There is a current crop of managers at present that you could consider genuinely world class. Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Zinedine Zidane are three that come to mind, with notable mentions for Mauricio Pochettino, Thomas Tuchel, Carlo Ancelotti and Diego Simeone perhaps warranted. It is with this in mind that I decided to look a little further into who might take over their respective places as ‘the greatest managers in the world’.
So, we will start in Germany. Many might have heard of Julian Nagelsmann already when he took charge of 1899 Hoffenheim in February 2016. Upon doing so, he became the youngest Bundesliga manager in history at the time aged 28, a huge gamble from the board as they lay second-last in the table.
In just a year, they were transformed into a challenger for top 4 football. Having his playing career cut short, his degree in Business administration and sports science helped him achieve a coaching role under then Augsburg manager, Thomas Tuchel.
As well as a tactician, his man-management skills are what shone at Hoffenheim. He relied on flexibility in positional structure, energy from midfield and securing cover from overloads in central or wide positions.
As Hoffenheim coach, his win ratio of just 40% might seem disheartening, but it was the style of football at such a young age that was promising. Transforming Kevin Voigt into a central defender further aided this, and Nagelsmann implemented free-roaming central play through German playmaker, Kerem Demirbay and Sebastian Rudy as a pivot.
This allowed for quicker transitions for shorter passing play, as well as unpredictability in attack, forcing play between the lines which open passing channels, especially when facing low-block strategies. A solid defensive strategy and free-flowing attacking football caught the eye, and although achieving no major team honours during his stint, he was rewarded with VDV-Manager of the season and German Football Manager of the Season 2016/17. From here, he made the move to RB Leipzig, one of Germany’s rising clubs (rightly or wrongly, however you may see it).
Nagelsmann’s start to life at Leipzig has been a promising one, deploying different setups against four different opponents: a 3-4-3 at newly-promoted Union Berlin, a 5-3-2 at Eintracht Frankfurt, a 4-2-4 at Borussia Mönchengladbach and a 4-4-2 in the recent 1-1 draws with Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg.
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This only highlights his astuteness and ability to change systems, something bigger clubs may want to look for, especially in European competitions. Leipzig’s pass success rate, goals per game and shots conceded have all increased/decreased (respectively), and he has carried over his pressing and overloading styles from Hoffenheim well.
Forwards Yousef Poulsen and Timo Werner make life hard for teams to play short, either forcing play long (where Leipzig can win the first or second balls) or wide, where overloads and pressing triggers/comes create possession swings. With Marcel Sabitzer and Diego Demme operating much like Demirbay and Rudy, the wingbacks in Klostermann and Halstenberg/Saracchi also feature heavily in his methods.
A future move to Liverpool would seem suitable, with all the styles, formations and abilities already present from Klopp’s reign. However, it is not against the realm of possibility that perhaps a team like Barcelona or Spurs would benefit from a regeneration like this.
With many of their players able to play well in possession, press and create energy from the fullback and midfield positions, players like Semedo and Arthur or Walker-Peters and Ndombele, and between-the-lines players like Alli and Winks or De Jong and Carles Aleñá, might work well (provided all these players stay at their current clubs). There certainly exists an upward trajectory should Nagelsmann choose it.
Now we move across Europe to Portugal, where Sergio Conceicao currently runs the rule over FC Porto.
He might be another name you’ve heard of through flirtations with Champions league highlights over recent seasons, but he’s been around for quite some time.
His playing career extends firmly over 5 countries with 10 different teams, including Porto themselves on two different occasions. Upon retiring a decade ago almost to the day, Conceicao has since gained experience as a technical director in Greece and coaching in Belgium with Standard Liège.
His managerial career began in 2012 with Portuguese side S.C Olhamese and from there, took charge of hometown club Académia and Portugueses sides S.C Braga and Vitòria S.C.
He then moved to France with FC Nantes in 2016, but when June 2017 came around, he replaced former teammate Nuno Espríto Santo at Porto, where, in his first season, would win their first league title in 5 years, scoring more goals and conceding less chances than anyone that year (82 and 18 respectively). What a rollercoaster ride so far, right?
So, amongst all this change, upheaval and information, Conceicao does actually have a style play. For a place he called ‘home’, the former Porto winger quickly brought players and fans onside with his aggressive, yet fair, media handling and playing style.
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Often adopting a 4-4-2 or a 4-3-3, high energy pressing from the strikers and wingers confines their opponent to their defensive third, with cover and support for the press coming from the fullbacks (usually Alex Telles and Jesus Corona) and the deep lying midfielder (usually Danilo Perriera). In retaining the ball this way, this allows Porto to have higher numbers in the final third.
With a free-roaming, pressing mentality, short-passing play is encouraged where around 80% of their play last year was focused this way. When performing these strategies, a high-line is encouraged, and a central block created through the middle of the pitch with two central midfielders and centre-backs.
