Top 10: Best Managers in Men’s Football Right Now

December 7, 2021

Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp or Thomas Tuchel — who has been the best manager in men’s football during 2021? Have there been any surprise packages?


“You are loved when you are born, you are loved when you die,” Arsène Wenger once claimed.

“In between, you have to manage.

Football is the only sport where managers are as important as players, if not more. Managing a football team is not as easy as it sounds; it is one of the hardest jobs in the game.

Managing a football team requires varied skill-sets that cover managing the team, developing the youth, carving out a system to get the best out of the players, and split-second decision-making capabilities.

In today’s day and age, the respect for managers is about as short as a deep block. Everyone has their opinion and the boss, ultimately, cannot appease the entire fanbase. Moreover, the success or failure of the team affects the manager’s position more than any other player these days.

Due to the COVID pandemic and other related reasons, an average tenure of 18 months for a manager would explain a lot, but then there are those who have excelled over the past year or so. This list keeps a few factors in mind: ability, obviously, as well as a manager’s impact and adaptability in these past 12 months.

So without further ado, here are the top 10 managers in men’s football right now : the bosses who’ve bossed it this year.


(Don’t agree with this list? That’s perfectly fine. Drop a comment below and let’s have a tasty debate about it!)



Honourable Mentions

Zinedine Zidane

Best Managers in World Football Right Now - Zinedine Zidane 
The fact that Zinedine Zidane even returned to Real Madrid deserves credit; he didn’t have to. He left as a hat-trick hero, having won three Champions League titles as well as a LaLiga title amongst the major silverware.

Converting Casemiro to play as a #6 and press high was almost revolutionary, but aside from that, Zidane’s job was never to reinvent the wheel in Spain’s capital. He was a figurehead — the ultimate Galáctico — and the modern-day holder of the mantra that balance is best.

Zidane lost Cristiano Ronaldo to Juventus, but he didn’t replace him and squeezed his defence together to bring another league title. He repainted Karim Benzema from a sidecar to a Porsche, or a Ferrari.

Zidane showed a lot of capability in his second spell at Real Madrid that he never had to display the first time around. It was a very different experience for the Frenchman, but it probably helped him enhance his reputation even more.


Mikel Arteta

Best manager in men’s football right now - Mikel Arteta 
The man who Pep Guardiola claimed “knows everything” has had a hellish baptism in his first 18 months of management. Arsenal were a horribly imbalanced squad, with out-of-confidence players either on big wages or having their contracts running out. Mikel Arteta’s upgrade from a head coach to a manager has reflected the spread of fire he’s put out while in charge.

Considering he’s learning on the job, Arteta did exceptionally well to win the FA Cup while carrying out a major overhaul and bringing in his own set of players. His Arsenal side are slowly taking shape, though the recent injection of youth will certainly bring its fair share of highs and lows.

The Basque boss has managed to fashion a sturdier defence as well as an improved build-up play with spontaneity and fluidity, which has made Arsenal stronger, fitter, compact and more structured. Moreover, since the turn of the year, only Chelsea and Manchester City have scored more points than Arteta’s Arsenal in the Premier League.

Also Read – Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal: Are they the real deal, or is this another false dawn?


Graham Potter

Best manager in men’s football right now - Graham Potter 
A young manager at 45, there is something special about Graham Potter. Some see it, others don’t get it.

Potter had to ply his trade in Sweden with Östersunds and then with Swansea City in the EFL Championship before docking at Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League, where it looked like he would never escape the dreadful luck his team had for the entirety of last season.

Despite Brighton & Hove Albion’s disappointing season, his team consistently recorded better xG than their opponents; from build-up play to attacking play, everything was superbly orchestrated.

The ability with which Potter’s teams attack oppositions with ferocity, while not exposing his defence to an inevitable and obvious counter-attack, is the hallmark of a top coach.

Moreover, this season, Potter’s Seagulls sit in 9th in the Premier League, level on points with Manchester United and just five points behind fourth-placed West Ham United.


Top 10 football managers in the men’s game 2021

#10 Erik ten Hag

Best manager in men’s football right now - Eric Ten Hag
It almost seemed like a chapter had ended after the pioneers of ten Hag’s 2019 Ajax team left to pursue further glory with some of the biggest European clubs. It seems surprising that he is still at Ajax, considering the likes of Matthijs De Ligt, Frenkie De Jong, Hakim Ziyech and Donny van de Beek have all left following that campaign.

