Klopp, Heynckes or Stevens? Ranking the Top 10 Coaches in Germany Right Now

Clark WhitneyFeatured ColumnistDecember 12, 2012

Klopp, Heynckes or Stevens? Ranking the Top 10 Coaches in Germany Right Now

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    Seven German clubs represented the Bundesliga in the Champions League and Europa League this season, and all seven advanced to the knockout rounds of one or the other competition.

    The squads of each team may be of varying degrees of strength, but behind every great player is a great coach. And certainly, the Bundesliga has its share of quality trainers. To date, only Felix Magath and Markus Babbel, who at the time of their departures were managing relegation-battling clubs, have left their respective jobs. All the others are doing at least well enough to retain their respective jobs.

    But who is the best of all? Without further ado, click "next slide" to begin our countdown of the top 10 coaches in Germany.

10. Bruno Labbadia

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    Entering Matchday 17, Stuttgart stand sixth in the Bundesliga. Should they hold their position, it will be their highest midseason ranking in years and only their second time finishing in the top half of the table in the last five seasons.

    Bruno Labbadia has seemingly broken the cycle of coaches working the January to December rotation at Stuttgart.

    Rather than produce great results in the second round only to be sacked before the halfway mark of the following campaign, he has lasted for two full years. And for good reason: His VfB are looking much better than they have in recent memory. The Swabians may be doing very well in the Bundesliga, but Labbadia is ranked no higher due to the club's underwhelming performance in the Europa League.

9. Thorsten Fink

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    Last year, in his first season in charge of Hamburg, Thorsten Fink led the northern club to the brink of relegation. The summer saw key players leave in the form of Paolo Guerrero, Mladen Petric and Gokhan Tore, while Rafael van der Vaart, Artjoms Rudnevs, Rene Adler, Maxi Beister, Petr Jiracek and Paul Scharner were brought to the Imtech Arena.

    Fink has overcome the challenge of adapting to a very different squad and reinvented HSV this season, seemingly eradicating the culture of mediocrity that has plagued the club in recent years. Hamburg stand seventh and, having beaten both Dortmund and Schalke, are surely in the running for a Champions League spot as the midseason break approaches.

8. Huub Stevens

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    A month ago, Stevens might have been ranked in the top three or four coaches in Germany. His stock has since slipped greatly as Schalke have gone five games in all competitions without a win and have won just once in their last 10 fixtures.

    Not long ago Schalke were on the top of the world, having beaten Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates. Since then, however, talks of Lewis Holtby and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar leaving have taken their toll, and the squad as a whole has become unsettled. The result is a dismal run of form: The word "crisis" is now being used in local media, and reports have emerged that the trainer may be dismissed in January.

    It would be unfair, however, to discount Stevens for the good he has done. Schalke have adapted brilliantly to life without Raul and could still finish as high as second in the Bundesliga. And as for the Champions League, winning their group ahead of Arsenal cannot be discounted.

7. Thomas Tuchel

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    Like Frankfurt and Hannover, Mainz have managed success on a very tight budget. In each of the last three summer transfer windows, FSV have turned a positive transfer revenue. Yet, Thomas Tuchel has created a cohesive and surprisingly strong squad with very little at his disposal.

    Mainz may only stand 11th in the Bundesliga table, but their ranking is an injustice to their performance. They are, in fact, just two points behind fifth-placed Schalke and have a goal difference that is plus-six better than sixth-place Stuttgart.

    Tuchel has been the glue to blend a very ordinary Mainz squad into an effective unit. His team plays with a high intensity, and his tactical nous have turned the likes of Eugen Poanski and Elkin Soto into very effective role players.

6. Armin Veh

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    In 2008, Armin Veh was on top of the world. The trainer had let Stuttgart on an incredible run in the second half of the 2007-08 campaign, ending with the Swabians claiming the Bundesliga title.

    Things changed dramatically for Veh in the months that followed, and he was sacked just six months later. In the seasons that followed, he had fruitless spells at Wolfsburg and Hamburg, and eventually took a job with recently relegated Frankfurt.

    Somehow, Veh has since turned everything around. Frankfurt were promoted back to the Bundesliga in May, and a phenomenal run of form throughout the first half of the campaign sees them stand fourth with just one match to go in the first round. It's phenomenal for a team that has no real stars, and at Frankfurt, for the first time in his career, Veh has a winning record.

