Is Sir Alex Ferguson the Greatest Manager in Football History?

By Mike Whitehead. Poor David Moyes. You have to feel for a man whose miserable period in charge at Old Trafford only succeeded in enhancing the reputation of his predecessor. Moyes’ inevitable sacking has again raised the debate of exactly how good Alex Ferguson was at squeezing every ounce of ability from his players.

Some dare to suggest, bearing in mind some of the truly abject performances by his old team and their current league position, Ferguson’s place as the greatest ever manager is now secure. Is this true and, if so, what is it based upon?

His trophy haul? Impressive, but others have similar tallies. Was he a tactical genius or was it just attack, attack, attack? Did he create an eternal legacy? How’s it looking right now?

A statue of Sir Alex Ferguson was unveiled outside Old Trafford  in November 2012

A statue of Sir Alex Ferguson was unveiled outside Old Trafford in November 2012

In reality all these areas should be given equal consideration and Ferguson would, quite rightly, rank highly across all three not just for his work at Old Trafford but also for what he achieved north of the border with Aberdeen prior to joining Man United. But who are the other contenders?

Tactical Pioneers

Jimmy Hogan

Described as a prophet without honour and without doubt the best man never to have managed England (sorry Cloughie fans). In fact, the FA labeled him a traitor for having the temerity to spend the majority of his coaching career on the continent. In terms of player conditioning coupled with teachings on short passing and fast movement off the ball, Hogan sowed the seeds for the great Hungarian and Dutch sides decades later. As Gusztav Sebes said: “We played football as Jimmy Hogan taught us. When our football history is told, his name should be written in gold letters”. Talking of Sebes…

Hogan is considered one of the great pioneers of the game on the continent, especially in Austria, Hungary, Switzerland and Germany.

Hogan is considered one of the great pioneers of the game on the continent, especially in Austria, Hungary, Switzerland and Germany.

Gusztav Sebes

Head coach of the Mighty Magyars and creator of ‘socialist football’ – a pre cursor to total football. The Hungarian team was unbeaten in 32 consecutive games in the early 1950s gaining both the Olympic title in 1952 and Central European championship in 1953. Amongst these victories was a 6-3 hammering at Wembley of an England team including such luminaries as Matthews, Wright and Mortensen. A year later the Magyars would miss out on the ultimate accolade their talent deserved losing the ‘Miracle of Bern’ against heavy underdogs West Germany in the 1954 World Cup Final.

Under Sebes, Hungary went unbeaten for 32 consecutive matches, a record that still stands today.

Under Sebes, Hungary went unbeaten for 32 consecutive matches, a record that still stands today.

Helenio Herrera

The greatest exponent of the ‘Catenaccio’ (meaning ‘chain’ in Italian) tactic – tight man to man marking and swift counter attacks. A system which used the ‘libero’ (sweeper) in order to free up the full backs when building an attack. Herrera was also the first coach to make use of psychology to win matches with billboards containing slogans such as ‘He who doesn’t give his all, gives nothing’ said to be plastered all around club grounds during his tenure. Three Serie A titles and two European Cups with Inter Milan between 1960 and 1968 provide ample proof his philosophy worked.

In 1968, Herrera moved to AS Roma where he became the highest paid manager in the world with a contract worth an estimated £150,000 per year.

In 1968, Herrera moved to AS Roma where he became the highest paid manager in the world with a contract worth an estimated £150,000 per year.

Rinus Michels

FIFA’s coach of the 20th century and the man who gave the world ‘Total Football’. At the heart of his beliefs, Rinus Michels felt football was essentially a simple game and applied this notion by allowing his players complete freedom to express themselves wherever they were on a football pitch. Some say this philosophy, through pure luck, coincided with the best Dutch talent in generations. Initially with Cruyff, Neeskens, Rep and latterly Van Basten, Gullit and Rijkaard. Having guided Ajax to its first European Cup victory in 1971 he then took his hugely gifted Dutch side to the 1974 World Cup final where they were beaten 2-1 by West Germany. Michels would make a successful return to the international stage with his 80s version of Oranje at Euro 88.

He is credited with the invention of a major football tactic known as "Total Football" in the 1970s, and was named "coach of the century" by FIFA in 1999.

He is credited with the invention of a major football tactic known as “Total Football” in the 1970s, and was named “coach of the century” by FIFA in 1999.

Cultural Influence

Bill Shankly

There is no finer evidence of a mediocre football club being transformed into an iconic institution through sheer force of personality than when Bill Shankly was manager of Liverpool. Shankly ensured everyone involved with the club – players, fans, even the Directors believed it to be the best in the world. Even when, for a period during the 1960s, it wasn’t even the best team in Liverpool. For the fans, Shankly will always be more than a Manager. He transformed their beliefs into reality and created the foundations upon which Liverpool became the greatest football club in the world.

Shankly took charge of Liverpool when they were in the Second Division and rebuilt the team into a major force in English and European football.

Shankly took charge of Liverpool when they were in the Second Division and rebuilt the team into a major force in English and European football.

