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Ranked! The 50 best managers in the world

Best managers in the world 2021
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What does it mean to be one of the world's best managers?

“You are loved when you are born, you are loved when you die,” Arsene Wenger once claimed. “In between, you have to manage.”

In the digital age, respect for managers is about as short as a deep block. This is the era of doom-scrolling, rolling news and sporting soapboxes. Everyone has their opinion and the boss, ultimately, can never appease the entire auditorium. An average tenure of 18 months would explain a lot - it’s usually 18 days before most of you lot have made your mind up on a manager. 

But there are those who have excelled over the past year or so - and we thought we’d rank them. Our list is determined by a few things: ability, of course, as well as how much their team has achieved in these past 12 months - with resources taken into account. Everything considered… these are the most employable men of 2022.

This list was compiled and written with contributions from Conor Pope and Ed McCambridge

The 50 best managers in the world 2021

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50. Xavi

Xavi

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After an education in Qatar, Xavi is back in the deep end at Catalonia with a squad worse than any he ever played with. And yet the early signs are very good: the legendary midfielder has made Barcelona more compact and understands how to stretch the pitch perfectly. Now, if he only had a player half as good as he was to ignite this side...

49. Djamel Belmadi

You might remember Belmadi from short stints at Manchester City and Southampton in the 2000s. Now Algeria’s national coach, he won the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, recently lifted the slightly less revered FIFA Arab Cup, and are safely qualified for the 2022 World Cup. Keep an eye on them.

48. Sean Dyche

Is Sean Dyche still underappreciated? We reckon so – even in a relegation dogfight this season. Having kept Burnley up, brought them into Europe, kept them up again and again and maintained Burnley’s level despite precious little investment, Dyche is still crunching the numbers with the inevitable big men up top and tight banks of four at the back. 

Dycheball might finally bite the dust the season – but the ginger Mourinho has done all he can at Turf Moor. No one can blame him for Burnley's recent poor patch, surely.

47. Rafa Benitez

The boss. Rafa is adored in every nook of the globe for his gentlemanly demeanour and for wildly different - but equally impressive - achievements across Europe. The veteran Spaniard left England with his stock packed at an all-time high, after a difficult tenure at Newcastle United in which he surpassed all expectations – and for some unknown reason, he took it upon himself to come back to Merseyside and take on one of the most difficult jobs in England at Everton. 

He may not be loved for what he does there – he may not even get a first-choice XI to play with – but his longevity and genius is undeniable. 

46. Marcelino

Not everyone was a fan of Marcelino at Valencia. According to the man himself, he was sacked in 2019 for winning the Copa Del Rey. Still, the LaLiga veteran has found a new home for his compact 4-4-2 at Athletic Bilbao over the past 18 months, employing high pressure, numerical overloads and a sensible mid-block that stops the bigger sides from playing through Athletic Bilbao centrally. 

Athletic’s players have bought into the philosophy completely. Marcelino has dropped points in a number of draws since January but the Basque side are steadying themselves. The improvement is clear, with Athletic looking to target the European spots this season. 

45. Roberto De Zerbi

Managers

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Robeto De Zerbi’s Sassuolo side last season were wonderful. They attacked with numbers, cut in to create chances and were resilient in their back four. But perhaps the most promising thing about this young coach – now at Shakhtar – is that he seems to get the best out of everyone that he works with. 

The goatee’d genius elevated the likes of Jeremie Boga and Manuel Locatelli into the kinds of players that we’ve always expected them to be, while playing an entertaining brand of football. Eyes will be on what he does in Ukraine. 

44. Bruno Lage

The Wolves manager may cut a quiet and unassuming touchline presence, but make no mistake: Lage is a deeply intelligent and well-rounded coach. 

His Benfica side romped to the Portuguese title with a record number of goals in 2018/19 and players have spoken of his incredible attention to detail and articulate preparation for matches. The early signs at Molineux look promising, and Lage may find himself touted by bigger teams if things continue on this path. 

43. Patrick Vieira

Managers

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FFT tipped Crystal Palace to be basement boys in the Prem this season. That's not a slight on Patrick Vieira at all – but a comment on how big his job was. 

