10. Diego Simeone
He entered your consciousness when he trapped David Beckham in a web of his own making. He’s played the supervillain ever since. The only man capable of taking down Real Madrid and Barcelona yet without the resources of either… and he's still top 10.
Every season it feels like this might be the one that Diego Simeone runs out of petrol. In the past three years, he’s lost Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godin, Rodri, Juanfran, Lucas Hernandez, Alvaro Morata, Thomas Partey – last-minute, without hope of getting a replacement – and yet Atletico Madrid still had La Liga in 2020/21 on lock from November onwards. Griezmann and Morata have returned – and though Atleti don't strike the fear of god into rivals anymore, they play the numbers game.
Simeone is indestructible, for sure. His 4-4-2 has morphed into a three-at-the-back iteration, as Marcos Llorente and Luis Suarez became the leaders at the heart of Atleti’s last software update. El Cholo crunches the numbers; he knows how many goals to keep out and how many to score to stay ahead of the game – and his team still seem to be punching above their weight. What next? We're not sure. We're pretty sure Simeone will survive the apocalypse, mind.
9. Julian Nagelsmann
Hansi Flick handed the Nagelsmann the toughest of acts to follow when departing in the summer, but the former RB Leipzig boss has risen to the challenge. Both more dominant in possession and tactically flexible, Nagelsmann’s side have already cruised to a Bundesliga title and you wouldn’t bet against them in Europe this season. Oh and he's a household name in management in his early 30s.
Nagelsmann has had his critics in Germany but the Bayern Munich boss is mostly just guilty of being his own man – idiosyncratic enough not to immediately bow to the Bavarian way of playing ball. He screwed up in Europe last season but he's still elite tactically, bending his side into back threes, back fours, sometimes with no full-backs and playing some of the most stunning football in the game.
Where he goes next, we can't wait to see. He could have the world if he wanted it, you know.
8. Graham Potter
He had to recamp to Sweden, then Swansea. He spent three years in Sussex eternally let down by woodwork, schadenfreude and karma biting Neal Maupay’s bottom every time he dared to get cocky. And it still feels like he’s destined for huge things.
Things have come up peachy for Graham Potter, alright. A frenetic start to the season with Brighton gave way for The Big Move to a huge club – and Chelsea already look carved in his image. He's so difficult to predict, his sides seem to play with multiple formations at once and yet watching Potterball is like watching a choreographed ballet. He outwits the big boys (at least he did until he was one) and he's the smartest man in most rooms.
He'd be higher on the list were it not for the fact he's not actually won something. But that's a matter of time, now, right?
7. Thomas Tuchel
The ghost in the Cobham machine. Meticulous and demanding. High risk, high reward. Thomas Tuchel has a particular reputation for the friction he causes with his bosses. It's once again been exacerbated by an early Boehly blow. On the pitch, though, he is elite.
Chelsea's transformation in 2021 from a sloppy, star-studded outfit to a lean, mean unit capable of soaking up pressure and slapping the best in Europe is one of the most impressive managerial achievements in recent English football history. Tuchel brought absolutely no one in and managed to steamroll the rest of Europe, beat Pep Guardiola three times and give a few younger stars game time while he was at it; his three-man press put everyone on the back foot and the use of wing-backs getting goal contributions has been an outstanding solution to a constant problem.
He might be out of a job but he's still deserving of such a high place on this list. He was dreadfully unlucky to be sacked – even more so to lose two cup finals to the same team last season. While he’s been a big name in management since assuming Jurgen Klopp’s hot seat at Dortmund, he’s gone from being just a man of theory to stacking his cabinet with gold from Paris and London. He's been a revelation in the past two years.
6. Mikel Arteta
History may look at Mikel Arteta's transformation of Arsenal as one of the most satisfying in modern English football. This was a club in despair and disarray – and he led them to an FA Cup playing on the back foot for his first act. Then he gutted out everything that had made this side successful – against better advice – for something more sustainable.
It's not in the fact that Arsenal now play out from the back better than almost anyone, can play long, are physically imposing, can control games effortlessly (and throw Liverpool into a midblock) or even that they're versatile, young and devastating in all phases of play at their best. It's that Arteta won a trophy and binned everything for this style of play: one that sees them dominate statistically and, if things progress even further, have them challenging for trophies in the future.
It's been a managerial masterclass. Arteta’s philosophy is rock solid, his principles strong and the Gunners are beginning to reap the benefits.
5. Stefano Pioli
Ralf Rangnick was lined up for the AC Milan post instead while Stefano Pioli held the fort. What Pioli has managed to achieve – in his unbeaten run that gave him the full-time job, followed by Champions League qualification and a Scudetto later on – is the best anyone has done at I Rossoneri for quite some time.
Pioli’s ability to adapt to situations with fresh ideas is one of the key reasons why he hit the ground running at Milan. He likes to play out from the back but not if it’s risky; he likes his teams to press, but understands why 40-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic struggles to keep up such intensity. With a midfield built on Ismael Bennacer and Franck Kessie, he kept his team simple, effective and challenging for honours. He's turned Rafael Leao, Theo Hernandez, Mike Maignan, Pierre Kalulu and Fikayo Tomori into linchpins of a title-winning side.
