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World Football's 15 Greatest Managers of the New Millennium

Christopher HallAnalyst IMay 8, 2012

World Football's 15 Greatest Managers of the New Millennium

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    They don't kick a single ball, make a single save or really do much of anything on match day. But a good manager stamps his imprint on the game nonetheless.

    Who is the best? Sir Alex Ferguson has to be on the list, but is he number one? And what exactly are the criteria for being called the "best manager"?

    What did you win? That's obviously the most important criteria. Managers are paid to win games. If their team does that, then they've been a success. Trophies are important, although some carry much more weight than others. And something can be said for having an impact on a club. Have they created a legacy?

    From No. 15 to No. 1, here are the top managers of the new millennium.

No. 15: Manuel Pellegrini

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    You know how disappointed you are when you look at La Liga this season and see Villareal way down near the bottom? Manuel Pellegrini is the reason you're disappointed.

    Before Pellegrini, no one expected anything out of Villareal. This is not a club with a long proud tradition of winning in Spain's top flight. This is a little dinky club that only got promoted to the first division in the late '90s.

    Pellegrini took over in 2004 and built a wonderful footballing team on a shoestring budget. During his first season, they finished third and qualified for the Champions League.

    He went to Real Madrid and won more points in La Liga than any manager in the club's history. Unfortunately, he had the misfortune of doing so in the 2009-10 season, when Barcelona fielded perhaps the best team in history.

    He was fired to make way for Jose Mourinho.

    Now Pellegrini is part of the Qatari-funded rebuilding project at Malaga. The team sit in fourth place in La Liga.

    And I didn't even mention his two championships in Argentina at the beginning of the 2000s.

No. 14: Marcelo Bielsa

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    Marcelo Bielsa is one of the managerial names most in fashion right now. Everyone who saw his Athletic Bilbao dismantle Manchester United in the Europa League has a football crush on the 56-year-old Argentinian.

    But his work with two national teams is what gets him on this list.

    He won an Olympic gold medal with Argentina in 2004, and pushed Chile to the knockout stages of the 2010 World Cup before losing to Brazil.

    In his short stint at Bilbao, he's instituted a beautiful playing style and gotten his name linked with every top job that comes open.

    Admittedly, his resume is a little light on silverware. But his team has a chance to address that on Wednesday when they face Atletico Madrid in the Europa League final.

No. 13: Joachim Loew

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    If it weren't for a transcendent Spain, Joachim Loew might have already won a European championship and a World Cup in his time at the helm of the German national team.

    After all, Spain beat his Germany in the final at Euro 2008 and again in the semifinals at World Cup 2010. Both times, Spain went on to win the tournament.

    Loew has been brilliant for Germany over the past five-plus years. There are many who would go further and give him the credit for Germany's run at the 2006 World Cup as well when he served as Jurgen Klinsmann's assistant.

    He needs to close the deal eventually, but I think Loew has done enough to get his name in the mix with the other 14 on this list.

No. 12: Marcello Lippi

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    If he'd only quit while he was ahead, I might have been inclined to push Marcello Lippi further up this list.

    Let's say he retires quietly in 2007. He's won a World Cup, two Serie A titles with Juventus and he's gotten to a Champions League final. Not bad for the new millennium. More than enough to be included in this list.

    Then he had to go and blow it all up at World Cup 2010. Oh well, welcome to No. 12, Marcello.

No. 11: Fabio Capello

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    Let me say this, I'm fully aware that trying and failing to win the World Cup with England makes you a horrible manager. I don't dispute that point, which I expect millions of the Queen's subjects will inevitably flood me with as a result of Capello's inclusion on this list.

    But the man is a damn fine manager. Not even counting his run at Milan in the 1990s, he won at Roma, at Juventus (even if they don't count now) and at Real Madrid.

    He didn't do much in the Champions League, which is one reason he's not higher. And England's players didn't show up at all for the 2010 World Cup, which is the other reason he's not higher.

    But he still deserves inclusion in this list.

No. 10: Ottmar Hitzfeld

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    In the first decade of the 2000s, Ottmar Hitzfeld won three Bundesliga titles during two different stints with Bayern Munich.

    During the first one, he also took the Germans to their last Champions League trophy.

    Since taking over the Swiss national team, he hasn't done so badly either. Granted, they got knocked out of the 2010 World Cup in the group stage. But they beat Spain, and that's something no one else managed to do in South Africa.

No. 9: Guus Hiddink

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    What to make of the traveling road show that is Guus Hiddink? The man simply makes football teams better.

