I was privileged to be at Anfield at the weekend to see two of the best Coaches in the game go head to head, in Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp of Liverpool, the Premier League has two incredible stand out characters that can deservedly claim to be the world’s best in their position, but even they missed out on the biggest prize in club football last season to Thomas Tuchel of Chelsea, who tactically out fought the rest to mastermind a first Champions League success.
Despite this, Pep has since wrestled some of that seniority back, a win at Chelsea and a resounding performance from his side in the 2-2 draw with Liverpool, certainly suggesting his own deep analytical and tactical rethink is often superior to those he competes with, but when Klopp’s heavy metal football is at its best, Guardiola’s tiki-taka can often get exposed, like-wise when Tuchel’s tactics stifle their opponents to stop them scoring, which makes the whole bloody question so interesting… So who is best?
I run down my top ten in the business right now, so not taking into account the unemployed likes of Zinedine Zidane, Jogi Low and Antonio Conte, feel free to read my thoughts and please don’t be offended if your best is not listed…
Close but no cigar, the biggest surprises not on the list perhaps include Jose Mourinho and Mauricio Pochettino whilst Fernando Santos, Christophe Galtier, Hansi Flick, Brendan Rogers, Marcelo Bielsa and Luciano Spalletti all just miss out… Despite me holding all in the highest of regard.
No 10: Didier Deschamps (France)
Managing ego’s is part of football, managing ego’s of the French National team however, is a part of football that many have failed to do successfully. Didier Deschamps however, has most certainly not.
Famously known as the ‘water carrier’ from his playing days, Deschamps quietly goes about his business as Head Coach of France and with a 64% winning record he has helped his nation to winning the World Cup (which he also did as a player) as well as reaching a Euros final in his nine year tenure whilst doing so in a way that allows his team to attack from all angles with fluidity all over the park.
No 9 Erik ten Haag (Ajax)
The man who turned Ajax back into a European force, having did so well in managing Go Ahead Eagles, Bayern Munich II and Utrecht before moving to the Johann Cruyff Arena. ten Hag helped one of the most attractive footballing teams in recent times reach a Champions League semi-final before losing out to Tottenham Hotspur in dramatic and disappointing fashion in the 2018/19 competition.
Despite losing some of his star assets, he has managed to win two Eredivisie titles and two KNVB Cup’s whilst philosophising the same brand of stunning football that Ajax of Amsterdam is world renowned for.
No 8 Gian Piero Gasperini (Atalanta)
When it comes to trophies, a couple of Coppa Italia final runners-up medals is about as good as it gets for 63-year-old Gasperini, but when it comes to ideology and style of football, few have been better than this Atalanta Bergamo team of his in recent years.
A fluid football team based on an attacking 3-4-3 formation, Gasperini led Atalanta to their first ever Champions League run in 2019 losing to Paris Saint-Germain in the Quarter Finals and this season they are back, having finished third in Serie A last campaign. Whilst Gasperini has had indifferent results with past clubs during a long career in management, nobody can deny that the side he’s created in Northern Italy will be fondly remembered for many years to come, whatever else they go on to achieve beneath him.
No 7 Julian Nagelsmann (Bayern Munich)
It seems like forever, Nagelsmann had been touted with the Bayern Munich job, so when it finally happened in the summer gone, a lot would be expected by people like me, of the former RB Leipzig coach.
Believe it or not, Nagelsmann is still only 34 and having qualified for the Champions League with both Hoffenheim and Leipzig, he is now expecting to win it, with the Bavarians, along with the league title, which Munich have had a nine-year stronghold on.
In style, Nagelsmann plays an attacking brand but with emphasis on solid foundations. Should he win more silverware for Munich this season, it could be the start of something very beautiful indeed.
No 6 Luis Enrique (Spain)
After guiding Barcelona to two league titles, three Copa del Rey and a Champions League, Enrique took a year break from the game before becoming Head Coach of the Spanish National team in 2018.
