FourFourTwo’s 50 Best Football Managers in the World 2016: 30-26

Approaching the midway mark, we’ve got this list’s oldest gaffer, Belgium’s brilliant tactician and our leading lady

Words: Jeff Kassouf, Andrew Murray, Michael Yokhin, James Eastham

30. Jill Ellis (United States Women)

Perhaps more than anything, managers are judged on their ability to adapt to situations. When Ellis took over the prestigious United States women’s national team job in May 2014, she inherited a veteran team which felt – rightfully or wrongfully – like it lost its way under Tom Sermanni, who was controversially fired the month prior.

The Portsmouth-born Ellis, despite her previous role as development director of US Soccer’s women’s programme, stuck to the core of veterans, ultimately leaning on that group to win the 2015 World Cup. With the US winning but playing flat, uninspiring soccer through the last 16 and two of her best attacking players suspended, Ellis made the right decisions in freeing up Carli Lloyd to essentially play as a withdrawn striker.

The tactical shift, which included Morgan Brian assuming a more prominent role and Kelley O’Hara seeing her first minutes of the tournament, was exactly what Lloyd and this US team needed. And while it seemed like the obvious move in hindsight, it still had to be executed. Ellis’s tactical changes played a major role in the United States winning the 2015 World Cup.

Jill had to decide who was fit to play that game [against Japan], and what role they had, and how to get the best out of them. And she did that. She made the right decision in that moment of crisis

- USWNT’s Ali Krieger

Ellis has since turned over the squad, integrating several new players – including 18-year-old sensation Mallory Pugh – and seamlessly transitioned the team into a new, energetic era following the retirement of high-profile players including world all-time goalscorer Abby Wambach. In August, Ellis will look to guide the US to an unprecedented fourth straight Olympic gold medal – but she is also already planning for the 2019 World Cup by getting younger players the experience of a big tournament.

Listen to Ellis speak, and she now exudes confidence in her team and in her tactics. Her style of play is progressive, often turning to a 4-3-3 – recently with full-backs pushing even higher into the attack – and shifting to a 4-4-2 defensively. It’s a fluid setup, which is why Ellis has long refused to discuss it as a numerical formation, but as a system with roles. From No.1 through 11, she has the U.S. clicking. JK

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