    He took South Korea to a fourth place finish at the 2002 World Cup. Did you hear me? South Korea!

    Then he stopped in Holland to collect three Eredivisie titles during four seasons at PSV Eindhoven.

    He took over Australia, and they made it to the knockout stage of the 2006 World Cup before being beaten 1-0 by Italy, thanks to a penalty kick awarded just seconds before time expired. Italy would go on to win the tournament.

    So his time with Russia's national team was kind of a wash, but he did stop off at Chelsea just in time to pick up an FA Cup and ensure that he can take over at Stamford Bridge pretty much any time he feels so led.

No. 8: Frank Rijkaard

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    Pep Guardiola is the name on everyone's tongues, but they sometimes forget that Barcelona's return to prominence came under another manager.

    Frank Rijkaard won the club its first La Liga title in six years during his second campaign in charge. He won them their next one the following season.

    In 2006, Rijkaard guided the club back to Champions League glory for the first time since the early 1990s.

    It didn't end well for Rijkaard at the Nou Camp, and he hasn't done anything worth mentioning since, but he deserves his place for his revival in Catalonia.

No. 7: Rafa Benitez

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    The man is doing everything he can to make me look foolish for this pick. But Liverpool fans forgive me, Rafa Benitez needs to be mentioned in this conversation.

    Two things stick out on his resume. He won the last two La Liga championships not claimed by Real Madrid or Barcelona during his tenure at Valencia. That really shouldn't be overlooked. Nobody wins championships in Spain, other than Real Madrid and Barcelona. And nobody wins two out of three.

    Since the 1984-85 season, only four championships have not been won by the big two. Benitez has two of them.

    Then he moved to Liverpool and won a Champions League title. He reached another just two seasons later. Liverpool fans can blame him for the decline that followed, but I put that at the owners' feet more than at Benitez's.

    So he sucked at Inter Milan, I'll give you that. But hey, no one's perfect.

No. 6: Arsene Wenger

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    It's been a long time since Arsene Wenger won anything. Arsenal fans like to roll around in that muck of self-pity.

    But this millenium is longer than the memory of impatient Gunners fans. It includes two Premier League titles, three FA Cups and a run to the Champions League final.

    It also includes the Invincibles.

    Arsene Wenger is trophy-poor recently, but he's built a club around a footballing philosophy in a way that only Sir Alex Ferguson can approach.

No. 5: Carlo Ancelotti

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    Carlo Ancelotti has two Champions League titles. That's all that needs to be said. Two Champions League titles means you get placed very high on this list. I don't care about anything else.

    Of course, he's also got a Premier League title after taking his turn in the coaching carousel at Chelsea. He's got a Serie A title. He's got a Club World Cup, if you value that sort of thing. And I wouldn't bet against him racking up the trophies at oil-rich PSG.

No. 4: Vicente Del Bosque

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    Two La Liga titles, two Champions League titles and a World Cup trophy.

    Not bad for a manager that many casual fans couldn't even pick out of a lineup.

    A long-time Madridista, Del Bosque might have been treated more poorly by the club than any manager in recent memory.

    After two titles and two Champions League triumphs in four seasons, Del Bosque was sent packing by Florentino Perez during his first Galacticos period.

    Madrid's loss would eventually be Spain's gain, as the manager took over the national team just after Euro 2008.

    One World Cup win later, and Del Bosque lands in the top 5 on my list.

No. 3: Sir Alex Ferguson

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    No one has dominated English football in the new millennium like Sir Alex Ferguson.

    Seven Premier League titles, including three in a row. And he tacked on a Champions League trophy to pile the stack even higher.

    He is the measure by which other managers are evaluated. When he retires, someone will succeed him, but no one will fill his shoes.

No. 2: Pep Guardiola

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    No one has done more in a shorter amount of time than Pep Guardiola.

    Four seasons in charge at Barcelona. 13 trophies, with a Copa del Rey still to play for before he makes his final farewell.

    Three La Liga championships, two Champions League titles and a revelation in the way football can be played.

    If he never takes another job, Guardiola is already well-placed to have his name mentioned among the all-time greats.

No. 1: Jose Mourinho

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    I would be inclined to make the argument that Jose Mourinho is not only the greatest manager of the new millennium, but also the greatest manager in the history of football.

    He's won everywhere he's gone. Portugal, England, Italy and now Spain. Seven league titles in four different countries.

    He's taken two Champions League titles. And not for nothing, he showed the world how to beat Barcelona when no one else knew how.

    He's not warm and fuzzy. He's not particularly likeable. But he is a coaching genius. And for my money, the best to ever do it.

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