Ranked! The best managers who've failed to win the Premier League

Bobby Robson Newcastle manager

12. Louis van Gaal

The Dutch trouser-dropper was a great manager – bigger, ballsier and better than some names below – having claimed seven league titles, a Champions League and a World Cup bronze medal during his distinguished career. The reason for his lowly place here is that the Dutchman didn’t really bring those credentials to the Premier League.

Van Gaal entertained with his touchline theatrics and husky singing voice, but his Manchester United side were tedious even as they sneaked fourth spot in his first season, and an FA Cup win in his second. He departed after a 66-point, fifth-place finish, meaning United was the only club he failed to win a league title with.

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11. David Moyes

No chuckling at the back. The Scot’s stock may have plummeted since he took the poisoned chalice of the Manchester United job and downed it in one, but failure at Old Trafford can't eradicate the 11 full seasons he spent regularly overachieving with a fiscally under-powered Everton.

Moyes stuck the Toffees into the top six on five occasions (they even cracked the top four in 2004/05) despite the growing financial might of clubs around them. He never came close to winning the title but he’s one of only four managers to rack up 200+ Premier League wins. Renew that man’s United contract now.

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10. Harry Redknapp

A media-charming charlatan or the best modern manager the England team never had? The truth is somewhere in the middle, yet East End wheele-... erm, respected coach took the majority of his clubs to unexpected highs: West Ham overachieved, Portsmouth won an FA Cup, while Tottenham qualified for the Champions League then cantered to the quarter-finals – unheard of feats in the pre-Pochettino era.

Fourth at Spurs is Redknapp’s best top-tier finish, but he’s racked up 236 Premier League wins (only Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have more) without managing a club that was expected to challenge for the title. Wind down your car window and give him some credit.

9. Guus Hiddink

Like Van Gaal, an all-time great manager held back here by the brevity of his Premier League stint. Unlike King Louis, Golden Guus is fondly recalled by his one English club side. Twice stepping in to steady Chelsea’s ship mid-season, Hiddink’s first run in 2008/09 was particularly impressive. He lost only once in 22 games across all competitions; enough to win the FA Cup, if not enough to catch Manchester United in the league.

His second spell in 2015/16 began with a 12-game unbeaten league run. Impeccable numbers, although Frank Lampard wouldn’t welcome him unexpectedly turning up at Cobham any time soon...

8. Martin O’Neill

Martin O'Neill

Like Moyes (but less than Moyes; because never go full Moyes), O’Neill is a manager whose reputation has suffered due to recent underwhelming stints. Yet it’s worth recalling that he’s won trophies and hero status at three very different clubs: Celtic, Wycombe and Leicester - establishing the latter in the Premier League while delivering two League Cups.

Aston Villa finished sixth three seasons in a row under his stewardship, which – judging by Villa’s travails since – is nothing to be sniffed at. Despite being linked to many top jobs, including the No.1 gig at Manchester United during Alex Ferguson's aborted retirement, O’Neill never quite got the truly top Premier League role his talents once deserved.

7. Brendan Rodgers 

Put the Dulux teeth, envelopes and Brent speak to one side. Over the last decade, Rodgers has guided Swansea into the Premier League, taken Liverpool to second, been Celtic’s best manager since Jock Stein and even found time for a promising start to his Leicester career.

Outstanding, as the man himself would say. His place here, above European champions Van Gaal and Hiddink, is largely due to his so-very-near season with Liverpool. While many write it off as being a Luis Suarez-inspired run, it’s harsh to give Rodgers zero acknowledgement for overseeing such an exhilarating near-miss.

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6. Gerard Houllier

The Frenchman who modernised Liverpool in the late 1990s and early noughties, Houllier won every major domestic trophy in England except the Premier League. Second was his highest finish in 2001/02, obtained despite the Frenchman's five-month absence from the dugout due to a heart condition.

The Reds slumped after that high point, although they did enjoy a League Cup triumph over Manchester United in 2003. Houllier left a year later with a legacy of silverware and several hundred 1-0 wins obtained via Danny Murphy penalties [numbers approximate].

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5. Kevin Keegan

The only Premier League manager to finish second twice without winning the title, we would love it if King Kev got a bit more respect. His Newcastle side famously and briefly held a 10-point lead at the top in 1995/96, before Fergie got out his fishing rod and reeled them in.

Keegan’s ‘Entertainers’ thrashed United 5-0 while finishing as runners-up the next season. He later did a solid job at Manchester City, winning promotion to the Premier League (and we can’t see Pep matching that any time soon). Keegan deserves to be recalled as more than just a punchline - though he's superb at that too.

INTERVIEW Kevin Keegan on Liverpool v Newcastle, 1996: “I still have nightmares about how we threw the title away”

4. Bobby Robson

Sir Bobby’s managerial career began before the Premier League era, across Europe and on the international scene; before he made his mark in the division with Newcastle. Robson took over a Magpies side in the relegation zone in 1999, then led them to remarkable finishes of fourth in 2001/02 and third in 2002/03.

Back in the 1980s, Robson finished as a league runner-up twice with Ipswich, while also claiming the FA Cup and UEFA Cup. He’d later win league titles in the Netherlands and Portugal, plus the Copa del Rey and Cup Winners' Cup with Barcelona. A rare example of a British manager who succeeded at home and abroad, even if he could never quite add a ‘major’ European league title to his glittering CV.

3. Mauricio Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino

No, he’s never won a trophy as a manager. Yes, the job he’s done with Tottenham is verging on the magical. Despite his annual transfer budget essentially being ‘Store credit for those Christmas socks Daniel Levy doesn’t want’, Poch has conjured four top-four finishes in a row.

Last season’s fourth in the Premier League was Spurs’ lowest finish since 2015, but they still managed to finish above Arsenal and Man United, while reaching the Champions League final for the first time in the club's history. Add in the fine spell at Southampton, plus the attractive football on the south coast and in north London, and it’s one sizzling package.

2. Jurgen Klopp

Manager of the best Premier League side not to win the title. You may already be aware of this, but Liverpool’s 97 points in 2018/19 broke all sorts of records for a second-place team. Were it not for Manchester City’s bonkers relentlessness, Klopp wouldn't qualify for a spot on this list.

At least Liverpool have the large-eared consolation of a Champions League trophy, while Klopp’s two Bundesliga titles – with a club that wasn’t Bayern Munich, no less – are evidence that the big charisma machine can already be labelled a great manager. 'So why isn't he top of this ranking?', we hear you cry.

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1. Rafael Benitez

Like Klopp, Benitez took Liverpool to two Champions League finals (winning one) and finished second after a tight title run-in. So far, so even.

Klopp has created a superior and more stylish side, yet there are several factors in Benitez's favour. While the current Reds boss has been supported in the transfer market, the Spaniard's achievements came without strong financial backing.

What's more, Benitez has two other English success stories on his record: Chelsea fans will never love him, but his short spell brought a Europa League win and grudging respect; at Newcastle, he somehow kept Mike Ashley’s fireplace in order, producing 10th and 13th-place finishes with a squad barely above Championship standard. For now, that makes Benitez the best Premier League manager not to lift the trophy. Fact.

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Alex Reid

Alex Reid is a freelance journalist and the former digital features editor at FourFourTwo. He has also written for the Guardian, talkSPORT, Boxing News and Sport magazine. Like most Londoners, he is a lifelong supporter of Aberdeen FC. He is deceptively bad in the air for a big man. He has never been a cage fighter.