Replacing Roy Hodgson was always going to be difficult, yet Palace have not only incorporated fresh new signings and embraced an intense, exciting new style, they've learned to grind wins without relying on Wilf Zaha. Vieira is the real deal – he's learned from mistakes in Ligue 1 – and he's surely only going to improve. 

42. Ivan Juric

Ivan Juric built a cathedral on quicksand at Hellas Verona. The self-styled disciple of Atalanta’s Gian Piero Gasperini had 13 players on loan on his books last season, while others, it’s been claimed, were not “attached to the shirt”; Hellas is a bus stop of a club, in size and ephemerality, who played a 3-6-1 shape and unlocking doors that they have no right to.

Hopefully Juric will get a little more stability at Torino this season to showcase what he's capable of. His sides are excellent at limiting space between the lines, defending deep and taking chances that present themselves – they could surprise many under him. 

41. Giovanni van Bronckhorst

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The new Rangers manager might well be following the Steven Gerrard path, of successful playing career, to Ibrox, to a big Premier League job – but Gio van Bronckhorst is a different kind of boss. The Dutchman has already got silverware in the bag too, having beaten Ajax to a title in the Eredivisie. Still young, he's one to watch in years to come. 

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40. Thomas Frank

Apparently, Thomas Frank doesn’t join in training sessions - his lack of a professional playing career leaves him feeling somewhat out of his depth. As a manager though, he’s stellar: a true people person whose man-management has got unseen levels out of many of his players, as Brentford continue their rise through the football pyramid. 

His side have been a breath of fresh air in the Premier League and though they've found the going tough at times, it's no slight on the coach, who has reverted to a 3-5-2 and helped develop the likes of Ivan Toney and Rico Henry into solid Premier League players. He's still got a long way to go but he's already a star. 

39. Steve Clarke

Managers

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Just getting Scotland to a World Cup makes you special. The fact that Steve Clarke has managed to get the kind of performances he has out of the Scots is something else – impressive, too, given that the nation's two best players are both left-backs. But Clarke has found creative solutions using overloads and even turned Scott McTominay into a defender. 

38. Urs Fischer

The pandemic slapped Union Berlin in the face more than most. Many thought the former GDR outfit would be nothing without their fervent support - but they still managed to beat relegation. 

Last season, that same bunch finished fifth in the Bundesliga. Urs Fischer has taken the underdogs into Europe with an intelligent style of play that has utilised pressing the central areas of the pitch rather than the opposition defence, to win midfield battles and transition with speed. Fischer has become one of the most respected managers in Germany over the past two season - and rightfully so for what he is achieving for what is essentially one of the smallest fish in the top tiers of German football. 

37. Christophe Galtier

Like Drake before him, former Portsmouth assistant manager Christophe Galtier started from the bottom. He turned Lille from relegation battlers into surprise title winners this year – and the Canadian rapper never lost the likes of centre-back Gabriel or Victor Osimhen along the way. 

Lille were fantastic too, resembling a 3-1-6 when they pushed up with the likes of Jonathan Bamba, Renato Sanches, 35-year-old Burak Yilmaz and Jonathan Ikone all scaling scarcely believable heights, while Jose Fonte, 37, sat at the back: captaining and prolonging his twilight. 

Since moving to Nice, things have been a littler harder. The influx of exciting attackers haven't quite gelled as he'd have liked – but hopefully he'll get the time to iron out these creases. He's proven this year that he's capable of orchestrating the majestic. 

36. Luciano Spalletti

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Yes, Luciano Spalletti has managed literally every club in Italy, now. He's currently with Napoli, challenging for the top title and putting the willies up Leicester City in Europe – while the likes of Victor Osimhen and Elif Elmas develop under him. A fixture of Italian football by now, Serie A is a better place for this meticulous, old-school boss.

35. Tite

What Tite hasn't seen in football is not worth seeing. The Brazil manager turned 60 this year, ushered in a generation of Selecao stars and reached a Copa America final – his team will be among the favourites for the World Cup next year and he's still a shrewd international manager capable of finding harmony in Brazil's samba stars. 

34. Marcelo Gallardo

Marcelo Gallardo is the undoubted rising star of South American coaching. The River Plate boss uses a 4-4-2 with width from full-backs but is capable of switching completely to different formations whenever he wants to surprise his opponents. When River faced Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores final in 2018, Gallardo switched to a back five with wingbacks to completely fluster their biggest foes. 

