As part of our World XI series, which has now seen us look at the best footballers in each position building up to our World XI video next week, today we turn our attention to the potential managers of that side.
This was, without a doubt, the hardest seven of the entire series to put together, simply due to the difficulties involved in coming up with a definitive criteria. How do you compare someone like Jose Mourinho who is one of the most successful managers of all time but has seen his stock fall a little over the last few years, with someone like Mauricio Pochettino, who has won absolutely nothing, but has done a quite remarkable job at Tottenham and with his previous clubs.
It’s a thankless task, so the criteria I’ve landed at isn’t an exact science. Basically, if you said to me here’s your team you can have any manager in the world right now, these would be my top seven and in this order. So there’s no point telling me so and so is finished or that so and so has never won anything in the comments, that isn’t the criteria, it’s purely my opinion, you will almost certainly disagree and that’s a good thing. How tedious would it be if you all agreed with me!
Here are our 7 best managers in world football:
7. Carlo Ancelotti
Getting us off to a strong start in seventh place is experienced Napoli boss Carlo Ancelotti. One of only three managers to have won the Champions League three times, Ancelotti lifted the trophy twice at AC Milan and once at Real Madrid. He has won league titles in France, England and Italy, and has an overall career win percentage just under 59.
Ancelotti’s greatest success as both a player and as a manager came at AC Milan, where he won 15 trophies in total. When he first started out in top flight management with Parma, Ancelotti had a bit of a reputation as a steely, defensive and somewhat joyless coach, but he quickly became a lot more tactically versatile at Juventus, and is now renowned as being a really personable man manager.
Fast forward to the present day, Ancelotti is just coming to the end of his first season in Naples, where he has guided Napoli to a second place finish, miles ahead of 3rd place Inter Milan and miles behind Juventus in top spot.
6. Massimiliano Allegri
Manager of Juventus Massimiliano Allegri, looks on during the Serie A match between Juventus and Atalanta BC at Allianz Stadium on May 19, 2019 in Turin, Italy.
Sticking in Italy for sixth place, the man who has prevented Carlo Ancelotti’s Napoli side from getting anywhere near the Serie A title is Massimiliano Allegri. In fairness, it’s somewhat difficult to assess Allegri, since Juve have been so dominant in Italian football for so long now and it is right that they should top the division with the quality in their squad.
However, when Antonio Conte departed in 2014 and Allegri arrived, there were many who doubted whether Allegri could maintain the stronghold Conte had over the domestic game. Not only did Allegri continue to dominate in Serie A, he established Juve as a force in Europe once again, reaching two Champions League finals in his first three seasons, whilst Conte had never got the team beyond the quarter-finals.
Allegri seems to be a real calming figure on the touchline, and someone who players naturally seem to take to. The result has been 11 trophies in 5 years at Juve, in addition to the Scudetto he won at AC Milan. He’s obviously a top class manager and we think sixth place is fair.
5. Jose Mourinho
The most successful active manager in world football, Jose Mourinho has won an incredible 25 trophies since taking the reigns as Porto manager 17 years ago. That record includes two Champions League titles, both achieved as underdogs at Porto and Inter Milan, as well as eight league titles in four different countries. If he were to retire tomorrow, aged 56, Mourinho would go down as one of the greatest managers of all time.
It is as much a mark of his genius that he still makes this seven as it is a mark of how difficult his last few years have been that he is only fifth then. Since winning the Premier League title in 2014-15 with Chelsea, things have never seemed quite right with Jose. His swagger and humour with the press had turned to a less jovial, more confrontational and rather whiny approach.
It’s difficult to assess Mourinho’s time at Manchester United. He won three trophies in two-and-a-half years, but never challenged for either the Premier League or the Champions League. United haven’t done either of those things since Fergie left though, and they hardly look like doing so anytime soon. Mourinho’s next move will be really interesting and most likely career defining, but he is or at least has been a world class manager, and deserves fifth at the lowest.
4. Diego Simeone
Diego Pablo Simeone head coach of Atletico de Madrid looks on prior to the La Liga match between Levante UD and Club Atletico de Madrid at Ciutat de Valencia on May 18, 2019 in Valencia,...
Much like Jose Mourinho, Diego Simeone is a pragmatic boss who would happily sit 11 men behind the ball and pull off every dirty trick in the book if it meant winning a trophy. Simeone has won seven trophies in seven full seasons as manager of Atletico Madrid, which is fewer than many of the managers in this seven, but still mightily impressive given the teams Atletico are competing with on the domestic and European stage.
Atletico were marooned in midtable when Simeone took over in December 2011, and they hadn’t finished in the top three in La Liga since the 1991-92 season. In Simeone’s seven full seasons in charge, the club have never finished outside the top three, finishing as runners-up twice and winning an improbable La Liga title back in 2013-14.
What’s more, it could so nearly be even more impressive, with Simeone having guided Atletico to two Champions League finals, but the club have fallen at the final hurdle on both occasions. Simeone creates teams which are disciplined, tough to breakdown and willing to die for the cause. He’s also very tactically astute, and for our money, he’d be my fourth choice as manager for a world XI.
3. Mauricio Pochettino
We spoke in the introduction about what I am now labelling the Pochettino/Mourinho dilemma. Mauricio Pochettino has never won a trophy as a manager, although his first could be a pretty notable one if Tottenham were to beat Liverpool in the Champions League final, and yet here he is coming in third in a list of the best managers in the world.
