World Football: 10 Standout Managers of 2011
A year ago, Ian Holloway would have been a serious contender for this list. By the end of the 2010-11 season, Blackpool were most people's favourites to stay in the Premier League. They didn't, but the way they played football won plenty of non-partisan supporters.
Our selections here will undoubtedly provoke debate but, as we scour world football for standout performances, it is some of the unsung heroes who catch our eye as much as the obvious contenders.
One at least will be featured on our list...and almost certainly yours as well...Pep Guardiola. For the time being let's look at the other contenders from across Planet Football.
10 Oscar Tabarez: Uruguay
You could be forgiven for asking who Oscar Tabarez is.
His whole career could be summarised as unassuming. He was an undistinguished defender, born in Montevideo, Uruguay, who played for nobody you would have heard of before entering management with his last club Bella Vista.
He then managed a string of lesser clubs before becoming Uruguayan national coach in 1988. He led them to the last 16 of the 1990 World Cup before losing to the hosts, Italy.
That was enough to bring him to the attention of top Argentinian club Boca Juniors, who he took to the league title in 1992.
It's extraordinary how someone undistinguished and relatively unknown can suddenly emerge, in Oscar's case, at the age of almost 60.
After drifting into relative oblivion for many years, including a second spell at Boca, he left football management for four years until he was picked up by the Uruguayan team once again in 2006.
Uruguay had failed to qualify for three of the previous four World Cups.
Whoever appointed him was a genius. He took his national side to the semi-finals of the 2010 World Cup, for the first time in 40 years, conceding only five goals in six matches before losing to Germany 3-2.
He followed this up with a 15th win in the 2011 Copa America which was the most by any side.
Uruguay now stand fourth in the FIFA rankings. It is their highest ranking ever.
They say that great wines age with time. Oscar Tabarez was a long time coming, but at 64 he is certainly enjoying success at the highest level in his beloved home country.
9 Walter Mazzari: Napoli
It's all very well winning Serie A (as Napoli did, two years running) when you have Diego Maradona on your books. Indeed, they won the UEFA Cup as well.
But since the late 1980s, Napoli have been unfashionable and largely forgotten, until Walter Mazzari was appointed in 2009.
The club had been declared bankrupt in 2004 and, with film producer Aurelio de Laurentiis at the helm, they started the long haul back.
Mazzari had an undistinguished career as a player and a manager until he joined Sampdoria in 2007 at the age of 46. His coaching abilities were praised by Antonio Cassano who he signed.
From the moment he joined Napoli, he has charted them a path to success. They finished sixth in his first season. A third place finish in 2010-11 took them to direct qualification for the Champions League for the first time in their history.
And that's where the fireworks started. Having signed Edinson Cavani (now one of Europe's most hotly pursued strikers) in 2010, the striker has been pivotal in Napoli's Champions League success. Ezequiel Lavezzi has also been a key player.
Napoli are now believed to have secured the much coveted Eduardo Vargas also.
They qualified in second place, having beaten Manchester City and drawn with both City and Bayern Munich, as well as beating Villareal twice.
They now face a tough test against Chelsea in the last 16, but even Andre Villas-Boas will be wary against Mazzarri, who will surely secure a top coaching job before too long.
8 Andre Villas-Boas: FC Porto
Andre Villas-Boas might have finished higher if he hadn't moved to Chelsea.
Jose Mourinho learned at the elbow of Sir Bobby Robson. Villas-Boas studied at the shoulder of Mourinho, but was originally appointed by Sir Bobby also and encouraged to get his coaching badges.
He was coaching the British Virgin Islands national team at 21 but seriously embarked on his senior managerial career by joining Mourinho's coaching team at Chelsea.
He was appointed to be Porto's manager in 2010 and the following spring became the youngest manager ever to win a major European title when FC Porto won the Europa League while he was only 33.
It was his style of football as much as his talent that persuaded Roman Abramovich to make a move for him. While Chelsea have slipped under his management, it is widely expected that he will be given time to rebuild the squad.
In the meantime, Chelsea have qualified for the last 16 of the Champions League yet again and we can't at this stage rule out the possibility of Villas-Boas becoming the youngest manager ever to win that trophy also.
7 Fabio Capello: England
This may not be a popular choice in England, where Capello has been castigated at various times by the English tabloids. It may also be that his contract isn't renewed by the FA--even if England do well at the 2012 European Championships.
The England manager was not a popular choice when he was appointed in 2008, but he was undoubtedly one of the top coaches in the world.
His new charges had serially underperformed for years and, despite the shambolic demise of previous foreign coach, Sven Goran Eriksson, it was deemed that no Englishman (or Scot) was good enough.
Capello made a dreadful mess of the 2010 World Cup. But his senior players hardly helped, with Rooney, Gerrard and others falling woefully short of their so-called world class status.
Whether this was the trigger or not, Capello must be congratulated for moving England on towards the next generation while comfortably securing qualification for the European Championships as Group winners.
Germany did extraordinarily well at the 2010 World Cup with a transitional team. If Capello performs a similar feat, who is to say he won't get a contract extension.
6 Giovanni Trapattoni: Ireland
Trapattoni deserves recognition, at the very least, for being one of the top coaches of the last couple of decades.
With the notable exception perhaps of Sir Alex Ferguson, most managers would expect to be retired by the age of 69, especially after a stellar career in Serie A, punctuated only by mediocrity with the national team. He is the most successful manager ever.
