FourFourTwo's 50 Best Football Managers in the World 2018
10. Ernesto Valverde (Barcelona)
It’s easily forgotten that at the start of 2017/18, Barcelona were few tipsters’ La Liga favourites. Accusations of boardroom incompetence and the painful sale of Neymar loomed large, not to mention the city’s heavy political atmosphere.
Former Athletic Bilbao coach Valverde also had to cope with a serious injury to his star signing, the Neymar replacement Ousmane Dembele, but he got on without fuss and turned a flagging team into runaway champions. Only a 5-4 defeat at Levante – the title already secured – on the penultimate day of the season prevented an unbeaten season.
They may be more pragmatic than Guardiola’s Barça, and as yet unfulfilled in Europe, but Valverde has put a stop to talk that the club are wasting Lionel Messi’s prime. – Andy Brassell
9. Julian Nagelsmann (Hoffenheim)
Nagelsmann’s achievements at just 31 years of age are extraordinary. His career has been one dizzy blur from the moment he became Hoffenheim’s head coach five months ahead of schedule in February 2016, following Huub Stevens’s health problems.
Since immediately steering a seemingly doomed team away from relegation, Nagelsmann has taken a star-free side to successive top-four finishes, culminating in last season’s automatic Champions League qualification. All of it was achieved despite losing the spine of Niklas Sule, Sebastian Rudy and Sandro Wagner to Bayern Munich.
The next stop is aiming to break Bayern’s hegemony when he takes the helm of RB Leipzig in the summer of 2019. Daunting? There’s no such thing with this man. – Andy Brassell
8. Maurizio Sarri (Chelsea)
Gruff, coarse and more than a little outspoken, chain-smoking former banker Sarri doesn’t look like a man at the vanguard of footballing excellence. He doesn’t dress as sharply as your typical Italian coach either, but there’s no denying that for the past few seasons he has been a revelation, transforming Napoli into one of Europe’s most beloved sides.
Their intricate passing and speedy interplay – an approach labelled ‘Sarrismo’ on the peninsula – was so breathtaking that Chelsea swooped this summer.
The 59-year-old has adapted easily to Premier League life, and while he remains firmly clad in a club tracksuit, his new team is already one of Europe’s most stylish. – Adam Digby
7. Mauricio Pochettino (Tottenham)
Rival supporters are sick of hearing about Tottenham’s frugality, but it bears repeating: after a bedding-in season where they came fifth, Pochettino’s Spurs have recorded three consecutive top-three finishes with a transfer net spend under £30m.
In that time, Manchester City have splurged £525m on transfer fees (taking player sales into account, remember), Manchester United £365m, and Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea over £150m each. Yes, Pochettino is working miracles.
His poor record away to the big sides is improving too, as 2018 brought the Argentine his first wins at Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford as Spurs scored three in each. All that’s needed is that elusive first trophy and a little more nous in Europe. – Huw Davies
6. Didier Deschamps (France)
If living well is the best revenge, football’s equivalent is winning the World Cup. Paul Pogba discovered that this summer; so too did his manager.
Didier Deschamps, ‘The Water Carrier’ as a player, was criticised before and during Russia 2018 for his perceived preference for certain players (Blaise Matuidi), his conservative tactics (Blaise Matuidi on the wing) and France’s laboured group-stage performances.
Yet he had the last laugh. His squad was unbelievably talented – how many nations could leave Karim Benzema, Kingsley Coman, Adrien Rabiot, Alexandre Lacazette, Anthony Martial, Wissam Ben Yedder and Dimitri Payet at home? – but plenty of managers have failed with great resources. Deschamps took the water from French football’s bounteous spring and carried it to the top of the tallest mountain. – Huw Davies
5. Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
Forget the gurning smile and rock-star kitsch – Klopp has turned Liverpool into a force to be feared. Even Pep Guardiola, the arch footballing ideologue, changed his Manchester City team and tactics in early October to counter the Reds’ fierce front three.
