These are my top 10. I have included proactive managers as I don’t like defensive minded managers.
1. Rinus Michels
The most influential person in the history of the game. He won trophies, perfected the philosophy of Total Football and most importantly, has spawned a legacy and lineage of great coaches- Cruyff, Guardiola and another generation inspired by these two. His overall contribution to the game is unmatched.
2. Pep Guardiola
Within a decade, he has made tremendous contributions to the game. He perfected the philosophy of “Juego de Posicion” or positional play, the modern continuity of the Dutch School of Total Football and has gotten players to see the game in new ways (just ask Thierry Henry about it for example. Man gushes about Guardiola). He has influenced 2 national teams en route to their WC successes. And he’s won trophies as well. Funny thing is, he was this close to losing out on his first big job to Mourinho and it would have meant the landscape of the game today would have been vastly different.
3. Sir Alex Ferguson
27 years at a top club in an era where managers won’t last beyond 5–6 years in the same place. He will remain an anomaly in the history of the modern game. My biggest beef with him is that he didn’t oversee any great tactical revolution nor has spawned a generation of coaches inspired by his ideas, but I have to acknowledge that he was damn good at what he did.
4. Arrigo Sacchi
The coach who wasn’t the horse (the name of the chapter dedicated to him in Jonathan Wilson’s “Inverting The Pyramid”). Sacchi was a supernova in the world of football – lasted very briefly in comparison, but shattered the landscape of the game. As a funny thought, I think that by the way coaches are judged today, Sacchi would be proclaimed a fraud because he managed a Milan full of stars and great players (like another bald guy is being judged by many people).
5. Johan Cruyff
In comparison to Sacchi, Michels or Guardiola, his revolution was relatively less earth shattering (his ideas were radical at the time however). He changed the face of Barcelona forever, giving the club a clear footballing identity and winning mentality, which would go on to influence the game as well later in the future.
6. Helenio Herrera
Before your modern superstar managers, there was Herrera. The godfather of Catenaccio and Inter Milan’s greatest era, Herrera’s methods were truly ridiculous for that time.
7. Giovanni Trapattoni
Il Trap oversaw Juventus winning their first European Cup by evolving Catenaccio to include more attacking elements, which resulted in a tactical theory called Zona Mista (the mixed zone). He is the only coach to have won all possible European club competitions and the Intercontinental Cup as well, which is a unique distinction.
8. Valeriy Lobanovskyi
An engineer by education, Valeriy applied scientific principles to the game to produce his own version of Total Football. He did all these in the relative isolation of USSR, behind the iron curtain. One can only imagine what impact he would have had in the freer locales of Western European football.
9. Marcelo Bielsa
In terms of trophies, El loco Bielsa will never match up to the other names in this list, nor will any of them match up to the kind of maverick that he is. Bielsa however has influenced many famous names like Guardiola, Pochettino, Sampaoli, along with being known as the biggest football library on the planet, for his rumored extensive collection of football videos. His teams are known for their aggressive style of high pressing and Bielsa himself is known for his obsessive approach to the game. Things worth learning for future coaches of the game.
10. Jose Mourinho
I absolutely loathe the guy. However “The Special One” is (or maybe used to be) damn good at what he does. Tactical work, media games, imbibing teams with mentality of winners to take on the big guys, he did it all at his peak effortlessly.