He did not immediately jump when the Irish FA came calling, but since then he has worked miracles.
Any non-partisan supporter would have been outraged by the way Ireland were eliminated from the 2010 World Cup when Thierry Henry cheated. The former Arsenal player lost all respect when he chose not to own up to his cheating until after the match was over.
In his inimitable manner, the Irish manager shrugged his shoulders and set about making sure they played well in the European Championships. Their two legged thumping of Estonia will have made even Vicente del Bosque take note.
The ultimate irony would be if Trapattoni outwitted Cesare Prandelli and went on to progress with one of the less fancied teams in the last 16.
In the meantime he is a worthy member of our list for 2011.
5 Jose Mourinho: Real Madrid
Jose is a legend in his own lunch hour. You either love him or hate him.
Nobody can deny that he has been wildly successful for his relatively young age. He has won the Champions League with Porto and Inter Milan, managed in England as well as Spain with Real Madrid.
While he got no plaudits from Roman Abramovich, despite winning the Premier League and taking Chelsea to a Champions League Final, his style is sometimes pragmatic.
This was true both in the disgraceful show that Porto put up against Celtic in the UEFA Cup and Inter's win over FC Barcelona that took them to the Champions League Final in 2010, where they beat Bayern Munich.
He is often controversial and we must wait and see whether this and his occasional pragmatic style of football debar him from the Manchester United job when Sir Alex retires.
Nevertheless, he has achieved two trebles, the domestic league and cup and the Champions League. He is getting close to FC Barcelona and, at the time of this writing, Real Madrid remains on top of La Liga.
While he has not yet knocked Pep Guardiola off his perch, there are a number of reasons why he makes this list, including being undefeated at home for a consecutive 150 matches up to April 2011.
4 Ole Gunnar Solskjaer: Molde
He may, like Jose Mourinho, have added a few grey hairs in the last few years (that's what management does for you), but he's still the baby faced assassin to those who love him.
Molde fans have every reason to love him, because, in his first season in management, he has just won them their first Norwegian title ever and admission to the Champions League.
It would of course be the ultimate irony if Molde drew Manchester United next year, where Ole cut his teeth in coaching, with a successful spell in charge of the Reserves.
He is held in the highest regard by his mentor, Sir Alex Ferguson, and is a realistic bet to succeed the Scottish knight in a few years' time.
3 Sir Alex Ferguson: Manchester United
Throughout the 2010-11 season, pundits and fans were saying Manchester United had their worst squad in a long time. Nevertheless, they pipped Chelsea to the Premier League title and lost to Barcelona in the Champions League Final. Not bad.
So, with Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Edwin van der Saar retired and Rio Ferdinand supposedly over the top, United clearly had no chance going in to the 2011-12 season.
Those conspirators who hate the Glazers have been deaf to Sir Alex's insistence that there was no value in the transfer market and that he wanted to give youth a chance.
But with the early season injury to Cleverley and a temporary absence for Welbeck, the youth bandwagon may well have been rolling by now.
Instead, by the end of the Wigan match, Sir Alex had no less than 11 members of his first team squad missing through injury and sickness.
Despite all these supposed negative factors, United are well ahead of the same stage last season. While United could have avoided losing to City with a less cavalier approach, Sir Alex can't be blamed for City having their best start ever.
So to be level going towards the New Year is an astonishing achievement and if United had avoided the banana skins in the Champions League and Carling Cup, Sir Alex would have been pushing Pep Guardiola at number one.
2 Roberto Mancini: Manchester City
It hurts me, as a Manchester United supporter, to say so, but Roberto Mancini has been outstanding this year.
Some people might suggest that Ian Holloway could have done the same job with that much money but there are too many managers who have failed with cash to spend.
Mancini looked the best of the younger managers emerging from Italy, with his flowing locks. His hair is shorter and greyer after the heroic efforts of the last couple of years, where he has made Sven-Goran Eriksson look like an amateur.
From the moment that Kun Aguero took to the field in his first match after his transfer, you knew it was time to be scared about City's prospects.
Mancini deserves credit for his tough, disciplinarian approach that has won round his massively overpaid players and dispatched Carlos Tevez.
Last season the approach was more cautious and, whatever the supposed performance targets for this season, the strategy in the Champions League was wrong and, as soon as they had been shown to be naive by Napoli and Bayern, they were on their way out.
Whether or not they win the Premier League this year, Mancini has got his team moving forward like a juggernaut, which only injuries, squad depth or more disgruntled players seem likely to derail.
Manchester City have deservedly topped the table and will likely finish top or second. Sheikh Mansour may have bankrolled it, but Mancini deserves the credit for this success.
1 Pep Guardiola: Barcelona
Whatever Jose Mourinho's pretensions at Real Madrid (who sit top), you would not bet against Barcelona winning La Liga; especially when you see how they came from behind to win El Classico.
Guardiola has won an average of one trophy every 16 games he has been in charge, which is astonishing. Once again he outwitted Sir Alex to win the 2011 Champions League.
Even allowing for the continuing success of 'La Masia' in producing players who play the Barcelona way, Guardiola's innovative tactics, with no out and out striker, original defensive formations and 'ticky tacky' football have reinvented the game.
For his success rate, the pleasure his team gives to aficionados and his original thinking he is the standout manager of 2011.
Nothing more needs saying.