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Ranking the 5 greatest managers in Premier League history

Ranking the 5 greatest managers in Premier League history
Ranking the 5 greatest managers in Premier League history

The Premier League has seen some incredible managerial talent over the years. Of course, in order to be regarded one of the top managers in league history, you must have won the tournament at least once, thereby ruling out a number of very exceptional candidates.

Nonetheless, several managers have won the challenge since its inception in 1992, so someone will definitely feel cheated! I’ve chosen five managers who, after much thought, I believe deserve particular attention, and I’ve stated why.

1. Sir Alex Ferguson

On his road to becoming the greatest manager in Premier League history, Sir Alex Ferguson governed Manchester United with fear and reputation. He, like Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, inherited a drinking culture and recognized it as an issue, but his approach to the subject was not tactful.

There was a little drinking club at Manchester United at the time, consisting of Bryan Robson, Paul McGrath, and a few others. Fergie knew he had to break it up right away because there was a great crop of young players rising through the ranks, and he didn’t want them to follow the older pros’ lead.

It’s easy to get caught up in such an environment as a young player, and I’ve done it myself with Shamrock Rovers and Liverpool. It’s excellent for establishing team spirit and camaraderie, but I’ve had my doubts about whether I want to be there. Sir Alex Ferguson was a legend in this regard, having once barged into a party to launch a savage attack on Lee Sharpe and Ryan Giggs. The incident communicated a message that said, “If you behave like this, you will not be allowed to play for my club.”

Fergie’s performance against Real Madrid in the Cup Winners Cup earned him a transfer to Manchester United. Because of his propensity to uplift teams, he was picked to awaken a sleeping giant that had gone so long without a league title. On his first visit to Anfield, I played against his Manchester United side – it was a 1-1 draw if my memory serves me well, and they were a very talented team!

The board was patient with him, but his reputation was almost ruined before he could impose his influence at Manchester United. Mark Robins’ FA Cup goal against Nottingham Forest in 1991 is commonly considered as the goal that saved Sir Alex Ferguson’s job; if Manchester United had lost that day, he would have been fired! Then it was just a matter of time before everything came together with the way he had envisioned it in his thoughts.

He was achieving consistent results, and if players broke rank, they’d get the hairdryer treatment. His fame grew as a result of the raucous receptions his players received, which is a tribute to his “rule by terror” strategy. Sir Alex Ferguson had a no-nonsense demeanor and a desire to dethrone Liverpool from their throne, which he did during his spell as Manchester United manager.

I adored the game Manchester United played under him, to the point where several Liverpool fans mistook me for a Manchester United supporter! His ability to reassemble superstar teams was also outstanding, and I appreciated the ruthlessness that went along with it. He didn’t care about the player’s reputation and simply moved them on if he thought it was the best option, as he did with Roy Keane, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, and a few others.

Sir Alex Ferguson was more of a manager than a coach, content to bring in the necessary personnel to oversee training sessions at Carrington while he kept everything together. Amazing, thirteen Premier League titles, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, wow, That’s untouchable; it’s astounding what he’s accomplished.

No one will ever match his achievements at Manchester United, hence he is without a doubt the best manager in Premier League history.

2. Arsene Wenger

“Arsene who?” everyone exclaimed when Arsene Wenger arrived from Japan. No one had heard of him before, yet he made an immediate impact in the Premier League by employing a unique approach. His concept was a breath of fresh air, and his players reacted admirably to his techniques, drastically altering their diets and training regimens.

It’s a well-known fact that England had a drinking culture at the time, and Arsene Wenger’s team had several alcoholics.

In the 1980s, I played for Liverpool, and there was an unspoken rule at Anfield that no one may drink within 48 hours of a game. Wenger had Tony Adams and Paul Merson at Arsenal, and he delicately dealt with them.

As a result of his influence, Arsenal developed a strong physical side, with red cards being commonplace. They were a pest and a challenge to Manchester United’s domestic dominance because they battled toe-to-toe with the greatest sides in the Premier League and also behaved themselves extremely well.

Under Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United ravaged their way to Premier League title after Premier League title, but Arsenal provided a rivalry and made life difficult for them.