There will be those who consider that to be ridiculous, and part of me thinks they have a point, but by the criteria for this seven that’s where I’d put him. Pochettino has done an absolutely incredible job at Tottenham Hotspur. He inherited a rag-tab bunch of misfits containing some real gems and no shortage of deadweights. He was ruthless in getting rid of those who didn’t fit into his plans, inspired in developing the club’s young players and shrewd in the transfer market.
Spurs have spent a tiny fraction of the amount of money of the teams they are competing with, and yet Pochettino has established them as a force not only in the English game but in Europe this season. Tottenham had only finished in the top 4 twice in the 24 years prior to Poch’s arrival, and they’ve now finished in the top 4 in each of the last 4 seasons. Having spent absolutely nothing in two transfer windows, Pochettino secured a top 4 finish once again this season, and has guided his Tottenham team to the final of the Champions League.
2. Jurgen Klopp
Manager of Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp looks dejected after the Premier League match between Liverpool FC and Wolverhampton Wanderers at Anfield on May 12, 2019 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
Talking of trophy-less managers with a Champions League final to look forward to, much like Mauricio Pochettino, Jurgen Klopp hasn’t won anything in almost four seasons at Liverpool. That will of course all change for one of them on June 1, but for now, it is an obvious blot on two otherwise outstanding copybooks.
Klopp joined Liverpool in October 2015, and the club finished 8th in his first albeit not full season, behind the likes of Southampton and West Ham. A big job needed to be done, and Klopp embraced the challenge with open arms. Coutinho left, but that money was wisely re-invested in the likes of Van Dijk and Alisson. Liverpool have had a brilliant front three for a couple of seasons, but that was twinned with the best defence in the Premier League this season.
The result was just one defeat all season and an incredible 97 points. That would be enough to waltz to the title and have things wrapped up around March-time in most seasons, but not in 2018-19, with a relentless Man City pipping the Reds to the title. Prior to arriving at Anfield, Klopp had done brilliant jobs at Mainz and Dortmund, and he’s our narrow runner-up here.
0. Honourable Mentions
It’s very difficult to acknowledge everyone here, but I should point out that naturally we are only focussed on elite level managers. In England alone, the likes of Rafa Benitez, Eddie Howe, Chris Wilder and Sean Dyche have done remarkable jobs with limited resources, but it becomes a very different seven if you try to account for those not at the pinnacle of the game.
In terms of those who were in contention for this seven, we should first mention a couple of Frenchmen, namely Didier Deschamps and Zinedine Zidane. The international game is markedly different to club management, with very little time to work with your players and implement your ideas on the training ground. That makes the two difficult to compare, but Deschamps did an excellent job at Marseille prior to taking the reigns as France boss, and has since guided his country to the final of Euro 2016 and World Cup glory for only the second time in 2018.
His former international team-mate Zinedine Zidane is equally difficult to assess, having won three Champions League titles in three years at Real Madrid. That is an incredible achievement, even with a wonderfully gifted squad, but it’s still very early days in Zizou’s managerial career. You just felt as though he might have got out at the right time at Real, but if he can bounce back from this season and win either La Liga or the Champions League next term, that would really mark him out as a top class coach.
Returning to the international game, Joachim Low deserves some love for the outstanding job he has done with the German national team over a number of years, albeit they did suffer a rather notable setback in 2018. Former Juventus, Italy and Chelsea boss Antonio Conte has done a very impressive job in all three of those roles, and he came close to featuring.
Elsewhere, we could mention current and former Barcelona’s bosses Ernesto Valverde and Luis Enrique, Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri who has had a very topsy-turvy start to life at the Bridge, Inter Milan boss Luciano Spalletti and former Dortmund and now PSG manager Thomas Tuchel.
There are also a number of still active or recently active managers who have previously achieved great things in the game like Fabio Capello, Marcello Lippi, Guus Hiddink, Arsene Wenger and even Sven-Gorran Erikssen, who have had excellent managerial careers, but we wouldn’t take over our seven right now.
Right, that’s it for our honourable mentions, here is your top spot...
1. Pep Guardiola
Josep Guardiola, Manager of Manchester City stops for a photograph with the trophy following victory in the FA Cup Final match between Manchester City and Watford at Wembley Stadium on May...
The best manager in world football right now as far as I’m concerned is Pep Guardiola. A group of friends of mine were recently arguing about who had done the better job, Klopp at Liverpool, or Guardiola at Man City, and I think it’s an incredibly difficult question. Klopp had a much larger rebuilding job to do, less resources to strengthen his squad and has reached two Champions League finals. However, he has won nothing.
Guardiola inherited a much stronger squad and was given the freedom to spend £50 million on two full-backs, but he has won 198 points in two seasons, he’s won five trophies which could soon become six and all playing a beautiful brand of football which many said couldn’t be done in the Premier League.
At Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Man City, Guardiola has almost always had the strongest squad in his respective leagues. However, his success, and the way he has achieved that success has been remarkable. Those who call him a chequebook manager overlook the incredible work he does on the training ground. The way he improves and develops players is special. At Man City alone, just take a look at the likes of Raheem Stering, John Stones, Bernardo Silva, Fernandinho, even Sergio Aguero, all completely different players under his watch.
It was a similar story at Bayern and Barca too, and it’s clear to see Pep is not just a world class manager but a world class coach. Good arguments can be made in favour and against Guardiola, but we think his managerial career has been a work of art, and if I could have anyone managing my world XI it’d be him.
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