As Real Madrid and Manchester City meet in the Champions League semi-finals, where do their coaches rank among the best since the year 2000?
Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola are very different personalities, but one thing they share is a knack for winning football matches, and the biggest ones at that. Between them, the Catalan and the Italian have won four Champions Leagues, 15 league titles and 13 domestic cups.
They will square up against each other again in Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final first leg between Real Madrid and Manchester City. Ancelotti is three matches away from becoming only the second manager to retain the trophy in the Champions League era, while Guardiola is desperate to get his hands on Europe’s biggest prize for the first time in 12 years.
But where do these two titans of modern coaching rank among the best managers in the 21st century? GOAL Decides
Every time Conte takes charge of a team, success instantly follows. Admittedly, he often leaves scorched earth in his wake, as Tottenham fans can attest to, but not many managers can say they have won five league titles across two leagues, restoring huge clubs such as Juventus, Inter and Chelsea to glory after inheriting messes from his predecessors.
The one black mark against Conte is his European record. His Inter were beaten in the 2020 Europa League final by Sevilla and then failed to get out of the group stage in the Champions League, a fate which also befell his Juve side in 2013-14. And he has never gone beyond the quarter-finals of Europe’s biggest competition, which is a failure considering the teams he has managed.
An uncompromising, combative forward in his playing days, Luis Enrique followed the exact same footsteps of Guardiola by playing for Barcelona, taking charge of the club’s reserve team, going on to manage the first team and then winning every trophy imaginable with them.
An idol of the Camp Nou faithful, he had inherited a stale team from Gerardo Martino, but still had a fantastic squad to work with, including serial winners Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Xavi Hernandez and Lionel Messi, plus newer arrivals Neymar and Luis Suarez.
He shook the team up, although perhaps his greatest decision was to back down from a conflict with Messi in January 2015 after the Argentine took issue with being benched. After a tense few days, the pair made their peace, and five months later Barca swept to a clean sweep of La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Champions League, led by perhaps the greatest front three of all time in Messi, Suarez, and Neymar.
Luis Enrique retained the title in his next season and won the Copa del Rey twice more before taking charge of Spain, reaching the Euro 2020 semi-finals and the last 16 of the 2022 World Cup.
8.Vicente del Bosque
The mustachioed Spaniard was Real Madrid manager for only three-and-a-half seasons but managed to win seven trophies, including two Champions Leagues and two La Liga titles. He was Spain manager for eight years and won the World Cup and the European Championship. In a remarkably short space of time, he completed football.
But Del Bosque never got the respect he deserved. The day after winning his second title in 2003, he was sacked, learning the news as he was passing through a corridor inside Santiago Bernabeu.
Madrid president Florentino Perez said at the time that Del Bosque’s methods were too traditional and that the club were looking for someone more sophisticated, but it took Madrid another 11 years before they won another Champions League. Perhaps those traditional methods weren’t so bad after all.
Spanish football clubs are not known for being patient with managers, yet Diego Simeone has managed to spend more than 11 years at Atletico Madrid, turning the Rojiblancos from a basket case at risk of being relegated into one of the biggest clubs in Europe.
Atletico have finished in the top three in La Liga in all 11 seasons under Simeone and twice lifted the title. And they have reached two Champions League finals, won two Europa Leagues and one Copa del Rey.
But it’s not just about silverware. The fiery Argentine has utterly transformed the club, who now play in one of the best stadiums in the continent. In an everchanging football landscape, when it is not unusual for clubs to change managers three times in a season, the sound of worshipping Atletico fans chanting ‘Ole Ole Ole, Cholo Simeone’ is one constant. More than a football coach, he is the leader of a religion: Cholismo.
The Portuguese has won many things, as he never tires of reminding everyone, but most significantly, he has elevated the status of managers from bureaucrats into rock stars. And he is the Mick Jagger of coaching, owning the stage of whichever club he goes to.
Even though he has not won any significant silverware since 2017, Mourinho is always in high demand, and it should be to no-one’s surprise that he is being tipped as the next coach of Paris Saint-Germain. Ever since he rolled into Chelsea in 2004 as a European champion and declared himself ‘The Special One’, no one in football has been able to take their eyes off him.