Arsenal won the domestic double in 1998 and 2002, but the fact that he led his team to an undefeated Premier League season in 2003-04 is his crowning achievement – it was a remarkable effort. I’m still at a loss for words, and that’s about as fantastic as it gets.

Unfortunately, that was his final Premier League triumph, as he grew fixated on Barcelona and their style of play after that. Wenger switched from a big, physical team to one with smaller technicians like Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, and Jack Wilshere. He had just lost the UEFA Champions League final to Barcelona in 2006, and his goal was to dominate Europe, so he felt compelled to try something new. After that, Arsenal had their moments, but it never quite clicked for them.

I watched them beat Slavia Prague 7-0 in Europe and thought it was a treat just to sit there and watch such a beautiful Arsenal team play, but Wenger’s team eventually faded away. They started to fade away one by one, and many began to speculate that he had overstayed his welcome in the club.

It becomes very difficult beyond a point when you have a terrific manager like him at the club. The fans and the media could see that things were deteriorating, but it must have been difficult for Wenger to simply walk away. The “Wenger Out” protests and the fact that Arsenal fans had turned on him was heartbreaking to watch, but everyone could see what was going on.

Arsene Wenger should have walked away when Arsenal overcame Hull City in the FA Cup final in 2014 to break their trophy drought. He might have gone out on a high note, but he didn’t. Nonetheless, at Arsenal, he had a fantastic run of success and shifted perceptions, and he ranks among the best managers in Premier League history.

3. Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho arrived in the Premier League with a box office reputation as a serial winner following his success with FC Porto. He exuded arrogance and cockiness and never tried to hide it; instead, he let it all out and propelled himself to stardom by referring to himself as the ‘Special One.’

You have to be able to put what you preach into practice, and he did so with panache. Mourinho was the British media’s sweetheart; they couldn’t get enough of him! He won the Premier League with Chelsea in consecutive seasons, and he did so in a way that was very different from Pep Guardiola, Arsene Wenger, and Sir Alex Ferguson. Chelsea conceded only 15 goals in 38 games in the 2004-05 season, the fewest in Premier League history, on their way to winning their first league title in 50 years and breaking several other long-standing records.


Chelsea did score a lot of goals, but Mourinho always put the defense first. If I were a manager, I’d be more attack-minded and play on the front foot, but I respect the way he built up his teams – it was all extremely well-coordinated, and everyone understood what they had to do.

The second leg of the UEFA Champions League match between Barcelona and Inter Milan at Camp Nou in 2010 is a game that will stay with me for a long time. Inter won the first leg 3-1 at home, but Thiago Motta was sent off in the 28th minute of the second leg, putting Mourinho’s team on the back foot. The “us against the world” mentality came into play at that point, as Inter clung on for dear life and advanced to the final on aggregate despite losing the game 1-0.

That night, the entire province of Catalonia wanted Jose Mourinho dissected – they despised him! I’d been to the Camp Nou perhaps 15 times before, and I’d never heard anything like it. It was all due to Mourinho, his celebrity, and what his team accomplished that night.

He was an excellent motivator who elicited a terrific response from his players, which he repeated in his second spell at Stamford Bridge. He reached his pinnacle when he returned to Chelsea and won his third Premier League title. He was never the same manager after he couldn’t produce the “we against the world” mentality.

My personal opinion is that he poisoned the dressing room at Manchester United. Many players turned against him, and whenever something went wrong, he began blaming his teammates – it was no longer his fault. That bothered me since these are the sorts of things that should be kept within the confines of the dressing room.

Tottenham Hotspur hired him to replace Mauricio Pochettino, despite his time at Old Trafford, because they wanted to win something. They undoubtedly expected the presence of a serial winner to rub off on the other players and result in trophies, but that did not happen.

Mourinho, in my honest view, has lost his touch. He’d probably laugh at me and disagree with me, but that’s just the way things are. Whenever he is confronted with a difficult topic that threatens to reveal his decline, he is quick to point out what he has accomplished over the years. He’s been on a downward spiral for a while and he’s aware of it, but he’ll never accept that his abilities are waning.