    Frankfurt's form may wane after the winter break, but for now there is no denying that Veh is among the league's better coaches.

5. Lucien Favre

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    Last season marked an incredible campaign for Monchengladbach as the side that, for so many years had struggled to stay in the German top flight, finished in the lofty position of fourth. Lucien Favre was hailed as a genius, but had a mountain to climb in 2012-13.

    The losses of Marco Reus, Dante and Roman Neustaedter over the summer were more than most coaches would be able to handle. And while Gladbach were successful in signing Luuk de Jong, Granit Xhaka and Alvaro Dominguez over the summer, the absolute failure of the Netherlands and Switzerland internationals to adapt thus far is proof that some players cannot simply be replaced.

    Gladbach struggled in the early weeks of the campaign as could be expected from a team that had lost three stars. They've since turned things around and stand eighth, still within striking distance of Dortmund, Frankfurt and Schalke. And in the Europa League, they secured advancement to the first knockout round following wins in three of their final four games in Group C.

4. Mirko Slomka

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    When Mirko Slomka took charge at Hannover in 2010, he inherited a relegation-battling side equipped with a poor squad. What he has done since then is phenomenal: In his first two full seasons, he led the Lower Saxony side to Europa League spots. Before him, European football was nothing more than a pipe dream.

    In the 2012-13 Bundesliga, Hannover are slightly off the pace they set in previous years. However, they topped Europa League Group L ahead of Levante, Helsingborg and Twente, a truly amazing feat that H96 have spent just €10.25 in three summers since Slomka took charge.

    Slomka has gathered no shortage of interest from other clubs, but committed to Hannover last week as he penned a contract extension to 2016. H96 could not be in better hands.

3. Sascha Lewandowski (or Sami Hyypia)

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    Sascha Lewandowski may be the official head coach at Bayer Leverkusen, but only because Sami Hyypia doesn't yet have his coaching license. In truth, the co-trainers together have formed a brilliant partnership.

    Leverkusen lost several big names in the summer and brought in many new stars, leaving Lewandowski and Hyypia with the very difficult task of rebuilding their squad. Leverkusen have hardly missed a beat, and now are the only team at all in contention with league leaders Bayern. It's all fitting, given that B04 are the only Bundesliga side to beat the Bavarians this season.

    Leverkusen are among the seven sides to advance past the group stage in European competition, and although they only finished second in their Europa League group, it should be noted that in the penultimate match against Metalist in Kharkiv, the already-qualified Werkself used a primarily experimental squad with many youth players.

    In fairness, Leverkusen have proven their class on the domestic front, beating Bayern and Schalke.

2. Jupp Heynckes

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    Full credit should be given to Jupp Heynckes for Bayern's unbelievable form in the Bundesliga this season. With one match left to be played before the winter break, the German record champions are on pace to exceed Dortmund's record of 81 points in a season. And they've been doing it all in style: To date, Bayern's goal difference is a staggering plus-37. This translates to Bayern averaging more than a two-goal victory per game.

    Bayern have negotiated their way through the first two rounds of the DFB-Pokal and advanced to the Champions League Round of 16 as group leaders. Among all teams in Europe few can claim to have been more effective.

    But while Bayern's record has been simply phenomenal, their form in big matches has left something to be desired. They only matched Dortmund at the Allianz Arena and had no shortage of difficulty against Valencia both home and away in the Champions League. Heynckes does not yet have his team playing at the level they achieved in the second half of last season and accordingly ranks second on this list.

1. Juergen Klopp

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    Dortmund are well off the pace in the Bundesliga and are now essentially playing to finish second in May. Fatigue from schedule congestion and injuries to key players have taken their toll on the league and DFB-Pokal holders. But even so, Juergen Klopp remains the best coach in Germany.

    The measure of a coach's true quality is not in whether his side can muster up victories against lesser teams, it rests in how he can motivate his team and tactically overcome his opposite in a high-stakes match.

    In the Bundesliga, Klopp's Dortmund were found equal to Bayern in their meeting 11 days ago. What propels the BVB trainer ahead of the competition is how he transformed his side from a group of naive youngsters who had failed for two years at international level and turned them into the most impressive team of the Champions League group stage.

    Jose Mourinho is said by many to be the world's best coach, but twice Klopp got the better of the Real Madrid man both in terms of tactics and motivation. Considering that he lost a key player in Shinji Kagawa over the summer and is operating with a very limited bench, Klopp is truly a phenomenon.

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