Sunday 18 March 2018

The 25 greatest managers in the history of the Premier League

Sir Alex Ferguson the UEFA Europa League Round of 16, second leg match between Manchester United and FK Rostov at Old Trafford on March 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Sir Alex Ferguson the UEFA Europa League Round of 16, second leg match between Manchester United and FK Rostov at Old Trafford on March 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Miguel Delaney

One of the striking things when you start going back through the 25 years of the Premier League is how many managers temporarily loomed so large and looked impressive, only to end up almost overlooked, if not mocked.

It reflects how genuinely difficult a fully consistent managerial career is, and how tough it is to try and pick out the Premier League’s best 25 in that time.

Just winning the competition should of course take precedence given how difficult it is and how few have done, but the very economic disparities within the division still make actual managerial achievement difficult to divine beyond those stand-out victories. Is lifting a side from sixth to fourth really a better achievement than taking likely relegation candidates to mid-table?

Such questions are key to this debate, as is the fact that very few managers have anything even close to a steady career.

Here are my top 25 Premier League managers.

25. Alan Curbishley

Fulham coach Alan Curbishley looks on prior to the Sky Bet Championship match between Fulham and Leeds United at Craven Cottage on March 18, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

He became a supposedly mundane part of the Premier League furniture, but that is not to be dismissed, given how Charlton Athletic collapsed once he left and then kept West Ham United up with one of the great late rallies. Many managers would crave that kind of mundanity.

24. Ron Atkinson

His name will always be tarnished by his disgraceful comments about Marcel Desailly, but his actual Premier League career still had many more proven feats than so many contemporaries. He got Aston Villa to second, kept Coventry City up and then did the same with Sheffield Wednesday. Most of it was also with a certain on-pitch panache.

23. Roy Evans

Performed the impressive feat of getting Liverpool back on track after Graeme Souness, and playing some of the most entertaining football the Premier League has seen.

22. Roy Hodgson

Responsible for perhaps the greatest escape in Premier League history with Fulham, and it should not be forgotten that was a big somewhat justifiable reason he got the job that remains the greatest mark against his career: Liverpool.

Hodgson was nowhere near that level, but the generally consistent level of all his other sides was way above so many other managers - and very few of them offered anything even like what he did at Craven Cottage.

21. David Moyes

It’s difficult to think of a managerial career that has suffered such an extreme swing in reputation, and one all the more tragic because his finest moment - the appointment at Manchester United - led to this drastic downfall, but that’s why in such a list it’s all the more important to remember the reasons for the reputation in the first place.

For close to a decade, Everton were one of the most respected sides in the Premier League, and even got to the brink of the Champions League just two years after Moyes saved them from relegation.

20. Tony Pulis

Another manager often caricatured, but still one whose teams all had an abundance of character. Pulis established Stoke City as a long-term Premier League team, improbably kept Crystal Palace up, then reformed West Brom. If there are doubts about his ability to manage sides that really need to win, you wouldn’t want to absolutely need a win against one of his teams.

19. Jurgen Klopp

We await to see what’s next, but Klopp already showed blisteringly quick adjustment in his first full Premier League season, offering up some of the most exciting football the competition has seen in some time and getting Liverpool back into the Champions League.

18. Gerard Houllier

Restored Liverpool’s respectability, and many of his players think the work he did there remains underrated as he re-established them as a Champions League club.

17. Sam Allardyce

Another one of those few managers here because he had a justifiable argument to making the Premier League as competitive as it was so often claimed, because - just like Martin O’Neill and Tony Pulis - his sides almost always gave you a real fight and rarely gave up easy points. That is reflected in how he never got relegated, and also took Bolton Wanderers to rare heights.

16. Sir Bobby Robson

Given his illustrious long career, it’s perhaps a pity that the English great was only in the actual Premier League for just under five years. It was still enough to take an impressively swift Newcastle United into the Champions League and up to the top levels, just as he did with Ipswich Town two decades beforehand.

15. Brendan Rodgers

If this seems high, just consider for a second the heights Rodgers took Swansea City and Liverpool to. He got the Welsh side promoted before impressively stabilising them, and then steered Liverpool to one of their few Premier League title challenges, and one that went much much closer than the other two. That speaks a lot louder than some of his infamous soundbites.

14. Martin O’Neill

Martin O'Neill of Sunderland looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Sunderland at Old Trafford on December 15, 2012 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)

Long before miracles were being done at Leicester City, O’Neill was producing alchemy, before then making Aston Villa the most consistent side outside the old big four for almost half a decade. You always got a proper challenge from the Irish manager.

13. Kevin Keegan

Everyone remembers that meltdown that coloured his career, but it only came because Keegan’s Newcastle had for three years ratcheted up entertainment levels, and produced one of the most exciting sides in the competition - what it is all about. There followed a solid job at Manchester City, in what is overall a strong argument, and one of the few significant title challenges.

12. Harry Redknapp

He’s become easy to parody, but so much of his record his seriously good, especially given that he is one of very few managers to succeed at both ends of the Premier League. Redknapp has improbably kept Portsmouth up, been responsible for West Ham United’s best Premier League finish and got Tottenham Hotspur into the Champions League - all while generally offering respectable sides.