Erik ten Hag may never be able to replicate the feats of Ajax’s 2019 Champions League campaign, but his football is still scintillating, and his principles remain untouched. Moreover, following the mass exodus of his players, ten Hag’s role in the development of Ryan Gravenberch and Noussair Mazraoui can’t be simply overlooked.

The Dutchman was heavily linked with the Manchester United job before talks stalled; surely a big offer will come in for him at some point, though. He is a tactician, a progressive coach, and at 51, he could still have his best years ahead of him.


#9 Mauricio Pochettino

We have all watched the Argentine’s 4-2-3-1 system with high-press and midfielders dropping deep to help the defence in build-up – evident from his days with Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League. There were obstacles: money, investment and injuries ravaging his squads. But it is fair to say that Mauricio Pochettino overachieved in England, all things considered.

In his 11-month tenure at Paris Saint-Germain thus far, the Argentine has won them the Coupe de France against AS Monaco while finishing second in Ligue 1, one point behind champions Lille OSC, and getting through to the semi-finals of the UEFA Champions League after beating 2020 champions Bayern Munich.

This season, though, Poch and PSG are running away in Ligue 1, having stretched their lead to 12 points at the top. However, the lack of press and defensive contribution from his front trio of Kylian Mbappe, Lionel Messi and Neymar has led to friction within the camp and has created a headache for him.


#8 Stefano Pioli

The current Manchester United interim, Ralf Rangnick, was poised for the AC Milan role before the start of last season while Stefano Pioli got the wheel as an immediate counter-measure to hold the slide, but what Pioli managed to achieve in his unbeaten run that handed him the permanent job and then the rise of the Rossoneri last season is perhaps the best anyone has done at the club since their Champions League days.

Pioli’s ability to adapt to situations along with the integration of fresh new ideas is one of the key reasons for Milan’s surge towards the top. The Italian likes his teams to play from the back, pressing teams high up the pitch. Pioli knows the 40-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovi? cannot keep up with his system. Thus, he has built his team around the midfield engine of two box-to-box midfielders in Ismaël Bennacer and Franck Kessié. He has kept his team simple, effective, and surprisingly competitive, as they challenge for the Scudetto.

Also Read – Ralf at the Wheel: Is this Man United finally getting themselves back on track?


#7 Julian Nagelsmann

Maybe it is just me, but until last season, Bayern Munich didn’t look like they showed enough respect to Nagelsmann and his RB Leipzig side the way they did to Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund during the 2011-2013 period. Nagelsmann has been key to the rise of the East German behemoth as one of Germany’s finest football teams.

The 33-year-old plays an attractive and attacking brand of football; it’s really his fluid football—focused on individual execution—that has seen his teams go to that next level.

Nagelsmann is a tactician and is fluent in a plethora of formations of styles, but calling him the future of European football can be misleading given he has already, in his career, secured European qualification with Hoffenheim and reached the Champions League last-four stage with RB Leipzig; he is the present. And, with him having joined the Bavarian giants Bayern Munich this summer, the next year or so would paint a fair picture of what Nagelsmann’s ceiling is.


#6 Gian Piero Gasperini

This one might be regarded as a contentious one. If one could paint an analogy, Gian Piero Gasperini is a mad scientist. His ideology of playing football is rare and untouched across Europe. When a team have to play at a neutral ground in Europe because their stadium isn’t up to standards, it’s usually a sign that the manager is working wonders behind the scenes.

For those who are familiar with the Premier League, Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta are Chris Wilder’s Sheffield United but with a doctorate. They attack in clusters with numerical superiority and shift play horizontally. Gasperini has ingrained positional interchange, with players taking up each other’s roles depending on the scenario; it’s a nightmare to defend against.

Atalanta are rampant while pressing and dropping into blocks of 5-4-1 without the ball. They have been overachieving for two years now as teams across Italy struggle to work them out. On the outside, Gasperini’s system has all the ingredients of what everyone else plays — the intensity, the verticality, overload in wide areas and automatisms that players fall on instinctively — yet its construction and mechanism is simply unique.


#5 Diego Simeone

Diego Simeone is indestructible. Every season one feels, “this might be the one in which Diego Simeone runs out of petrol,” but the Argentine always rises from the ashes like a phoenix and goes toe-to-toe with some of the biggest clubs in Europe.

In the last two seasons, Simeone lost Antoine Griezmann, Diego Godín, Rodri, Juanfran, Lucas Hernandez, Álvaro Morata, Saúl Ñíguez and Thomas Partey, and yet Atlético Madrid managed to win LaLiga last season. He is the only man capable of taking down Real Madrid and Barcelona without the resources of either.

