four different countries to success. While Holland, Belgium, Austria, and Germany don’t exactly lay out like the United Nations in terms of cultural diversity, achieving world class levels of success in so many different contexts demonstrates success of a different sort, but one that is no less compelling.
6. Ernst Happel
An unbeaten streak of almost five years in the 1930’s is a pretty historic act. Pozzo’s leadership didn't substantially extend beyond league play, so he was the face of a country ride before war tore the continent of Europe apart. If the more ethereal qualities of this manager don’t win you over, we can go back to stats. He guided Italy to taking home two CONSECUTIVE World Cups. That’s rare enough to make the cut.
5. Vittorio Pozzo
Remember what I said in the intro about how it makes my life easier when someone else bestows a “most successful” designation on a manager? Well, this Dutch mastermind, who propagated the notion of “total football,” was declared Manager of the Century by FIFA in 1999. That does the trick nicely. He parlayed a strong club career into a successful international career, getting to the World Cup finals in 1974 and Euro ’88. His methods sparked entirely new philosophies on the game that are still adhered to today. Few men on the sideline have left such an impression on the sport.
4. Rinus Michels
Busby got used to coming in second, which is never something a sports figure likes to be known for. Joining Man U in 1945, Busby took down one league title while finishing runner-up four times. With some savvy management, he was able to invigorate the team with new stars, but before they got a chance to mature, they were wiped out in a plane crash in 1958. Showing tenacity that would become a hallmark, Busby ONCE AGAIN built his team back up, taking down the European Cup with a third iteration of Manchester United that solidified his standing as a national hero.
3. Sir Matt Busby
Herrera made a name for himself when he signed on to coach FC Barcelona, but his stint ended on a down note following disagreements with players. However, the Franco-Argentinean coach took his talents to Italy, where he established himself further as the brain trust behind Internazionale. He won two European Cups with them, and split his stint coaching two national teams, Spain, and Italy. Glad he kept busy. He finally retired in 1981, at the age of 71, leaving behind more than a legacy of wins, losses, and trophies. He pioneered counterattack methods that changed the dynamic of the game and helped give Spanish and Italian styles of play the identity that they maintain today.
2. Helenio Herrera
Sure, it pays to get a little distance from the media coverage and sit back and evaluate his legacy, but who’s got time for that in the information age, with the 24-hour news cycles and whatnot? Ferguson has been such a staple of sport and British identity through his coaching that he was knighted, which puts the honorific “Sir” right there in front of his name. Not many other sports figures in any nation can lay claim to such an honor. To do so in England, where soccer rule the roost, is a powerful statement. At 71 years old, Fergs (my nickname for him), has garnered 38 trophies, which is almost too many to break down. But we’ll give it a shot. 13 league titles, two Champions League titles, four League cups, five FA cups. Hmm. We’re a little short. How’s 1500 career games? How’s taking over a team that hadn't won a title for 26 years and turning them into the most iconic franchise in THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD? Yup. That’ll do it.