MANISH SHARMA |19th December 2019

It is often the case in world football that when a team doesn’t perform well on the field, managers are the first to face the brunt of the owners off the field, which is why it is considered one of the hardest jobs in world football.  Even though it may seem very unfair, to take complete criticism for the team’s performance, but it is the distasteful part of this job which every manager has to face.

As the 2010s ends, there has been nothing short of a pantheon of brilliant managers coming to the fray and changing the scope of the sport as we know it today. More Than A Game looks at the top 10 managers of the decade, who have painted an empty footballing canvas with their identities on how best it would to play the game that is representation of themselves and their perceptions of what makes the sport truly beautiful; whether that’s driven by the genuine will to play free-flowing football or their inner will to win.

10. Unai Emery

Despite the fact that Emery’s time at Arsenal wasn’t hugely successful, one cannot overlook the incredible work he did at Sevilla. Unai Emery started the decade with Valencia and managed Spartak Moscow for a solitary season before finally taking the reins at Sevilla, midway through the 2012-13 season.

In his first full season, Sevilla managed to finish 5th in the league but went on to win the Europa League, defeating Benfica on penalties in the final. In the next 2 seasons, Sevilla finished 5th and 7th in the league, but the club made amends by winning the Europa League again in both the seasons; becoming the most successful club in the competition with 5 titles.

Post-Sevilla, Emery managed PSG for two seasons and helped the club win 4 trophies in that time. However, the lack of success in Europe was his undoing and he eventually left the club in 2018. He was later appointed as the successor of Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

However, his time was characterised by the same deficiencies that plagued his predecessors, except for the fact that his decision-making was simply bizarre at times, his player management was sub-par, the standard of football was largely poor and as football is a results business; the less said about that during the Emery era, the better.

Despite his lack of success at the Gunners, the Spaniard has been a definite success and will continue to be high among the lists of several teams across the globe.

9. Antonio Conte

Juventus started their period of domination in Serie A from 2011, with Antonio Conte being the man at the helm who was at the forefront of this revolutionary team. His trademark 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 formations have been often praised by football critics and at times, also implemented by fellow Italian clubs. Conte helped Juventus to restore their identity back in Calcio by winning 3 Serie A titles and 2 Italian Super cups during his time in charge.

After his stint at Juve, Conte managed the Azzurri for 2 seasons, helping the team to become relevant at the big stage once again. In the Euro 2016, Conte’s tactical masterclass when Italy defeated Spain in the Round of 16 showed the world the unique talent this man possesses.

The ex-Bari boss then made an entry into the Premier League by joining Chelsea and surprised everyone by winning the Premier League in his first season. A man known for his tactics, Conte adopted his 3-5-2 formation with the West London outfit and got the best out of players that had once been out of favour or simply cast away such as David Luiz, Victor Moses and Marcos Alonso. His second season with the club was a topsy-turvy one but he still managed to win the FA cup title at the end of a season that was branded as unsuccessful.

At Inter Milan now, Conte’s astute signings and exciting style of football, characterised by the burgeoning strike duo of Lautaro Martinez and Romelu Lukaku is testament to his adaptability and guaranteed success.

8. Joachim Löw

With Michael Ballack getting injured before the 2010 World Cup, Joachim Löw had quite a task to carry the German team through to the tournament. The weight of expectations was heavy and he was expected to deliver, with the backdrop of Die Mannschaft’s pedigree as the backdrop during the pre-cursor of the tournament. Löw decided to take a gamble and put his faith in the youth by fielding the 2nd youngest team of the tournament, giving opportunities to the likes of Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller.

The young team did exceptionally well by reaching the semi-final stage, while Thomas Müller also picked up the Golden Boot and the accolade of the Best Young Player of the Tournament.

Joachim Löw’s team developed further by first reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2012 and then by winning the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The way his team demolished tournament favourites Brazil in the semi-final is still talked about, when the national team went into blitzkrieg mode, obliterating the hosts 7-1.

To add to his feats, Löw also helped the national team win the Confederations Cup in 2017 where he once again gave chances to prodigious talents such as the likes of Timo Werner, Julian Brandt and Leon Goretzka, to name a few.

The only asterisk in Joachim Löw’s stellar record would be the 2018 World Cup, where the team suffered with the so-called ‘champion’s curse’ and were eliminated in the group stage in Russia.

7. Diego Simeone

Often known for building a team around strong defensive stability, Diego Simeone has done well to make Atlético Madrid compete with the likes of Real Madrid and Barcelona and take it to the wire against the Spanish juggernauts.

Simeone started his first season with the Rojiblancos in 2011 by winning the Europa league, a competition which the team won again in 2018. Atleti also managed to win the UEFA Super Cup in 2012 and the Copa Del Rey in 2013.

However, Simeone’s major success came in 2014 when the club won their first La Liga title since 1996 under his leadership by drawing their final game against direct title rivals Barcelona at the Camp Nou.

Defeats in two Champions league finals at the hands of Real Madrid would still be haunting Simeone but his side has performed brilliantly in the competition despite selling many of their star players over the years such as Sergio Agüero, Radamel Falcao, Arda Turan and now Antoine Griezmann.

