Football managers, nowadays, are almost as profoundly important to a football club’s success as the players themselves. In the current world, there are arguably more talented managers than ever before. Which made breaking them down all the more harder. However, there are a selective few that have made their case more so than others. And these are the managers that we love; that have enjoyed successful tenures, invented (or rejuvenated) tactics, and asserted their domination in this game full of uncertainties.
Ariel’s Choice: The Tactical Masterclass
When talking about managers, most people would look at their achievements. Me? Give me Marcelo Bielsa. When you peek at his career, you notice that he doesn’t have a lot of trophies, which would immediately rule him out of any discussion about the best managers on Earth. But then you dig a bit deeper and realise that he won an Argentinean championship fielding a pair of centre-backs that were 18 and 20 years old; that he led Vélez Sarsfield (a mid-table team in Argentina) to another championship while clashing with half the squad; that he produced an unbeatable and unforgettable Argentina team during its run to the 2002 World Cup (in which, to be honest, they flamed out spectacularly in the group stage, but that had more to do with injuries and the grinding European seasons rather than anything else); that he led Chile to the 2010 World Cup, after missing out on 2002 (finishing last in South America) and 2006; and that he managed both Athletic Bilbao and Olympique Marseilles to second-place finishes with not-so-talented teams.
Except for Argentina, what all the other teams have in common is that they overachieved big time, chiefly because Bielsa has always advocated for team effort rather than individualism, and has always instilled a sense of discipline that his players have mostly followed blindly. His teams have been mostly devoid of superstars, so one may argue that it’s his system and philosophy that makes him so revered.
A newspaper article from 1991 presented him as a man who breathed football, and it sold him short. He was a pioneer of using video to analyse his opponents. He’s been accused of not being flexible, as many pundits used to believe that his 3-3-1-3 formation was his only one, failing to notice that many times he reverted to a 4-2-1-3, and there were moments of him fielding just two defenders. After many years of analysing matches, he became aware that defending was quite easy–according to him, there are six ways of defending–but that attacking could be practised in all of its 28 different possibilities.
Besides being a master tactician (and a Pep Guardiola mentor, to boot), he’s also a great motivator. One of his classic lines: “In street fights there are two kinds of fighters. There is the one who hits, sees blood, gets scared, and holds back. And there is the one that hits, sees blood, and goes all-in. Well, lads: I come from the pitch, and I swear that there is the smell of blood.”
Someone once said that football is the most important of the unimportant things in life. Well, Bielsa also left some pearls of wisdom, most of them regarding his love of processes (in opposition to winning at all costs), his repeated failures, and self-righteousness.
When resigning as manager of Chile, he claimed that he didn’t trust the incoming president of the FA, and was proven right five years later, as Sergio Jadue was arrested by the FBI in connection with the scandal of the bribes in order to award television rights for CONMEBOL competitions.
His main drawback is that his abrasive personality which works best in small doses of no more than three years, and yet he’s ideal to lead a long-term project, which means he is best suited to be in charge of a national team.
In the end, I’m truly heartbroken he declined to be Chile’s manager for a second term because I know we would’ve challenged for the 2018 World Cup title had he done so.
Mario’s Pick: Mr. Success
He may not make his teams play beautiful football. He may not even have his teams play good football. But what he does do is make his teams play winning football.
Though some might argue that wherever he’s gone, he has been given huge funds to spend on players, his fans and I will point to the Porto team that he led to a treble. The Portuguese giants, though dwarf the others in their league in terms of revenues, are themselves dwarfed by other European super clubs in that same respect. Even the mid-table Premier League side Everton have more money to spend than them. Which means that Mou’s accomplishment was even more of a Sisyphean task than others might give him credit for.
Still, even those who hate him admire his tactical prowess, and his ‘never say die’ attitude. A young Mourinho will show you a bit of the present day Simeone, though the Portuguese has the edge in terms of being able to make his teams play ‘beautiful’ football. Clearly, Simeone has no idea how to make that happen.
But, even more clearly, Atleti’s fans don’t give two cents about it.
The one and only thing that critics say about Mou that’s even slightly symbolic of a flaw in his flawless system, is his inability to stay at a club and establish a ‘dynasty’. Apparently, someone jinxed him so that he only lasts 3 seasons at a club; usually his 2nd season is his best one, and the 1st and 3rd are about the same. But, the point they are trying to make is that players can’t deal with Mourinho’s demands any longer than the 3-4 year time slot.
And that is somewhat true.
Look at the freshly baked disaster at Chelsea.
The players couldn’t shift mindsets between seasons quick enough. The shorter pre-season training regime didn’t help; nor did the failure to make a significant addition to the squad. However, this was the defending Champions.
At least you’d expect them to be in contention for the top 4. Not cheering like they’ve won the league in a derby against Tottenham when they actually guaranteed the title’s handover to Leicester, managed by the once one-of-their-own Claudio Ranieri.
