Published on February 5, 2013 | by Rob Britton


FA 150 – Greatest managers

English football has had more than enough names to remember since it’s official start 150 years ago – players such as Eric Cantona, Bobby Charlton, George Best, Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry, Paolo Di Canio, and the list goes on and on. But behind all these established players, there is of course the man who makes the team tick, who spends every waking minute conjuring up ways of how to improve their team. That man is, of course, the manager.

The FA has been under the spotlight numerous times when it comes to appointing the right man to lead England to glory, and that job alone is one that most managers would love yet hate to take up. But before international glories, we have been lucky in English football to witness some of the masterminds in world football, the men who really know how to win trophies and turn a club around from the shadows of doubt into the most successful teams to run onto a football pitch.

Here is an overview of ten of the most successful and decorated managers ever to step foot into English football, and why the beloved sport would not be the same without these men.

Bronze statue of Brian Clough in Old Market Square, Nottingham.
Picture by Graham Keen on Flickr

Clough was a favourite among England fans, despite only gaining two caps for his country, but his club form for Middlesbrough and Sunderland was one to be proud of, scoring 251 league goals from 274 starts. But Clough is not remembered in particular for his playing days, as the man was the brains behind the great success of Nottingham Forest and Derby County.

Clough’s success was never ending; he took the average Derby County from the Second Division slums, to finishing top of Division One in the 1971/72 season and claiming their first Division One championship in their 88-year history.

Unfortunately Clough only had a short spell at Leeds United, and by short I mean seven games. He soon left after only winning one of his first seven games, and swiftly moved on to Nottingham Forest, where his CV boasted accolades many could only dream of. From the outset he won the First Division again (1977/78), the League Cup four times, and most famously back-to-back European Cups, shining among the top names in football. Even the Likes of Pep Guardiola, Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho cannot boast this achievement yet, and it could be a while before it ever happens again.

The Teesside-born legend passed away on September 20, 2004, aged 69. But his legacy lives on through his son Nigel Clough, who is currently boss at Derby County, but due to the financial gaps between clubs, it will be a long time for this Clough to even dream of emulating what his father achieved.

Sir Alf Ramsey

The only England manager to win a World Cup could put his name in this list due to that accolade alone, but Ramsey was given the opportunity to lead his country due to his success at Ipswich Town. Ramsey took over in 1955, and was there for eight years, winning the Third (South), Second and First Division titles in the space of six years.

Bill Shankly

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

The man who loved football more than his wife, Shankly was a legend at Liverpool and was behind the start of the club’s dominance in world football. Shankly won three First Division championships, two FA Cups and the UEFA Cup, and if it hadn’t been for his premature retirement, the man could have taken the club on to more success.

Bob Paisley

Liverpool were in need of a new manager after Shankly, and that man was Bob Paisley, who created a team of Champions not only in England, but Europe too. Paisley took the Anfield club to six League championships, eight domestic cups, and three major European trophies, including the UEFA Cup and the European Super Cup. Paisley’s success is untouchable for that era, and the Anfield legend has one theory behind not receiving a knighthood: “I wasn’t only here for the good years, one year, we came second,” he remarked.

Sir Matt Busby

Many football fans aren’t true lovers of Manchester United, but no-one can say a bad word of the legend that is Sir Matt Busby. He had built a team that dominated in England throughout the 1950s, when the tragedy of the Munich air crash occurred. He lost some of his closest friends and colleagues, yet was still able to make Manchester United a powerhouse in European football, by winning the 1968 European Cup. He is remembered for the ‘Busby Babes’ – a group of players who graduated from the youth to the first team, eight of whom died in the Munich crash.

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger waving to the Arsenal fans at the Emirates Stadium.
Picture by wonker on Flickr

The Frenchman came to Arsenal in 1996 with a new philosophy that would change the way modern football is run forever. Wenger brought in a new diet for his players, new training plans, new tactics; turning Arsenal upside down in order to build a club that still is the only team to go an entire Premier League season without losing a single match.