Despite the struggles that have come with managing Atleti, the Argentine tactician has successfully managed to make them a European force over the past decade.

6. Massimiliano Allegri

Massimiliano or ‘Max’ Allegri as he is known has been one of the most revered managers not just in Italy, but around the world during this decade of dominance. In his first season in charge (2010-11) with AC Milan, he helped the club win their first league title since 2004, while also defeating city and title rivals Inter Milan in both league fixtures in the process. Allegri also won the Italian Super Cup during his 2nd season with the Italian club.

After having two trophyless seasons with Milan, Allegri joined rivals Juventus in 2014 which was met with a lot of criticism by the Juve fans. However, those fans slowly but steadily started to sing praises of the ex-Sassuolo boss who spend 5 seasons with Juventus and won the Scudetto in every season. Juventus also managed to win two Coppa Italia and two Italian Super Cups, while also reaching the Champions League finals twice during his reign.

Allegri decide to leave the club in 2019 and it would be interesting to see which club he goes on to manage next after the massive amounts of success he has had in Italy.

5. Zinedine Zidane

In January 2016, Zinedine Zidane returned to Real Madrid, but this time on the touchline and was tasked to bring back stability to the club which was thrown out of the window during Rafa Benitez’s stewardship. However, any Real Madrid fan, even in their wildest of dreams wouldn’t have imagined of what was to follow Zidane’s appointment. Despite joining the club in January, Zizou helped Real won the Champions League by defeating cross-city rivals Atlético Madrid.

In the 2016-17 season where the Frenchman first took charge of the club, Los Merengues won the La Liga, UEFA Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. The club also won the Champions league and, in the process, became the first club to successfully defend their title since the turn of the century.

Zidane managed to go one better in the next season by helping the club win the Champions league for the 3rd time in a row and record overall 13 Champions League titles. The 2017-18 campaign was another one filled with silverware as Madrid too home the FIFA Club World cup, UEFA Super Cup and the Spanish Super Cup under Zidane’s leadership before the former World Cup winner decided to leave the club, stating the club’s need for change as his reason for departure.

Zidane returned to Real Madrid in March 2019, after leaving the club just 10 months ago. His second spell with the club would be scrutinised heavily considering the lofty standards Zidane has set for himself after his first spell in charge, however with the giants from the Spanish capital back in full flow for a title charge, the world is once again coming around to the idea of Zizou as Real’s boss.

4. Carlo Ancelotti

The third Italian on this list and the one who has been involved the longest, starting his journey as a manager since 1995, Carlo Ancelotti truly is a seasoned vet. Over the decade, Ancelotti has managed a variety of elite clubs such as Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Napoli. And it’s safe to say that the Italian’s trophy cabinet alone can put a host of mangers to shame.

But his most telling contribution during the decade came in 2014 when he finally helped Real Madrid won the Champions league and end the long wait for La Decima. Ancelotti, after getting sacked from Real Madrid in 2015, replaced Pep Guardiola as the Bayern Munich boss and won the Bundesliga and the German Super Cup in his first season in charge.

Despite this success, Ancelotti was sacked in 2017 after it was reported that he had lost the dressing room after a game against PSG in the Champions League. Ancelotti then went on to manage Napoli and his side in the 2017/18 season came the closest to ending the domestic domination of Juventus.

However, things have gone left at Napoli this season due to internal conflicts and the club is certainly in a dire state, which has led to Ancelotti being shown the door.

Reports suggest that the former Milan manager is about to take the reigns at Everton. If the deal does manage to come to fruition, the Merseysiders could undergo a transformation like none other as a true managerial elite would be coming to town.

3. Jürgen Klopp

Known for his ‘heavy metal football’, Jürgen Klopp’s Dortmund side stood up to be counted and rubbed shoulders with Bayern Munich. winning back-to-back league titles, two German Super Cups and a DFB-Pokal with their gegenpressing approach.

Der Borussen tasted bitter defeat when they reached their first ever Champions League final under Klopp against bitter rivals Bayern Munich. The same fate followed the German in Merseyside after Gareth Bale’s heroics as well as Loris Karius’ failings meant Real Madrid beat Liverpool to lift the elusive trophy. However, the German continued to graft for football’s ultimate honour and won it in 2019, courtesy of one of the greatest Champions League comebacks against Barcelona and a solid display in the final to defeat English counterparts, Tottenham. The season also included an incredible title race against Man City in which they reached a staggering 97 points in the Premier League, only to be vanquished by a difference of 1 point.

Under Klopp, Liverpool, over the past four seasons have made incremental improvements and are one of the most feared teams not only in Europe, but also in the world.

Only time will tell how far and to what heights can Klopp take Liverpool but his team’s style of play and his larger-than-life persona can never get old.

2. José Mourinho

The special one, the humble one; whatever self-proclaimed moniker that the world addressed, if there is one word which is synonymous with him, then it is success. Winning the treble with Inter Milan, conquering La Liga with Real Madrid, doing a double with Chelsea in his second spell and to winning a Europa League final with Manchester United, no matter where Jose goes, José wins.