River play in their opponents’ halves, looking to control possession and counter-press quickly; Gallardo has developed a number of young players and he’s a master of the in-game switch-up. It’s a case of when rather than if, for his big move to Europe. 

33. Christian Streich

Managers

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“Freiburg have one of the lowest budgets in the Bundesliga, yet manage to play an attractive and successful brand of football with a squad made up of outcasts and younger players,” said Ed McCambridge of FourFourTwo this year, when assessing which managers could be in the frame for the Germany job after Joachim Low.

Streich was never really in consideration before Hansi Flick was appointed, but he is hugely popular across Germany. Streich is an outspoken liberal who’s kept Freiburg in the Bundesliga for a decade. He’s seen as a great motivator, a sensible pair of hands and, despite his underdog status, he’s one of the steadiest coaches in Europe.

32. Graham Potter

There’s something about Graham Potter. Some see it, others don’t get it. But his ability to attack teams with such ferocity, while not exposing his defence to an inevitable and obvious counter-attack, is not your average English-manager-at-an-ambitious-midtable-outfit vibe.

He had to recamp to Sweden, then Swansea and he seems eternally let down by woodwork, schadenfreude and karma biting Neal Maupay’s bottom every time he dares to get cocky. And it still feels like he’s destined for huge things. Despite Brighton & Hove Albion’s disappointing season, his team constantly record better xG than their opponents and everything – from the build-up to the attacking play – is superbly orchestrated. 

He’s a new age Roy Hodgson. Guardiola in Sketchers. He has all the hallmarks of a top coach, even at his young age.

31. Massimiliano Allegri

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Big Max's decision to return to Turin is not exactly paying dividends just yet. Allegri's Juventus have been decidedly up and down – but then this isn't really his Juventus. This is the still the man who won title after title, coveted by Europe's aristocracy – let's see how he does in the long-term. 

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30. Mikel Arteta

The man that Pep Guardiola claimed “knows everything” had a hellish baptism in his first 18 months of management. Arsenal were horrifically imbalanced, out of confidence with players either on big wages or soon-to-be out of contract. Mikel Arteta’s upgrade from a head coach to manager reflected the spread of fires he’s put out while in charge. 

His side are slowly taking shape, however. Though naivety is still their biggest weakness – and his – the Basque boss has fashioned a sturdier defence, improved the build-up and made Arsenal fitter, stronger and more compact. Arteta’s philosophy is rock solid, his principles strong and the Gunners are beginning to reap the benefits. Considering he’s learning on the job, he’s done astoundingly well to win the FA Cup and fashion a clear style from a technically-poor group of players with very little creativity.

29. Maurizio Sarri

Maurizio Sarri almost became a parody of himself in the final days at Juventus. Loved for what he achieved at Napoli and Empoli, he was maligned in Turin and at Chelsea – and yet he delivered trophies. Here's hoping that the verticality-loving, chain-smoking ex-banker finds the perfect balance in the Eternal City with Lazio. 

28. Zinedine Zidane

Managers

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The fact that Zinedine Zidane even returned to Real Madrid deserves credit. He didn’t have to. He left a hat-trick hero to go on sabbatical and chose to return to a life with Lucas Vazquez, like Matt Damon actively choosing to take on Jason Bourne sequels. 

Inverting Casemiro to both defend as a no.6 and press high was almost revolutionary - but aside from that, Zizou’s job was never to reinvent the wheel in Spain’s capital. He is a figurehead, the ultimate Galactico and the modern-day holder of the mantra that balance is best. He lost Cristiano Ronaldo, didn’t replace him and squeezed his defence together to bring another league title. He repainted Karim Benzema, from sidecar to Harley Davidson. As a player, he was exquisite to watch; as a manager, he does the necessary basics and little else. 

27. Simone Inzaghi

In 2020, Inzaghi guided Lazio back into the Champions League for the first time since 2007/08, and took them into the knockout stages last season – earning him the vacant Inter Milan post this summer. Under him, Inter are putting together an impressive title defence, with the Nerazzurri top at Christmas.