The ‘Invincibles’ consisted of the likes of Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira and Sol Campbell, with the team producing a new revolutionary style of passing football, leading Wenger to win three Premier League trophies and four FA Cups. Although the Frenchman has come under criticism for his recent years at the North London club, Arsenal has always been a presence in European football despite no honours. Wenger can be criticised as much as people want to, but his enthusiasm and tactics in the late 1990s helped English football evolve as more managers decided to take up his style.

Jose Mourinho

“Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one.”

These words were soon to become some of the most famous quotes in Premier League history. Chelsea had a new owner under oil-rich Roman Abramovich, and Mourinho’s recent Champions League success lead to him becoming manager of the Blues, and creating history at Stamford Bridge. Mourinho went on to win two Premier League titles and three domestic trophies.

However, Mourinho’s rein was cut short by Abramovich in 2007 and the Premier League had lost the Special One. Mourinho not only brought us special moments on and off the pitch, he brought in the likes of Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, Michael Ballack, and many more players that gave United and Arsenal a new team to worry about for the league.

Since then he has won the Champions League with Inter Milan as well as the Serie A title, and he finally pipped Guardiola to the La Liga title with Real Madrid last season. But his time looks to be running out soon at the Spanish giants, and with his consistent desire to return to the Premier League, there could be more to come from the Special One.

Sir Bobby Robson

Few are as loved as much in world football as Sir Bobby Robson; his character was inspiring and his managerial career was one to be remembered, and after his tragic death in 2009, football has had a huge hole ever since.

Robson had a successful tenure at Ipswich Town, winning the FA Cup and UEFA Cup in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Robson was then given the role of England manager and led England to the semi-finals of 1990 World Cup, following which he went on to win league titles with Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven and FC Porto, along with the European Super Cup while at Barca.

Robson came back to management in England for Newcastle United in 2004, and was considered a living legend during his time there. The man will be missed forever more in the game, as his presence in football was known worldwide and his influence on the game will always be remembered – not least for his mentoring of a young Mourinho.

David Moyes

Although Moyes hasn’t had the titles to boast like some of the other managers in this list, the Scot is the only manager to win the LMA Manager of the Year three times, alongside Sir Alex Ferguson. The Scotsman has worked on a shoestring budget at Everton, but still managed to take Everton to the Champions League in 2005. He’s also qualified for the Europa League three years in a row, reached the FA Cup final, losing narrowly to Chelsea at Wembley, and has spent his money meticulously well on players such as Leighton Baines, Steven Pienaar and Tim Cahill.

Moyes has continuously been linked with jobs elsewhere such as Tottenham, Chelsea, and even Manchester United, but Moyes looks set to stay at Everton and has actually had some money to spend recently with the club set to challenge the top four once more.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Twelve League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, two Champions League trophies, four other European and World trophies, and ten Community Shields – of course it is none other than Fergie. The most decorated manager in the Premier League and in world football, Fergie has been the driving force behind Manchester United

However, it actually took him four years to win his first trophy there, but has gone on to win trophies year after year, building team after team. The class of 1992 – Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo, and  Wayne Rooney, all of these names plus many more have come into United by the influence of the gaffer. His main ambition was to knock Liverpool off their perch, and he did so during the 2010/11 season after claiming the Red Devil’s 19th league title, surpassing Liverpool’s total of 18.

He is not a man short of controversy though, with the infamous “Fergie Time”, his rants to match officials, throwing boots at players and selling whoever underestimated him, the list continues. But after being at Old Trafford for 27 years you would expect nothing less, and yet he has continued to bring success to Manchester after fighting off the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.

Fergie has new rivals for the title in the form of the noisy neighbours Manchester City, and Fergie will relish the challenge they pose to him, but undeniably there has not been a single manager as successful as Sir Alex Ferguson.




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