Piolo deserves so much credit – especially as he wasn't given a chance of doing any of this when he initially stepped into the breach.
4. Antonio Conte
If you ask most Chelsea fans, they’ll tell you that Antonio Conte should have been given longer. Inter Milan fans never wanted him to leave either. He's threatened to walk from Tottenham – and may still leave them prematurely for some people's liking. He always leaves you wanting more.
Inter Milan moved from nearly-men to champions in just under two years, spearheaded by Romelu Lukaku’s ascension into the elite and laid out in Conte’s famed back three. Then, he took Tottenham from floundering under Nuno Esprito Santo to the promised land, via pointing and laughing at their biggest rivals. There’s a clear identity at play: everyone knows the rules. The Leccerian boss seems to revel in using other club’s discarded tools, fashioning weapons from wing-backs in their 30s and creative talents that look burnt out. He's making this look The Conte.
But not just a manager who simplifies everything for his players, Conte is still capable of a tactical masterclass to outwit the brain in the opposite dugout – just as he proved against Liverpool in Tottenham's first big game under his stewardship. He still loves to specifically target someone else’s weaknesses and play around the opposition, rather than through them. Daniel Levy may have interviewed a dozen men and hired the wrong one since sacking Jose Mourinho – but Spurs' beautiful ground is firmly Conte’s colosseum in 2022. This is his club now – and they're going places.
3. Jurgen Klopp
The Liverpool manager had his credentials thoroughly tested in 2021, as his entire defence was decimated with injuries. He responded creatively, pairing youngsters, with midfielders and loan signings as the Reds dragged themselves to a top four finish. Because this is still the man who changed everything. We all press from the front at Klopp’s speed.
Pep Guardiola began the debates of what full-backs could become; Klopp produced the examples. He conquered England and Europe without a conventional playmaker or a conventional striker. He has the demeanour of your dad’s mate, the aura of a coach who simply relies on pumping good players up for big games. But as a tactician, Klopp has fully transformed the game.
And 2022 – despite Red wobbles – has still been a super year for Klopp. Two titles in the bag, two that didn't quite get through the security scanner: he was on the brink of the unthinkable and there aren't many who can say that. Even now, he's reinventing Liverpool with a 4-4-effing-2. Long live the genial German: he's Deutschland's greatest export.
2. Carlo Ancelotti
The blazer and polo shirt. The raised eyebrow. The piercing grey eyes. The swept fringe. The laissez-faire approach to shape and style, so long as your players are happy. Karim Benzema balling like the Bernabeu has his name above the door.
He might not gegenpress or tiki-tak but Don Carlo is an old-fashioned man who does an old-fashioned job of getting Galaticos to gel – and just look at how Vinicius Jr has improved under his guidance, how Benzema has balled or how the transition to a new version of Real Madrid has been masterminded with a sprinkling of the old faces still performing to outrageous levels alongside the new pretenders.
It would be a sad day when he retires – only he he never will. Styles come and go but the tortellini-loving, softly-spoken Carlo Ancelotti will likely still be grinding the W long into his 90s.
1. Pep Guardiola
He’s still number one. He’s still innovating. He’s still finding ways to twist other elite coaches into submission. He can still suffocate the best in the world with the ball, leaving them chasing cover shadows. He’s deadly with or without a striker, with or without Kevin De Bruyne, with or without natural full-backs. He can turn Ilkay Gundogan into peak Frank Lampard; Erling Haaland into a player pundits discuss the humanity of.
The past two years have cemented Pep Guardiola’s position as the greatest coach of his generation in a way that none of us truly saw coming. Pep cut teams to pieces last season with no striker, Joao Cancelo playing three roles at once and Phil Foden mastering four positions across the pitch to provide him multiple options. It was nothing short of staggering and that City team might even be Pep’s best yet. They didn't rack up 100 points but they thrilled in ways that the Centurions never did. And yet it still wasn't enough. He still signed Haaland. And he's still probably going to win the league again.
That's why he's the best. He never stops and he always evolves. When Mikel Arteta left for Arsenal, Juanma Lillo, a long-time mentor for Pep, was brought into the fold. While it would have been natural for the Catalan to fall into a more conservative shape after a season of defensive frailty, Lillo was the devil on Guardiola’s shoulder encouraging him to go further in his ideals, deeper into the philosophies that have made him the coach he is today.
Everyone else has been playing catch-up to Pep Guardiola since he reclaimed the title and they likely will this season, too. It’s nothing new. And it’s just how he likes it.
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Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. An encyclopedia of football shirts and boots knowledge – both past and present – Mark has also been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals for FFT and has written pieces for the mag ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career. He once saw Tyrone Mings at a petrol station in Bournemouth but felt far too short to ask for a photo.
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