The only blemish is the relegation with Southampton, but there are a lot more bright spots.

11. Rafa Benitez

‘Facts’ is a word that has become all too associated with the Spaniard to diminish his reputation, so here are a few that should remind everyone that reputation should be much positive: he has been responsible for one of Liverpool’s mere three actual title challenges in the Premier League era, always got them into the Champions League, and then stabilised a freefalling Chelsea for what even old enemy

Sir Alex Ferguson said was a “very good job - you can’t deny that”. You also can’t deny that Benitez really has a more impressive record than most.

10. Mauricio Pochettino

If the fundamental requirement of management is to literally ‘manage’ your available resources to get the absolute best out of them, no one in Premier League history has done that as consistently and resoundingly as Pochettino. The bottom line is that, in the most money-propelled league era European football has ever seen, Tottenham Hotspur shouldn’t have been able to finish as high as they did under him.

It really shouldn’t have happened, but is all the more impressive following on from his steady improvement of Southampton. Pochettino just has to go the next step in management, the elevated step, and actually start winning.

9. Manuel Pellegrini

If there was an occasional sense that the Chilean was merely overseeing and facilitating Manchester City’s money-laden side, the actual effect was some of the best attacking football the Premier League has ever seen. He couldn’t quite keep it up, but he did keep City at the top long enough to become one of just nine managers to win the competition.

8. Carlo Ancelotti

The manager that really maximised Chelsea’s money by producing perhaps the most entertaining of their title-winners, as well as the highest-scoring side in Premier League history, and that is no mean feat given how Roman Abramovich for so long craved exactly that kind of football. That makes it all the more surprising Ancelotti was sacked.

7. Roberto Mancini

Like a few title-winning managers in this list, the caveat will always be there about the cash he had to spend, but what was really special about Mancini was how he hardened it with a grit and edge that really brought Manchester City together and - most impressively and importantly - ended a 44-year wait for the title.

The psychological weight of that can not be minimised, nor can the fact that he was competing against a master title winner in Sir Alex Ferguson… but still won in his first English title race.

6. Kenny Dalglish

The only manager other than Claudio Ranieri to win the Premier League outside England’s primary clubs, even if he did admittedly benefit from Jack Walker’s millions and a more open era. It still took all of Dalglish’s nous to raise a team with no recent history of success - and who had just been promoted three years before their 1995 title, in 1992 - and especially against the behemoth of Sir Alex Ferguson’s United.

Dalglish didn’t quite reach the same heights at a Newcastle United seemingly suffering from a post-Kevin Keegan hangover, but then he’d already offered such a supreme champagne moment of his own.

5. Claudio Ranieri

The manager who oversaw the one of the most improbable and thereby impressive title wins that football history - let alone Premier League history - has ever seen. That alone is quite a statement, even if Ranieri wasn’t fully alone.

The fact that it has since become evident that it was very much a collective effort at Leicester City slightly mitigates against his managerial effect but, for all the debate about whether this win finally mitigated against a career of failure, that was simply never the case in the Premier League. Ranieri had done a very solid and respectable job at Chelsea, before being part of an impossible job.

4. Antonio Conte

It’s very early days, but that’s entirely the point. Conte is the second manager to win the Premier League in what was his first season, but he had to lift a broken Chelsea far higher than Manuel Pellegrini did with City, and won it so much more emphatically.

The way that Conte utterly transformed that team through his switch to three at the back, and thereby caused that formation to be taken on by much of the Premier League, may also represent the most resoundingly influential tactical change the competition has seen.

3. Arsene Wenger

Forget all the recent debate, and remember that this is still the man who has won more Premier League titles than anyone except Ferguson and Mourinho, and has been responsible for the competition’s sole undefeated season.

The fact that undefeated season also represents the last of what was three titles in 21 seasons is the main reason he is in just third here, and the struggles of the last few years - even after the passing of the stadium debt era - can’t quite be minimised. By the same token, though, his effect as the league’s first truly modern international manager can’t be minimised either.

If he didn’t win the Premier League as much as he might have, he is probably the manager whose influence and different ideas transformed it the most in the shortest space of time. Ferguson set the standards over years, Mourinho raised them when he first arrived, but it was Wenger who most dramatically changed how other managers and clubs did things.

2. Jose Mourinho

The manager who recorded the two highest points totals in the Premier League, thereby forcing even Sir Alex Ferguson to raise his standards, before then coming back and raising Chelsea to first again and win his third title in what is a mere seven measurable seasons in the competition so far.

If the jury is out on Mourinho’s present and future, there can be no argument about his brilliant past. He may have had the benefit of the first big takeover, but he gave Roman Abramovich full value for money in terms of victories.

1. Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson the UEFA Europa League Round of 16, second leg match between Manchester United and FK Rostov at Old Trafford on March 16, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

The master. There’s simply no way to describe him, and simply no way anyone else could be ahead of the man who won a scarcely believable 13 Premier League titles - 62% of those he was involved in.

Ferguson appropriately claimed the competition’s very first trophy, immediately showing how he would dominate most of his history, and there’s even a very strong argument that the Premier League is still recovering from his retirement given the open vacuum that has been left by his departure.

That says it all. Ferguson won it all.

(© Independent News Service)

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