One is a snappy dresser (outside the League Cup, anyway) who espouses pragmatism above all else. One is the stylistic protector of the game, with a penchant for taking on big challenges and overseeing some of the top players in the world. One is widely regarded as the best manager in football history—an old-school boss and occasional bestselling author.
They are Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola and Sir Alex Ferguson, and between the three of them they possess pretty much every virtue, ability and characteristic necessary for putting a winning product on the pitch in every competition, year after year.
But who are the managers following in their footsteps? And can any of them replicate the success enjoyed by the men they seem to be emulating?
Bio: Beyond the designer suits, scarves and Armani coats (now in a museum), Mourinho has developed a reputation for pragmatism—for understanding the requirements to beating each opponent, aesthetics be damned. His 13-year career in first-team management has seen him win more than 67 per cent of his matches, and his trophy case includes seven league titles and two Champions League crowns.
In his footsteps: Andre Villas-Boas; Diego Simeone
Fourteen years Mourinho’s junior, Villas-Boas has been following in his mentor’s footsteps for quite some time. In his lone season at Porto (Mourinho managed the Portuguese giants from 2002-2004) the now-36-year-old lost just four matches in all competitions while winning the title, the cup and the Europa League. As noted for his floppy hair as Mourinho is for his wardrobe, Villas-Boas is now in charge of a Tottenham Hotspur side enjoying considerable success in the Premier League, albeit without winning pretty.
Simeone’s combative nature mirrors that of Mourinho’s. Following spells at four Argentine clubs and a brief stint at Catania, the former midfielder is now leading Atletico Madrid on an unlikely title chase in La Liga. A manager who seems to know how to get the very best out of his players, Simeone adjusted a side that had previously relied heavily on Radamel Falcao and nurtured the development of Diego Costa, while also targeting David Villa in the transfer market. Atletico have conceded only eight goals in the league so far this term.
Bio: An accomplished midfielder who won six titles and the European Cup with Barcelona, Guardiola transplanted his winning mentality as a player into a historic four years in charge of his former club. Under his guidance, Lionel Messi became the best player in the world, and both Xavi and Andres Iniesta continued along trajectories that would see them become two of the best playmakers of their generation. Following three Primera Division titles and a pair of Champions League crowns, Guardiola took charge of reigning UEFA Best Player in Europe Franck Ribery and Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich ahead of the current season and currently has his new outfit atop the table.
In his footsteps: Jurgen Klopp, Vincenzo Montella
The hipster king of football’s hipster club, Klopp has popularized Borussia Dortmund to the point where if they’re not already a football fan’s favourite side, they’re a close second. The glasses-wearing, stubble-sporting Klopp has managed to turn his side into perennial contenders during a period of unprecedented spending by Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich, and over the five years of his leadership the Westfalenstadion outfit has played some of the most eye-catching football in Europe. The 46-year-old also has the unique ability to seamlessly plug holes in his squad, meaning Dortmund football is always Dortmund football, regardless of who is on the pitch.
An Italy international and Serie A winner as a player, Montella has turned sleeping giants Fiorentina into a genuine threat in the Italian top flight. Earlier this month, La Viola defeated Scudetto winners Juventus 4-2, and under his guidance Giuseppe Rossi has emerged as one of the top goal threats in the division. Although they’re still exposed at the back a bit too often, Montella’s Fiorentina are among the most watchable sides on the continent these days, and under his leadership look a good bet to end a trophy drought now in its 13th year.
Bio: When he wasn’t making headlines for writing the fastest-selling non-fiction book in UK history, Ferguson was making history as the best club manager to ever stroll a technical area. Following an eight-year spell in charge of Aberdeen that saw him intrude on the Celtic-Rangers duopoly with a trio of Scottish titles, the Glaswegian moved to Manchester and began a record-breaking tenure at United that would straddle four decades and bring the club 13 league titles, five FA Cups and two Champions League victories. Last May, he retired from management on top of the game he dominated for so long—as a Premier League champion.
In his footsteps: David Moyes
There can only be one name in this category, as Ferguson himself decided who it would be.
Last May, shortly before the end of the 2012-13 campaign, Ferguson rang up David Moyes, invited him to his house and then told his fellow Scot (he didn’t ask), “You’re the next Manchester United manager,” per David Anderson of the Mirror.
“I didn’t get the chance to say yes or no,” remarked Moyes following the appointment. “I was told that I was the next Manchester United manager and that was enough.”
What Ferguson must have noticed in Moyes were characteristics similar to his own.
Both are Glasgow men; both have staying power (Moyes spent 11 years at Everton before moving to Old Trafford), and both are somewhat authoritarian—Ferguson more than Moyes, but in modern football the “my way or the highway” approach is rather more watered-down than previously.
Already, Moyes has had no qualms about dropping Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic from the first team when performances weren’t up to par, and agree with him or not, he has frequently omitted Shinji Kagawa from his plans simply because he hasn’t taken a shine to him.
Moyes is on a six-year contract at United, and while things haven’t exactly gotten off to a smooth start for the 50-year-old, it would be foolish to bet against his seeing it through.
Just as it would have been to bet against Ferguson when things got difficult at United all those years ago.