Bela Guttmann

Move aside Jose Mourinho and make way for the original ‘special one’. Bela Guttmann’s managerial career spanned thirteen countries and over twenty different clubs. The man who coined the phrase ‘the third season is fatal’ is undoubtedly football’s greatest journeyman. Whilst leading Sao Paolo to the State Championship in 1957 he provided the 4-2-4 blueprint which would see the Brazil national side triumph at the 1958 World Cup finals in Sweden. His finest hour was discovering the genius Eusebio and leading Benfica to two European Cup triumphs. Upon leaving the club due to a pay dispute he placed a curse upon which Benfica would not win in Europe for 100 years. Fifty years and eight final defeats later that curse is still in place.

Widely travelled, as both a player and coach, he rarely stayed at a club longer than two seasons, and was quoted as saying the third season is fatal.

Widely travelled, as both a player and coach, he rarely stayed at a club longer than two seasons, and was quoted as saying the third season is fatal.

Sir Matt Busby

Ask any Manchester United fan who is the true Godfather of their football club and they will all say the same name – Sir Matt. Whilst Ferguson inherited a team of underachievers trapped in a drinking culture of their own making, he had the solid foundations of a club history and structure cemented many years ago by his fellow Scot. Busby created two great teams – the first, tragically, would be stopped in their prime but the second, built around the holy trinity of Law, Charlton and Best, would become the first English side to lift the European Cup ten years after Munich.

Busby was offered the job of assistant coach at Liverpool, but they were unwilling to give him the control over the team that he wanted and he took the vacant manager's job at Manchester United instead.

Busby was offered the job of assistant coach at Liverpool, but they were unwilling to give him the control over the team that he wanted and he took the vacant manager’s job at Manchester United instead.

Miguel Munoz

Real Madrid’s longest serving manager with a tenure of thirteen years six months. That fact alone should merit Miguel Munoz a place amongst the greats. The first man ever to win the European Cup as both a player and then as Manager, it was Munoz who had the difficult task of handling the first group of ‘Galacticos’. His greatest achievement, amongst all the silverware, was not just in his handling of Di Stefano et al but in re-building the team in order to secure future success which he did by winning the 1966 European Cup.

he spent the majority of his career at Real Madrid before going on to coach the club, where he was considered one of the most successful managers in its history

he spent the majority of his career at Real Madrid before going on to coach the club, where he was considered one of the most successful managers in its history

Silverware

Bob Paisley

The only man ever to win three European cups as a manager. A fact often trotted out to ensure Bob Paisley’s part in Liverpool’s success during the glory years is never forgotten. This statistic alone, however, doesn’t do justice to Paisley’s time at Anfield. In a one-club career spanning nearly fifty years he held roles as varied as right-back, physiotherapist, coach and finally as the man given the unenviable task of following his old boss Bill Shankly. If Shankly laid the foundations for Liverpool’s dominance it was Paisley who decorated the trophy room with the club’s finest pieces of silverware. Six League titles, three League cups, one UEFA Cup sit alongside his aforementioned European victories.

Paisley spent almost fifty years with Liverpool as a wing half, physiotherapist, coach and manager.

Paisley spent almost fifty years with Liverpool as a wing half, physiotherapist, coach and manager.

Ernst Happel

A winner of both domestic league and cup titles in four different countries – Holland, Belgium, Germany and his native Austria, Ernst Happel is without doubt one of the most successful managers of all time. Add to this two European cup victories with Feyenoord in 1970 and Hamburg in 1983, making him the first manager to have secured the title with two different clubs. Happel also enjoyed success at international level particularly with Holland where he took them to the 1978 World Cup final losing out to host nation, Argentina.

He was the first of the four managers to have won the European Cup with 2 different clubs

He was the first of the four managers to have won the European Cup with 2 different clubs

Vicente Del Bosque

Who better to counter the biggest collection of egos ever assembled in the Bernabeu dressing room than the shy, retiring chap from Salamanca. Along with Ferguson, Vicente Del Bosque has perfected the delicate art of managing the modern-day footballer. If the ultimate measure of any manager, at any level, is whether they were able to match the talent at their disposal with success on the pitch, Del Bosque, as the only man to hold domestic league and cup titles, European Cup, European Championship and World Cup trophies is well worth his place at the top table of football management.

After taking over from Luis Aragonés, Del Bosque went on to lead the national team to win their first-ever World Cup in 2010

After taking over from Luis Aragonés, Del Bosque went on to lead the national team to win their first-ever World Cup in 2010

So, who’s the greatest?

There’s no denying the indelible impact each of these unique characters have made throughout the history of the beautiful game. From Guttmann’s curse to Fergie time and Bill Shankly’s views on the importance of life and death.

The 1974 Holland team are remembered not because they lost in a World Cup final but rather for what they, and their mentor, gave to football. Just winning was never enough for Rinus Michels. He also cared about the ‘how’. Fourteen years after the defeat to West Germany, Michels would lead his national side onto the same Munich arena armed with the same philosophy. On this occasion they would be triumphant. Total Football represents everything that is beautiful about our game and for this reason Rinus Michels is the greatest manager of all time.

Who do you believe is the greatest manager of all time? Where do Ferguson and Mourinho rank in history?

Follow @Mike_White_Head

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