Maybe in this day and age of attacking football, people are quick to dismiss his achievements given his team play a defensive and more direct brand of football, but there is no denying that Simeone has helped build this team into a world-beater, and the biggest compliment can only be that he has maintained this for years now.


#4 Antonio Conte

Best manager in men’s football right now - Antonio Conte
Even today, if you were to ask a Chelsea fan about Antonio Conte’s tenure at Stamford Bridge, they would all say how he should have been given more time. However, in a funny way, his brief stint at Stamford Bridge perhaps fueled his reputation as the best short-term manager in the world.

Inter Milan moved from nearly-men to champions within two years, spearheaded by Romelu Lukaku’s rise to elite status and with the help of the foundations of Antonio Conte’s famed three-at-the-back. That Inter team may well be the most “Conte” team we have ever seen.

While other clubs—both before and after—brought him in to see what he could bring into their specific club DNA, the San Siro became Antonio Conte’s colosseum. It was a nasty divorce in the end between Conte and Inter Milan, but that is how it usually ends with him.


#3 Thomas Tuchel

Best manager in men’s football right now - Thomas Tuchel
The German tactician has been a big name in the management business ever since assuming Jürgen Klopp’s hot seat at Borussia Dortmund. He is meticulous and demanding both on and off the pitch and hence has the reputation that he causes friction with his bosses. On the pitch, however, his brand of football is exceptional.

Gone are the days when Tuchel would only be considered a man of theory without the backing of silverware. These days, he has a cabinet racked with trophies from his spell with Paris Saint-Germain, including the Champions League title he won with Chelsea last season.

In the French capital, Tuchel would often switch between shapes, playing players out of position if need be and moving the ball more vertically much to the envy of the opposition. At Stamford Bridge, however, Tuchel has established Chelsea as a team who concede very few chances, build-up with flair and composure, and are capable of attacking across all five channels (vertical). It’s not too bold to claim that Chelsea are one of the favourites to win all four competitions come May 2022.


#2 Jürgen Klopp

Best manager in men’s football right now - Jurgen Klopp
The Liverpool team last season were completely unrecognisable from the one that had conquered it all by 2020. Liverpool’s title defence was shambolic, as the club somehow scraped to secure Champions League qualification. But make no mistakes about it: Klopp still has the credit in the bank for perhaps devising the most efficient system the Premier League has ever seen, with a flat midfield, high full-backs, and the famed false-nine.

Following the heroics of the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons, it looked like only complacency and taking their foot off the gas could derail Liverpool’s title defence in 2020/21 as they led the league standings till early December. But Klopp’s rockstars fell one by one like a pack of cards, and his heavy-metal football died following injuries to key personnel. But this is the same man who changed Liverpool’s fortunes in the first place.

Pep Guardiola might have fueled the conversation of what full-backs could become, but Klopp produced the prototypes in Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson. He has the demeanour of your everyday neighbourhood uncle, but as a tactician, Klopp has had a major part to play in the way the game is played today.


#1 Pep Guardiola

Best manager in men’s football right now - Pep Guardiola
He is still the undisputed number one. He is still innovating the game and finding ways to force other elite managers into submission. He can suffocate even the most potent forward lines in the world with the ball, leaving them chasing shadows. He is imperious with or without a striker, with or without Kevin De Bruyne, with or without natural full-backs. He is someone who can turn ?lkay Gündo?an into prime Frank Lampard.

For me, the last 12 months have cemented Pep Guardiola’s status as the greatest manager of his generation in a way none of us saw coming. For the best part of 2020, Guardiola stuck with his bog-standard 4-2-3-1 that squeezed teams to death, but when bypassed, left big gaping holes in Manchester City‘s defensive third.

But as the calendars switched to 2021, Guardiola ripped up everything we knew about his ideas and rewrote them. There was no metronome like David Silva or a focal point like Sergio Agüero, and they didn’t rack up 100 points like they did in 2017/18, but the 2020/21 City team thrilled us in ways that the centurion team could never. Pep added fluidity to his system, with João Cancelo playing three roles at once, while Phil Foden became his centre-piece with his playmaking, wing-play, linking-up and finishing.

Everyone else is playing catch up to Pep. It’s nothing new — just how he likes it.

Rahul Saha

An engineer taking the road less taken. I love writing, live and breathe football, and am always up for a tactical conversation.

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