And even though he is way past the peak of his powers, his record remains outstanding: Champions League triumphs with Porto and Inter, eight league titles across Portugal, England, Spain and Italy while managing the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea, Tottenham and Roma. Anyone with a CV like that would think they were special too.
His critics dismissed his abilities by saying he always got lucky. But luck only gets you so far, it does not win you three consecutive Champions Leagues, two La Liga titles and the devotion of some of the best players in the world.
Zidane did have the good fortune to manage Real Madrid when Cristiano Ronaldo was in his pomp, but predecessors Rafael Benitez, Manuel Pellegrini and Mourinho could not come close to his achievements. And given the pressure from all quarters of the media, a highly demanding Santiago Bernabeu plus a tyrannical president in Perez, Madrid is hardly a straightforward club to manage.
But Zidane, whose smile could disarm a pit of bears, made it look easy. And when he resigned in 2018, the club fell to pieces to the point that they begged him to come back 10 months later.
“I like heavy metal. I always want it loud.”
So spoke Jurgen Klopp in 2013, and a decade later the music is still blaring out at ear-splitting levels and Liverpool fans never want it to stop.
The German is a galvanising figure and has resurrected two sleeping giants, first Borussia Dortmund and then Liverpool, and turned them into winning machines. His high-pressing, lightning-quick Dortmund took European football by storm, twice beating Bayern Munich to the Bundesliga title and reaching the Champions League final.
He then brought Gegenpressing to the Premier League and ended Liverpool’s 30-year wait for a league title, missing out on two more by just one point. He has also taken the Reds to three Champions League finals, winning one.
As well as being a relentless and brilliant coach, his charisma has lured more and more fans to Anfield. And whoever you support, his antics mean that whenever Klopp is on the sidelines, there’s never a dull moment.
The Italian wrote a book called Quiet Leadership, and the title perfectly sums up his approach to management. He has rarely made a fuss, demanded respect from his peers or blamed referees when things have gone against him.
Ancelotti lets his record do the talking instead, and it is easy to see why. He is the only manager to have won the title in each of Europe’s top five leagues, and no-one in the history of the game has won as many European Cups as him. In his first spell at Madrid, he was once accused of having a “soft hand”. His response was perfect:
“With this soft hand, I have won three European Cups.”
The number is now four.
His reputation for being more of a man-manager than a brilliant tactician persists, but those who have worked with him know what he is capable of, and that is why Real Madrid turned to him in 2021 when he was at Everton and his stock appeared to be at an all-time low.
But in his second coming at Madrid he has won every trophy possible, last weekend adding the Copa del Rey to the Champions League and La Liga title he lifted in his first season.
2.Sir Alex Ferguson
In 1993, Ferguson delivered Manchester United’s first league title in 26 years, and given the shambolic way the club has been run since his departure, it could be another 26 years before their next. The Glaswegian ran Old Trafford with an iron fist and he was always planning for the future, working so hard that he never dared take a day off.
In 27 years with United, Ferguson led the Red Devils to 13 league titles, five FA Cups and two Champions Leagues. Even if you only count his honours in the 21st century, he has won more than most of the managers on this list.
He famously knocked Liverpool off their perch and put United on it instead. And he ultimately saw off challenges from Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City before calling it a day in 2013. But his true influence is being felt now, one decade later, with United still looking rudderless without his leadership.
The Catalan has taken football to new heights with each team he has coached. He has won 10 league titles in 12 seasons, breaking the record for points totals in La Liga and the Premier League while winning the Bundesliga in the fastest time ever.
He is relentless, never allowing his players to rest on their laurels or get complacent. And he is constantly innovating, coming up with new tactical manoeuvres in every game, adapting the team to the qualities of his squad. To take one example, for much of his time at City, he has played without a centre forward.
But once he knew City could sign Erling Haaland, he changed the way they played to accommodate the Norwegian, leading to the striker becoming the most prolific player in Premier League history. The only reason why there is even a debate about whether Guardiola is the best coach ever is the fact he has not managed to win the Champions League since his two stunning successes with Barcelona at the start of his career.
He has come very close, losing a slew of knockout ties in the most agonising of circumstances. But while there is an element of chance to knockout football, the league table does not lie. Especially when you have finished top of it 10 times.