Mourinho has often been criticised for his defensive tactics but one needs to remember that his Real Madrid team, in the title-winning season, scored a massive 121 goals and was considered one of the best counter-attacking sides in Europe. His 2004-05 side was also renowned for their flying wingers in Arjen Robben and Damien Duff who left defenders for dead all campaign in their devastating title win.

Mou has a habit of pulling a rabbit out of the hat and winning the most heavyweight clashes, especially at times when the opposition are tipped as outright favourites.

While his stint at Manchester United was heavily criticised, looking at the state of the club after the Portuguese manager was given his marching orders, the football fraternity realized how an argument can be put forward about how he had overachieved by winning a Europa League as well as a League Cup as well as an FA Cup in a position which is none more than a poison chalice for any one taking charge.

The amount of success and tactical brilliance has brought wherever he has gone, despite antics off the pitch and how Mourinho departs clubs is why he is ranked 2 our list.

1. Pep Guardiola

Guardiola’s Barcelona are undoubtedly the greatest side this decade, playing a brand of football that was so easy on the eye and yet could absolutely terrorize the opposition. In the 2 years that Pep spent at the Blaugrana just this decade, he managed to get his hands on a La Liga trophy, a Champions League medal and also a Club World Cup.

After taking a sabbatical in 2012, the Spaniard went to Bayern Munich and implemented his signature style of play, testing his players to the hilt and winning all the domestic accolades during his time in Germany. But there were always questions marks over whether he would be able to replicate that in the Premier League which is known for its doggedness and physicality.

After joining Manchester City in 2016, not only did he settle but he has implemented a style of football that in terms of mere watchability can stand the test of time in English football.

The Citizens won their first title under Guardiola by amassing a mammoth, record-breaking 100 points by scoring a boatload into the back of the net and single-handedly, tearing history books to shreds by outdoing feats by the day. However, the surprising fact was that they ran away with the title it in that season, with the nearest rivals in Manchester United finishing 19 points behind, a margin that has never been seen between title contenders in the Premier League ever before. But they were made to work hard for their 2nd title, with only one point separating second-placed Liverpool in the 2018-19 season, reaching 98 points and an unforeseen 198 points in 2 seasons.

The only shortcoming during his spells post-Barcelona have been the lack of Champions League titles, however it must be addressed that if Guardiola didn’t set impossible standards for himself, he certainly would not be burdened by such lofty ambitions; a true managerial visionary and numero uno on this list.

Best of the Rest

Fernando Santos

Tipped as the perennial underachievers, especially during their Golden Generation era where the likes of Luis Figo and Rui Costa were otherwise impeccable talents, Fernando Santos has introduced a new culture in and an amongst the Portuguese national team; one of expectation and hope.

His team showed tremendous mental strength in the European Champions that transpired in 2016 by grinding out results right from the group stage to the final itself, defeating an onsong Les Bleus side.

The team however once again underperformed at the 2018 World Cup but they managed to showcase their arsenal of talent and come good in the Nations League tournament, defeating the Netherlands finals and adding a 2nd trophy in the decade for Fernando Santos leadership.

Mauricio Pochettino

Mauricio Pochettino, after arriving at Tottenham may not have won any silverware but his possession and counter-attack identity of football has put Spurs on the map. His development of young players such as Dele Alli and Harry Winks has made the footballing world sit up and take notice of the progressive Argentine.

Pochettino became the the manager to help Spurs finish above North-London rivals Arsenal in the league for the first time in 22 years. His constant top 4 finishes and dream run to Tottenham’s first ever Champions League manager puts him right up there among the club’s managerial greats. The charismatic Argentine has made the fans dream on a shoestring budget and was the reason for his eventual demise due to dressing room conflicts and expectation for bigger and better things made the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium want him gone.

The former Espanyol gaffer also had a major impact on the England national team during his tenure with Spurs as the squad which went on to qualify to the semi-final phase in the 2018 World Cup, their highest finish in the tournament since the turn of the century had key players such as Harry Kane, Kieran Trippier, Dele Alli and Eric Dier.

Vicente Del Bosque

The man who masterminded Spain’s first ever World Cup win and subsequently a European Championship in 2012 deserves a mention. Spain had some of the best players in the world representing the national team, but it takes a huge amount of respect and authority from these stalwarts to manage them as well.

Del Bosque to his credit, did very well to manage these egos and maintain harmony in his squad where a majority of the setup included either Barcelona or Real Madrid players.

Eddie Howe

Even though managers are judged based on winning silverware in the current footballing context, one cannot write off the incredible work Eddie Howe has done at Bournemouth with the limited resources available at his disposal.

The Englishman joined the Cherries in 2012 when the club was fighting two divisions below the Premier League in League One. After gaining promotion in 2015, Bournemouth haven’t been relegated once and the club also finished in the top half of the table in the 2016-2017 season.

The manager has continued to develop more and more players during his tenure and has honed the talents of now-Premier League stars such as Callum Wilson, Nathan Aké and Ryan Fraser.