Liverpool now exist in the image of their manager: a thrilling, attack-minded collection of players who believe in both entertainment and the positive influence that football can have on a city. The mess Klopp inherited is gone, replaced by a squad assembled with a plan, instead of an attempt to replace one world-class player with seven less talented ones.
Therein lies the difference between Klopp and predecessor Brendan Rodgers. Klopp has waited for the players he wanted – Virgil van Dijk, Alisson, Fabinho – instead of panicking and buying whoever might be available. Just imagine the German buying Mario Balotelli. Settle down at the back.
Yes, the trophy must come, probably this year, but Liverpool haven’t started a league season with as much hope for two decades. – Andrew Murray
4. Max Allegri (Juventus)
Another season, another league-and-cup double. That’s four in a row for Allegri’s Juve, who held off a brilliant Napoli in the process.
In 2017/18, he integrated new talents such as Douglas Costa and Federico Bernardeschi, and made tactical switches which altered the course of games – notably in the Old Lady’s Champions League last 16 victory over Tottenham at Wembley.
Yet they ultimately came up short in Europe once again, prompting the Bianconeri to splash out a club-record fee on Cristiano Ronaldo. Allegri must now end a 22-year wait for Champions League success, but you wouldn’t put it past CR7 and the brilliant coach doing just that. – Adam Digby
3. Diego Simeone (Atletico Madrid)
If Atletico Madrid were ever to ditch the Madrid coat of arms at the heart of their badge, then a picture of Simeone’s face, instead of a bear on its hind legs nuzzling up to a strawberry tree, would be a very good place to start.
It’s no exaggeration to say that los Colchoneros compete with European football’s heavyweights because of their firebrand manager. The club Simeone took over in December 2011 is unrecognisable to the one which not only punches above its weight, but which sits alongside Real Madrid and Barcelona as La Liga’s pound-for-pound champions.
When Atleti went back down to the middleweight ranks of the Europa League for the second half of last season, they steamrollered their erstwhile contemporaries. Simeone improves his players like few managers and makes his charges play for him, each one performing as if “holding a knife between his teeth” – as Cholo the player himself once described his own playing style.
How many other bosses could have kept Antoine Griezmann at the Metropolitano this season? Another La Liga could be his yet. – Andrew Murray
2. Zinedine Zidane (Unattached)
What do you mean he’s unemployed? Zidane is too busy enjoying a year-long sabbatical to care about football, especially its politics.
In two-and-a-half Bernabeu seasons, Zizou won three Champions Leagues out of three, one Liga, two UEFA Super Cups, two Club World Cups and one Supercopa de Espana. Then walked away.
“I’m not the best coach tactically, and I will always say that,” he said before this summer’s Champions League final victory against Liverpool. “And, well, I don't need to say that because you lot always say that anyway.”
No one saw the Frenchman’s resignation coming, let alone Blancos president Florentino Perez. The latest reports coming from Spain say Zidane left because Perez reversed a decision to sell Gareth Bale after the Welshman’s impact in the Champions League final. Feeling betrayed, Zidane informed his sporting father that he was off, six days after Kiev.
Whoever gets Zidane will have the best man-manager in the world. We hear a suite at the Lowry Hotel in central Manchester might be free fairly soon. – Andrew Murray
1. Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
Such was the quality of Manchester City’s procession to the 2018 title that even the naysayers must give Guardiola at least some credit. Premier League records fell like dominos: most points, earliest title win, most goals, best goal difference, biggest winning margin, most consecutive wins, most away wins, fewest minutes trailed. At times, his team was simply breathtaking.
The former Barcelona boss might have taken much inspiration from the great Marcelo Bielsa but he’s already on another plane, rebuilding – yes, rebuilding has been required – a dazzling winning team at a third club.
Doubters will persist until he steers Manchester City to a maiden Champions League title, but English supporters are starting to grasp what Bayern Munich fans did – when the football is this otherworldly, Europe isn’t the be-all and end-all. – Andy Brassell