Should possession be lost and a counter be sprung, more often than not, Porto will win the ball back higher, meaning their play is focused into more dangerous areas of the pitch.
When considering all this, PSG could perhaps be a good career path. With an excellent set of goalkeepers, defensive solidity could be built with Bernat, Diallo, Kimpembe and Dagba. Players comfortable and dynamic in possession such as Veratti, Draxler and Paredes could all be benefit from a solid back line as well as moving forward.
With Conceicao’s experience as an attacker in his playing days, the wealth of attacking options the Paris club have would only benefit from the attacking intent and possession the Portuguese coach would instil.
With Jose Mourinho leading the pack for Portuguese managers, and perhaps ever, there is plenty to live up to. If Conceicao were to make the step up, he could position himself on the elite level (and maybe play a little more than dynamic than the aforementioned).
Up next is a name you may not have heard too often – Marcelo Gallardo. The Argentine coach began his playing career at River Plate in 1993, playing 109 times and scoring 18 goals. In 1999, he moved to France where he scored another 18 goals for Monaco – he was a pivotal part of their team that year but moved back to River Plate once again in 2003.
He returned to France this time to Paris Saint Germain, playing just 22 times that season. The attacking midfielder had a spell in USA with D.C United but injuries soon took their toll and amazingly returned to to River Plate again before ending his career at Nacional 2011 when it all seemed lost.
Having retired at Nacional winning the 2010/11 title as a player, he then immediately took charge of the Uruguayan club and won the 2011/12 title as manager. He left after just one year but in 2014 resurfaced to managerial life at River Plate and was lauded by the Argentinian press as his playing style and tactics contributing heavily (24) to equal the clubs all-time unbeaten record of 32 matches.
While controversial at times, he is the most successful coach in River Plate’s history with ten titles (including seven club-international titles), with the most recent being the 2019 Recopa Sudamericana.
His playing days as a creative outlet only served to strengthen his tactical approach, and it was his defensive solidarity, attacking mentality and mental acumen where his success eight the Argentine club ultimately blossomed from.
He was the first coach in Argentine top-flight history to appoint a female assistant, that being Dr Sandra Rossi, a PhD in neuroscience, brought in to instil positive mental behaviour, patterns of play and the eradication of negativity – what an incredible basis for a style of football.
He began a high-pressing mentality adopting a 4-3-2-1 or a 4-2-2-2, however, he will often use his playing days as a focal point for in-game development and adapt accordingly. His overall work slowly evolved over time, emulating Guardiola’s methods of possession and press.
Often playing more narrow to cluster the pitch and spring attacks, the utilisation of ‘the half space’ is paramount for the short-passing-play that this formation builds around. As the team evolved over the years, the role changed and it now falls to Juan Quintero (and sometimes Lucas Pratto dropping deeper).
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Recently, Gallardo has not been afraid to use a back-3 alternating to a back-5 formation where the central midfielders cover wide when in possessions needed. When the long balls from goal kicks or defence are controlled, the wingers will cut inside forcing play narrower with the wingbacks pushing high to stretch play and open central spaces.
River president Rodolfo D’Onofrio stated in (Orton, 2018) that Gallardo “not only knows football, he knows how to form excellent groups”, and that’s something a world class manager needs, something Jurgen Klopp has been known to possess.
Marcelo Gallardo is a bright coach, albeit without a wealth of experience managerially, he has attacking intent and visionary ideas. He has been known for using youth throughout his career with names like Beltran, Palacios, Montiel, and Alvarez all coming to mind.
This is a quality many teams in Europe especially will want to utilise with talented young prospects in abundance. A team like Manchester United could benefit greatly from his appointment with all the uncertainty surrounding Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
United have some excellent technically gifted players which could work well with Gallardo’s ethic. Andreas Pereira or Angel Gomes could certainly play the Quintero role. Scott McTominay provides a solid base from midfield while José Dalot, Axel Tuanzebe, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Timothy Fosu-Mensah all provide defensive solidity and attacking intent from deep.
Even a team like Barcelona could be a potential stomping ground for the Argentine coach as they will need to look beyond Valverde’s stay and their stuttering start to the 19/20 season – the connections are clear.
Promising signs no? Or is all of this me being hugely optimistic about the development of all of these young players and coaches? This isn’t to say there aren’t others capable of rising up and taking the managerial and coaching bull by the horns but thesethree managers strike the iron well for me.
There is clear progression, and attractive ideas and vision exist, which are all attributes that would surely be well received by supporters.
Orton, Mark, (2018), “CAN MARCELO GALLARDO TAKE HIS SUCCESS WITH RIVER PLATE TO THE HIGHEST LEVELS OF THE EUROPEAN GAME?”, thesefooballtimes.co, Guardian Sport Network. (Accessed): Thursday 10th October [Found at]: https://thesefootballtimes.co/2018/12/17/can-marcelo-gallardo-take-his-success-with-river-plate-to-the-highest-levels-of-the-european-game/