26. Didier Deschamps

Managers

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Euro 2016 runners-up, World Cup 2018 winners, and Nations League 2021 winners. Euro 2020 may have been a disappointment for Les Bleus, but France are still a huge force under Deschamps.

The Frenchman has had an underrated time in the job, finding balance where there has been none and managing big egos. Will he ever return to the club game? We hope so. 

25. Luis Enrique

Dropping Sergio Ramos for Euro 2020, with the defender just four caps short of the world record for international appearances, shows the size of the cojones on Luis Enrique. Spain only dropped out of the Euros after a penalty shootout defeat to Italy in the semis, and look to be among the favourites for next year’s World Cup.

24. Brendan Rodgers

He’s become more than just a big grin, hasn’t he?

Brendan Rodgers is now one of the elite, it’s more than fair to say. He outwits the best. He’s developed the likes of James Justin and Jamie Vardy - at opposite ends of their careers. He can coach his sides in three- and four-at-the-back shapes, bending his attack between one or two prongs. He can cope without big stars. He can refashion full-backs on either side. Every season, it seems, we see something from the Carnlough Clough that we’ve never seen him do before – even if Leicester have underwhelmed this term.

There are those that may never truly believe their eyes when it comes to Big Brendan’s talents. He's had a fantastic 2021, though, with an FA Cup and Community Shield.

23. Carlo Ancelotti

Managers

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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. James Rodriguez balling like it’s Brazil ‘14 every Saturday. 

There are some things that the Premier League is poorer without and one of those things is the tortellini-loving, softly-spoken Carlo Ancelotti – however meh they were by the end. Now we've got Don Carlo back at Real Madrid, you can see the benefit it's having on the likes of Vinicius Jr, on the atmosphere at the Bernabeu and on the club's chances in the title race. Some say he's past it – and yet he still got offered the biggest club job in football while managing Everton. It'll be a sad day when he retires.

22. 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 – is the best anyone has done at I Rossoneri since the club were winning titles.

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’s kept his team simple, effective and surprisingly challenging for the Scudetto. Milan made the right decision to keep with a good thing. 

21. Lionel Scaloni

Managers

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Argentina won their first trophy since 1993 with this year’s Copa America victory – making Scaloni the first Argentina gaffer to win something with Lionel Messi in his team, which has got to be worth something.

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20. Julen Lopetegui

Julen Lopetegui’s 2018 was enough to destroy most managers for good. First he was fired on the eve of the World Cup in Russia, for agreeing to join Real Madrid ahead of managing Spain at the tournament, before poor form at Los Blancos cost him his second job in a matter of months. 

Sevilla has provided exactly the redemption arc he needed. Lopetegui’s Sevilla have been grounded in excellent defensive shape, a balanced midfield trio and unpredictability in attack, using the full width of the pitch and creating space for the likes of Ivan Rakitic to orchestrate. It’s a fine balance that he has at his fingertips, between the worn experience and untapped potential; the Sevilla side have totally bought into his ideals and have a Europa League from 2020 to show for it. 

19. Ralf Rangnick

Managers

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Is top 20 too high for a manager who's spent much of the last decade as a sporting director and not in the dugout? Well... no.

Ralf Rangnick's legendary reputation precedes him. The godfather of gegenpressing has already found a shape that suits Manchester United much more than the one they had and with his development of young players, the Red Devils look to be in good hands right now. 

18. Marcelo Bielsa

Every season that Marcelo Bielsa stays in English football is an absolute gift. Some days, it feels as if football belongs to him and that he’s simply sharing it with the rest of us. He took Leeds to ninth last season – and despite their woes this season, you can't attribute many of them at his door. 

It’s easy to forget where Leeds United were when El Loco took the reins of this club and charged towards the top. They have been nothing short of sublime to watch under the Argentinian, refusing to compromise his ideals, playing without abandon with many of the squad reinventing themselves individually. His crowning glory may be promotion, really, but speak to those who watch his football: that’s the real legacy of Bielsa in England. 

16. Steven Gerrard

As a player, Steven Gerrard saw everything. When he moved back into the quarterback role for Brendan Rodgers, it felt not like the twilight of an attacking midfielder’s career but the beginning of a new chapter. 

