30. Ernesto Valverde
Ernesto Valverde is set to embark on the biggest test of his managerial career. The new Barcelona boss has already been criticised for his trophy record, or lack of it, but he has certainly not been synonymous with failure.
A decade ago, the Spaniard led Espanyol to a UEFA Cup final, before securing three league titles with Olympiakos. The late Johan Cruyff would speak of him as one of the country’s brightest coaches. He is tactically astute, intelligent, and a strong man manager.
This summer, Valverde left Athletic Bilbao to enjoy their fourth consecutive Europa League campaign secured by his steady hand, an achievement they have only once bettered in their history. A Spanish Super Cup win in 2015 was their first trophy in 31 years. Valverde's achievements may not be considered glamorous by many, but they’ve meant an awful lot to the fans of those clubs. Now, the biggest opportunity of his career arrives.
Words: Simon Harrison
29. Giovanni van Bronckhorst
At the end of the 2014/15 season, Feyenoord director Martin van Geel had a very important choice to make. He had to pick one of two very promising assistant coaches to elevate and formally announce as the head coach: Jean-Paul van Gastel or Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
Van Geel deliberated carefully and went with the latter, because he was able to draw on his vast experience as a top-level footballer and translate it into an effective management style. When Van Bronckhorst retired as a player, he ended his testimonial at Feyenoord by poetically remarking: “Now, I will be with you, together in the stands. Hand in hand.”
Yet the mastery of Van Bronckhorst’s management style this season is how effectively he has straddled the weight of being a club legend, but also remained detached enough to make decisions that are objectively good for the team.
The way he has dealt with the influence Dirk Kuyt holds over the dressing room and the public has been admirable. It takes guts to bench someone like Kuyt, but Van Bronckhorst recognised how the team might function better with Jens Toornstra in midfield and Steven Berghuis on the right wing - and his decision fully paid off.
The former Netherlands captain is coy in the way he speaks about his philosophy, unlike the general tendency of Dutch coaches to be open. Van Bronckhorst is clever, and often seems a step or two ahead of the person he is facing, be it a reporter or an opposition coach. In 2017, with a KNVB Cup and Feyenoord’s first Eredivisie in 18 years to back him up, Van Bronckhorst presents an interesting managerial prospect to follow in the coming years.
Words: Priya Ramesh
28. Jorge Jesus
Jesus is still considered one of the best coaches in Portugal, but his reputation suffered a setback as he’s so far failed to deliver at Sporting. The 62-year-old made huge headlines in the summer of 2015 when he crossed the road in Lisbon, lured from Benfica to Sporting.
The decision was explained not only by a huge salary offer, but also by the fact that Jesus started his playing career with the Lions and has always been secretly in love with the club.
Sporting hoped that the veteran would bring them a first league title since 2002, but it hasn't happened yet. Jesus lost out to Benfica in the incredibly tight battle of 2016, and then finished fourth in 2017, with the team visibly in crisis. That reminded some that Jesus experienced disappointments at Benfica, as well as major successes.
He won three championship titles in six seasons with the Eagles, but lost two Europa League finals in a row, unable to overcome the infamous Bela Guttmann curse. Sporting apparently seem cursed as well, but if there's one man to end it, it's probably Jesus.
Words: Michael Yokhin
27. Unai Emery
There are two major stains on Emery's first 12 months at PSG that he may struggle to wipe away. Firstly, it was on his watch that they relinquished their customary Ligue 1 title to Monaco after four successive triumphs. The second is captured by one scoreline: Barcelona 6-1 PSG.
He still has enough credit from his various successes at Sevilla to have retained his post at PSG - for now, at least - and did manage to seal the domestic League Cup and French Cup double. But he must improve to persuade fans in the French capital and PSG's Qatari owners that he's the right man for the job.
Regaining the Ligue 1 title is the least that's expected of him, and a strong Champions League campaign in 2017/18 wouldn't go amiss, either. Emery has plenty to prove, and seeing whether he can claw back his reputation will make fascinating viewing.
Words: James Eastham
26. Rui Vitoria
'Vitoria' means victory in Portuguese, and Rui certainly did an impressive job at the aptly named Vitoria Guimaraes, leading them to a cup triumph in 2013. Yet his appointment as Benfica coach was met with scepticism.
The 47-year-old, who replaced Jorge Jesus in the summer of 2015, was considered too inexperienced at the top level. However, he proved himself up to the task, managing the squad masterfully and winning two championship titles in a row despite significant pressure from Sporting in 2016 and Porto in 2017.
Vitoria is another in the group of top Portuguese coaches who never played professional football, although he enjoyed a long career at amateur level before hanging up his boots at the age of 32. He's climbed up from the very bottom, and his passionate yet calm approach proved key to success. Benfica were delighted to extend Vitoria's contract until 2020 recently, with the coach claiming that he works in perfect harmony with the president. He's only going in one direction where this list is concerned.
Words: Michael Yokhin
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