But, I still think he was smart to realize that this ship wasn’t turning during mid-season, though by no means was it going to epitomize the Titanic sinkage, and so decided to part ways by ‘mutual consent’, which seems to be the go-to term that clubs use nowadays when firing managers.
Some have claimed, since his departure, that this disaster of a season could potentially have a negative effect on his reputation. However, those rumours are long-time gone; as per the saying, ‘class is permanent, form is temporary’. Mou suffered the lowest point of his managerial career this season at Chelsea, and it will only make him stronger, smarter, and better prepared for the future. Be a hater if you want, but at least recognize his footballing acumen.
Nick’s Pick: The Fire-Breathing Dragon
Diego Simeone had a long, successful playing career before becoming Atlético Madrid’s manager in 2011. Starting at Argentinian side Racing Club and playing for the likes of Sevilla, Internazionale, Lazio, and Atlêti, Diego Simeone earned the nickname “El Cholo”. Victorio Spinetto, Simeone’s youth coach at the time, gave him that name because of his work ethic and never-say-never attitude while playing. Most commonly used as a derogatory term, el cholo is a word used to describe a “hick” or a country person. Despite its meaning, Simeone embraced his nickname. This alone is reason enough for Diego to be my favorite manager. In a sports world filled with prima donnas and egotistical players, Simeone prided himself on working for the team. He was never the biggest, strongest, fastest, or most technical player on the field but he always put everything on the line. He took being passionate to a whole new level.
Everything that made Diego Simeone a great player transformed him into an even better manager. His work ethic is second to none. His ability to make those around him stars is unquestionable. And his passion and love for the game is inspiring.
Haters might try to attack his style of play and claim he is hurting the beauty of the game. But the game is all about winning and he has managed to take a struggling club and turn them into a power that has won La Liga and reached the Champions League finals; all while having less talent and less money to spend than the Real Madrid’s and Barcelona’s of the world.
Diego Simeone brings a whole team together. He gets his players to buy into the club and leads by example. His hard work and desire to win can be seen within his team. They are willing to fight and claw their way to victory. They are willing to do the dirty work if it means they get the W. For me, this is the best attribute of a coach. Time and time again we have seen coaches with world class players failing to win. Not with Diego though. He knows how to get the very best out of his players, which, believe it or not, is a rare attribute. Only the best in the world have this skill.
In the end, it’s not Diego’s championships that make him my favorite manager. It’s his character. The way he can ignite a crowd when his team needs a boost. It’s his hatred for losing. His emotion. His pure passion. His determination. And his ability to win despite the odds always being stacked against him. El Cholo will undoubtedly go on to win many titles in the future, but that’s not what he will be remembered for. He will be remembered for his passion and desire to win. Character speaks more to me than any amount of titles can and Diego Simeone embodies that. Some might not like the style he plays, but no one can question his passion. That’s the type of coach I would want to play for. He’s the type of coach that I would sacrifice everything for because I know he is doing the same for me. All in all, Diego Simeone would be my manager of choice if I was hiring.
Eman’s Pick: The tiki-taka Genius
Though Pep Guardiola played for one of the world’s most famous soccer clubs in the world, Barcelona, it is what he has accomplished off the pitch that makes him a true legend. As a defensive midfielder for the explosive Blaugrana, Pep had a somewhat of an average career. As a player, Pep won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1992 and appeared at the 1994 FIFA World Cup. He was remembered for his vision of the game, ball control, technical ability, passing range and calm composure.
Guardiola’s ability to “conduct” on the pitch as an ex-midfielder also shows in the way he manages world-class teams. Debuting as a coach at Barca B in 2007, Pep quickly rose through the ranks with a keen eye for organizing the most disorganized players. Using his know-how of the “game” to win trophies for Barca B, Pep quickly found himself offered a job at the senior Barca A squad. The previous coach before him, Frank Rijkaard, was known for employing a stylish 4–3–3 with Ronaldinho being the centerpiece of the attack. Once Pep took over in 2008, however, all of the previous tactics were thrown in the dumpster. There was no room for overblown egos (Ronaldinho) or hard-headed players on Guardiola’s version of Barcelona. Players were immediately sold and new ones that fit the mold were invited to join. Pep battled various clubs using a more aggressive 4-3-3 and a modified 3–4–3 system. Pep’s side went on to win the treble and later, the sextuple. He himself became the youngest man to coach a Champions League winning team.
Though many may regard his tactics as “Too much pressure and not enough defense”, I simply believe that Pep’s unique style of managing is what makes him simply the best. The man attracts the best, molds the best, and creates lasting bonds between the players and himself. Is it such a surprise that when Pep leaves a club, many of the players there want to follow him to his next coaching job? Not much needs to be said about a man that has a career that speaks for itself. To simply capture the astounding wonder of the effect that Guardiola has on a team, one only has to flip on a TV and watch his side in action. Pep has the proverbial “Midas touch” when it comes to coaching and that makes him the world’s best coach in my opinion.