With an SPL-winning Rangers and now in the early days of his Aston Villa career, he’s managed to find creative solutions. By getting more creativity out of his full-backs and learning how to cut through low blocks in order to get results, Gerrard has been on a similar journey to the top that Jurgen Klopp has back at his beloved Liverpool. The future looks very bright indeed. 

16. David Moyes

Managers

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West Ham finished just two points off the Champions League places last season and have taken their game to even greater heights so far this term. David Moyes’ disciplined and free-scoring Hammers look well placed to qualify for Europe again this season and were unlucky not to qualify for the knockouts of the Europa League this campaign. They’re improving incrementally, as Moyes’ reputation as a top level manager is being forged anew after years of soul searching. 

15. Marco Rose

After swapping Gladbach for the spotlight of Borussia Dortmund in the summer, the pressure to deliver has risen considerably on Rose’s shoulders. 

He’s failed thus far, crashing out of the Champions League at the first hurdle and seeing the Bundesliga title race slip further out of his grasp. Yet there are chances for redemption in the Europa League and DFB-Pokal. A top-two finish and a cup of some sort will be considered a successful first term in the BVB dugout.  

14. Gian Piero Gasperini

When a club have to play at a neutral ground in Europe because their stadium isn’t up to standard, it’s usually a sure sign that the coach is working wonders. Gian Piero Gasperini of Atalanta, with his motivational quotes on the wall and passion for hard-working players, may well be the game’s biggest overachiever right now.

Atalanta are a complex beast; Chris Wilder's Sheffield United with a Master’s degree, you might lazily want to call them. They attack in clusters, with numerical superiority and shift play horizontally like a pinball buffer. Atalanta have ingrained positional interchange, with players moving into each other’s roles depending on the scenario. It’s almost impossible to defend against. 

They press high, they drop into a 5-4-1 and Atalanta have punched above their weight for two years on the trot now, as teams across Italy struggle to work them out. Gasperini is a mad scientist, a concocter of a Frankensteinian beast of modern football. It has all the ingredients of what everyone else plays - the intensity, the verticality, the overloads in wide positions and automatisms that players fall on instinctively - yet it’s constructed uniquely. Gasperini could well be an era-defining figure of years to come. 

13. Unai Emery

Managers

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When Unai Emery left England, it was hard to ever see a way back to the top table for him. Yet his Villarreal side have arguably been his crowning achievement – a team so quintessentially him that it was a joy to watch them lift a Europa League title in 2021. 

Emery's Yellows have been everything we expected from Arsenal: drilled in two blocks of four, with two superb outlets up top and trickery from the wings. They've been the ultimate underdogs in a year in Spanish football that saw Atleti win the league. Welcome back, Senor Emery. 

12. Erik ten Hag

It seems surprising, almost, that Erik ten Hag is still at Ajax. After the Champions League semi side of 2019, a chapter closed for the likes of Matthjis De Ligt and Frenkie De Jong, with Hakim Ziyech and Donny van de Beek following out the door later. It seemed like ten Hag couldn’t do much more with this group. 

The former Bayern reserve manager remains, though. He's threatening this season to take Ajax as far as he did with the two linchpins of De Ligt and De Jong and his football is still as scintillating, his principles untouched. Ten Hag’s role in the development of players like Ryan Gravenberch and Noussair Mazraoui can’t be overlooked, while the way that his wingers cut in to assist in the attack with Dusan Tadic, is great to watch. Surely a big offer will come in for ten Hag at some point: he’s a smart, progressive coach, either way, who at 52, still could have his best years ahead of him.

11. Kasper Hjulmand

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Guiding Ireland’s perpetual qualifying play-off opponents Denmark to the Euro semi-finals is no mean feat; doing so after the traumatic experience of witnessing your star player have an on-pitch cardiac arrest in the first game is incredible.

He’s been linked with Everton and Aston Villa since then – don’t be surprised to see him in the Premier League soon.

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10. Mauricio Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino’s 4-1 win over Barcelona in the Champions League in February confirmed more than a few things. That his managerial values were sinking into his players, of course, but also that he could handle the heat of a European cauldron - an accusation leveled against him while at Tottenham. Moise Kean, Kylian Mbappe, Marco Verratti and Leandro Parades all came out of the game sparkling too, a true vindication of Poch’s methods early on in Ligue 1. 