He initially quit in 2019 but was re-instated and during the Euro’s he reached the semi-finals losing to Italy on penalties, but by playing a traditional tiki-taka way that is embedded into his philosophy, his sides are always comfortable in possession and well-organised. With a UEFA Nations League semi-final ahead, more silverware and redemption against Italy, is very-much the focus for Spain’s top man.
No 5 Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea)
Has proven to be a tactician of the highest order whilst at Chelsea, after winning the French title back-to-back with Paris Saint-Germain and reaching a Champions League final, he dictated his sides victory against Manchester City in the final of 2020 to go one step better than the year previous.
Tuchel is a defensive coach, that didn’t always go down too well at Borussia Dortmund and PSG, but by organising solid, well-drilled, no-frills teams, he has enjoyed impeccable success through the way he does business.
No 4: Roberto Mancini (Italy)
His side have set an international record of 37 games unbeaten, picking up the small matter of a European Championship trophy along the way, but Roberto Mancini is no stranger to silverware and records, winning three Calcio’s with Inter Milan before moving to Manchester, and providing the blue half with their first ever Premier League title.
Since leaving the Etihad in 2013 and prior to taking the Italian Manager’s job, things didn’t always go to plan for Mancini but since heading the Azzurri his philosophy to pick players by form, and not by name, and his forward thinking style of high pressing, high intensity football has lifted the nation from a precarious transitional period where they failed to win in ten, to becoming one of the greatest international teams ever to be recognised.
No 3: Diego Simeone (Atletico Madrid)
One of the most well-respected Coaches in the game is one of the most intense and deep thinking tactically around, not only has he had to Manage in a league and era that has included the best Barcelona team ever, and a Real Madrid team that won three successive Champions League finals, competing against two of the greatest footballers, in Lionel Messi, and Cristiano Ronaldo, that the world has ever seen, but Simeone has regularly competed with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, and has two La Liga titles to his name despite all of the above.
Perhaps too negative for Premier League football, Simeone drills his sides better than any other coach in world football, to get results, to counter-act his opposition, and to mix it against the best by holding their own, and in his time, two Europa League successes and two Champions League final appearances for the third biggest club in Spain, is not too shabby at all.
No 2: Jurgen Klopp (Liverpool)
High intensity football only works if everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet, and when you play for Jurgen Klopp, you buy into his ethos for tradition, for playing the way he wants, for winning the ball back early and for getting the ball front to back quickly, to make football as difficult as possible for opponents to deal with, and at it’s best, there is no other style like it.
Klopp ended Liverpool’s long hoodoo for a league title, he won two titles at Dortmund prior to Bayern Munich’s long Bundesliga dominance, with a Champions League success after two final defeats, he’s now at the top of his game after being often said as the ‘nearly man’ and there’s no reason he’s going to stop there… For Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp is already a legend and icon for bringing heavy metal football at it’s best to Anfield.
No 1: Pep Guardiola (Manchester City)
What I love about Pep, is that when he get’s it wrong, and he does, he always comes back bigger and better than ever. He eats football, sleeps football, will never stop talking about football, analysing and perfecting, his ideology to keep possession, and to press hard, does not stop there, but has since grown in to his teams becoming better in defence, more economical in attack, he has often targeted opposition weaknesses, City will get the ball forward quickly when needed, but they can also keep patience when the time is right, sometimes he over analyses and over complicates too much, but then he goes back to the drawing board and gets it right. His record in top flight league football at over 70% win ratio suggests this is much more often than not.
Guardiola is infectious, if you love football, you’ll love him. People want to play for him, people want to watch his sides play, what he did with Barcelona was utilise his sides unbelievable qualities to dominate in Spain, Europe, the World, he then went to Bayern Munich and won a hat-trick of titles, playing a style that dominated German football, then came City, a different beast is the English game, but City have since dominated the Premier League, they dominate teams they play in the Premier League, and once they get the Champions League trophy which they will, one day, Guardiola may retire on that success, as the most successful top Manager in the history of the game. High kudos when compared to the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson, Bob Paisley, Fabio Capello, Carlo Ancelotti, Ernst Happel and many more greats that have gone before him.