15) Jorge Jesus (Sporting)
He may look like a displaced 1980s soft rocker, his press conference answers may be littered with know-it-all derision, and he may have a recurring habit of upsetting opposing coaches – but make no mistake: Jesus is a quite brilliant football coach.
There is no false modesty with JJ. In fact, there is no modesty at all. “I’m the best coach in the world. I don’t believe anybody knows more about football than me,” he told Sol this time last year.
Such bluster could only pass for a charlatan or a genius. The 60-year-old’s achievements tell us he belongs in the latter category. Jesus single-handedly smashed Porto’s seemingly shatterproof hegemony of Portuguese football. In his six-year spell at Benfica, he first presented the northerners with serious competition where previously they’d had none, before definitively bettering them while playing exhilarating football. He prodigiously developed talents, notwithstanding having to sell his best players year after year.
Having just led Benfica to their first back-to-back championships for 31 years, Jesus sensationally walked out on the Lisbon giants for cross-city rivals Sporting. Why? Money played a part, for sure. But should Jesus triumph at Sporting it will vindicate his claims to be the best, offering persuasive evidence that he is the greatest ever coach in the history of Portuguese club football. Don’t put it past him. TK
14) Rudi Garcia (Roma)
Last season didn’t exactly turn out as planned for Rudi Garcia. Having ran champions Juventus close the previous year – the final gap of 17 points between the top two didn’t reflect how tight the title race had been for much of the season – his Roma outfit fluffed their lines in the second half of last term and allowed the Bianconeri to stroll towards a fourth straight league championship.
As disappointing as the campaign turned out, nobody should forget the position Roma found themselves in before Garcia took the reins. Just two short years ago, the Giallorossi lost the Coppa Italia final to rivals Lazio and slumped to a sixth-placed finish.
When viewed in such a light, consecutive runners-up spots under Garcia look a whole lot different. His stubborn dogmatism can sometimes grate, but the Frenchman is undoubtedly a top manager. Garcia has not only improved Roma immeasurably in just two years but has also got them playing some of the best football on the peninsula.
“Garcia? I was hoping he was a great coach and he has proved such,” Francesco Totti said shortly after the man who won the French league and cup double with Lille in 2011 took over in the Eternal City. “I think we’ve found the coach of the future.”
In Rome, there can be no greater endorsement. GL
13) Ronald Koeman (Southampton)
Koeman’s appointment was greeted with nothing more than moderate enthusiasm by Southampton supporters when he replaced Mauricio Pochettino last summer. There were bigger concerns: the good work carried out in creating a competitive Premier League side seemed to have been undone by a raft of high-profile departures on and off the pitch, and the arrival of a manager whose main successes had been in Holland was little consolation.
Signing Graziano Pelle from his previous club, Feyenoord, and Dusan Tadic from Eredivisie rivals Twente did little to quell the negativity but Koeman’s Southampton set off at a ferocious pace, winning eight of their first 11 Premier League games and playing some of the most imaginative football the top flight has seen in recent years.
Although they were fourth at the halfway stage, their form tailed off and Koeman had to settle for seventh. But as Premier League debuts go, this was quite something from a manager for whom the jury had always been out. Koeman won Dutch titles with Ajax and PSV, and a Copa del Rey with Valencia, but last season’s feat was his best yet and the 52-year-old – whose footballing principles were fine-tuned by successful spells as a player with Ajax and Barcelona – may now find that the sky's the limit. NA
12) Leonardo Jardim (Monaco)
Despite finishing second in Monaco’s first season back in Ligue 1 after two terms away, Claudio Ranieri was harshly sacked as les Monegasques’ manager last summer. Jardim was appointed the Italian’s successor, prompting plenty of scepticism in France.
The Portuguese tactician had led Sporting to an impressive second place in the 2013/14 Primeira Liga, but was unable to speak French and faced the drastic restructuring of Dmitry Rybolovlev’s once-lavish Monaco project.
Twelve months later and Jardim is rightly considered one of the best managers in the world. The 40-year-old led Monaco to an impressive third place in Ligue 1 and a second consecutive Champions League appearance – to the quarter-finals, no less – despite a wretched start to his debut season.
The Portuguese overcame the losses of stars like Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez with a mixture of tactical nous, fine motivational skills and an ability to make the most of what he started with.
Jardim's approach doesn’t produce the most attractive football, but it’s effective, as masterminding Monaco's elimination of Arsenal in Europe proved. With just one Greek Superleague and a Greek Cup title to his name at present, don’t bet against him adding to his list of major honours very soon. JJ
11) Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)
Wenger has been heckled, harangued, harassed and abused on train station platforms – yet the old master is still at Arsenal’s helm, doing it his way and showing the clearest signs yet that he can return the club to its heights of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
It’s been a tough decade for Wenger, a nine-year trophy famine and awkward transition to the expensive Emirates Stadium on more than one occasion appearing to have made his departure a matter of time. But the 65-year-old is staggeringly resilient and, visibly energised by an FA Cup triumph in 2013/14 that broke the drought and persuaded him he had a job to complete, has assembled a side that looks likely to challenge for the title next season.
Arsenal lost just twice in the Premier League after January 1, adding another FA Cup with a commanding win over Aston Villa, and showed signs of marrying swashbuckling attacking flair with the defensive stability that has often been their Achilles heel. The signing of Petr Cech won’t harm the latter process and it seems that, while it’s taken manager and club a few years to return to the top of their game, both are once more in a position to slug it out with the very best. Wenger is on course to be judged by history as exactly the man Arsenal needed all along. NA
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