And yet at PSG, we may never see a consistent picture of the Poch we loved from that night – and from his era-defining tenure at Tottenham. Les Parisiens are a different kind of beast, playing a relaxed brand of football that doesn't feel anything like the rest of Europe and certainly nothing like Pochettino. Yet they're still one of the favourites for the Champions League. And Pochettino is still a wanted man. 

9. Gareth Southgate

Managers

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Sir Gareth will always have his detractors – what England boss doesn’t? – but few can deny the enormous impact he’s had on English football since taking charge in 2016. If the World Cup in 2018 was sensational, 2021 was even better. 

England were dominant on the ball and tactically flexible en route to the Euro 2020 final. Penalties remain a hoodoo, but fans once again feel connected to a young and exciting Three Lions team.

8. 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 Bavarians look set to cruise to the Bundesliga title, and you wouldn’t bet against them in Europe. 

Nagelsmann is a household name at 33 but calling him the future of European football is somewhat misleading. He’s already taken Hoffenheim into Europe and Leipzig to the final four of the Champions League. He’s the present. 

7. 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. 

Every season it feels like this might be the one that Diego Simeone runs out of petrol. In the past two years, he’s lost Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godin, Rodri, Juanfran, Lucas Hernandez, Alvaro Morata and Thomas Partey – last-minute, without hope of getting a replacement – and yet Atletico Madrid still had LaLiga on lock from November onwards last season.

Simeone is indestructible, for sure. His 4-4-2 has morphed into a three-at-the-back iteration, as Marcos Llorente and Luis Suarez have become the leaders at the heart of Atleti’s latest 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 were fantastic last year while others have faltered.

6. Roberto Mancini

Managers

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Who makes Roberto Mancini’s suits?” That was the question that dominated the summer, as the Italy boss guided his team to Euro 2020 victory while looking like he should be in a high-end coffee advert.

Italy were undoubtedly the best team of the tournament, and with Mancini at the help, the Azzurri will go to Qatar as one of the favourites to lift the World Cup next December.

5. Hans-Dieter Flick

After sealing Bayern’s ninth-straight Bundesliga title – his seventh trophy in less than two seasons at the helm – Flick took over the German national team following Joachim Lowe’s departure. His duty will be to return Deutschland to the summit of world football and the early signs look good: Die Mannschaft have seven wins from seven since Euro 2020. 

Flick added the much-needed ferocity that Bayern lacked for years, while simplifying the individual roles of so many of his players. Is it easy to manage a team quite that dominant? Perhaps. It’s not quite so easy to sweep all before you on the continental and world stage. 

4. Antonio Conte

If you ask most Chelsea fans, they’ll tell you that Antonio Conte should have been given longer. Perhaps it’s his infectious, Duracell bunny passion that Blues miss about him, or the high-octane transitions that lifted them from their seats. In a funny way though, his Stamford Bridge tenure being curtailed has perhaps fuelled his reputation as the best short-term boss on the planet. 

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. 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. There’s a clear identity at play: everyone knows the rules. 

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.

3. Jurgen Klopp

Managers

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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. Now with a fully fit squad to select from, Klopp’s showing again this term just how devastating his teams can be. 

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. 

2. Thomas Tuchel

Managers

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Meticulous and demanding. High risk, high reward. Thomas Tuchel has a particular reputation for the friction he causes with his bosses. 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 has put everyone on the back foot and the use of wing-backs getting goal contributions has been an outstanding solution to a constant problem.

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 2021.

1. Pep Guardiola

Managers

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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.

The past 12 months have cemented Pep Guardiola’s position as the greatest coach of his generation in a way that none of us truly saw coming. While Pep ended last year with a bog-standard 4-2-3-1 that squeezed teams to death, he’s cut them to pieces since with fluidity, Joao Cancelo playing three roles at once and Phil Foden mastering four positions across the pitch to provide him multiple options. Manchester City last season were 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. 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 has been the devil on Guardiola’s shoulder. He seems to have encouraged him to go further in his ideals, deeper into the philosophies that have made him the coach he is today. 

Everyone else is playing catch-up to Pep Guardiola. It’s nothing new. And it’s just how he likes it.

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