Nonetheless, he has left a lasting influence in the Premier League and is unquestionably one of the finest managers of the modern period. Maybe Italy may rekindle his passion for life, so I wish him luck in Roma and hope he can rekindle his passion for life!

4. Pep Guardiola

When it comes to the managers that have led Manchester City in the Premier League since their takeover, they’ve all had a lot of success. While Mark Hughes was the first to win the Premier League, Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini followed suit. It was going well for them, but they set their sights on something bigger: creating a dynasty, which is now taking shape under Pep Guardiola’s guidance.

He’s spent the most time as a manager at any team, and I’d put him higher on my list in a couple of years. He may rapidly rise beyond the likes of Arsene Wenger and Jose Mourinho if he adds another trophy or two to his CV. He’s a perfectionist who was an easy pick for Manchester City since they got the best manager available at the moment and have spectacularly enjoyed the benefits.

Guardiola can go out and buy the greatest players in the world like Manchester City did earlier this summer when they broke the Premier League transfer record for Jack Grealish. They have deep pockets, and he’ll be the first to acknowledge it, but you can’t blame him for that. In six years, they’ve won four League Cups, three Premier League crowns, and an FA Cup – an incredible trophy collection, and some of the football they’ve played is among the best I’ve ever seen.

He’s a blessed guy in that he can acquire whatever he wants in the transfer market, but you can’t overlook his teaching and the fact that he’s fascinated with the tiniest aspects – that’s how he works, and what he does in terms of management borders on brilliance.

His Barcelona team is by far the best I’ve ever seen. The medals, style of play, and players he had in Spain were all on another level, but Manchester City has come close to matching that, if not exceeding it. Guardiola has been a fantastic addition to the Premier League, as they’ve broken new records and completed everything in flair.

Many say Manchester City’s style of play under him is repetitive, but I disagree. I know how difficult it is to attain that level of excellence in possession, maintain it, and improve on it season after season, so I applaud what they’ve accomplished recently. When they play one of the Premier League’s so-called lesser sides, you can usually predict what’s going to happen, but Guardiola’s ability to orchestrate it all behind the scenes is a testament to his ability to mastermind it all.

At Manchester City, he has yet to win the UEFA Champions League, but we’re talking about the Premier League, so he’s right up there with the greatest.

5. Claudio Ranieri

Claudio Ranieri is a name that immediately comes to mind due to his achievements at Leicester City. When you consider that season and the history that preceded it, you’ll realize that it was a historic sporting achievement. When they pulled off the remarkable escape in the 2014-15 season, Nigel Pearson was in charge, and Peter Drury and I referred to them as one of the best bottom-dwellers we’d ever seen in the Premier League at the time.

They were mired in a rut, losing games despite playing well, but towards the end of the season, the results began to flip in their favor. Pearson eventually kept his team out of the relegation zone, but he was replaced by Ranieri at the end of the season.

Managers such as Roberto Mancini, Carlo Ancelotti, Jurgen Klopp, and a few others have all won the Premier League and have received major financial assistance from their clubs throughout the years. Leicester City is currently rubbing shoulders with the big boys and making their mark in the Premier League, but they weren’t a major club at the time, and Ranieri didn’t have the kind of financial backing that some of the other clubs did.

Throughout the 2014-15 season, I looked for every possible reason to declare Leicester City would not win the Premier League. I’ve been in the same situation with Liverpool, where I believed they’d crumble as the pressure mounted, but Ranieri held the team together and handled the situation admirably. His character was a big part of it all; he kept things low-key and just wanted to have fun. In front of the media, he was very easygoing, and his line ‘Dilly Ding Dilly Dong,’ which he pronounced amusingly at a press conference, has become part of Leicester legend!

During his time at Chelsea, Ranieri was dubbed Tinkerman because of his proclivity for making a lot of team changes. Many fans were annoyed by this at the time, but things changed at Leicester. He knew he had an effective, counter-attacking machine with a direct style of play at the club, so he didn’t overthink it and just let it happen.

Leicester’s 3-1 win over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium was the turning point in my career. I worked on the game, and it was wonderful – I had to take it all in as it happened, and it finally did! I swallowed my pride for having projected incorrectly at the outset of the season, but I was ecstatic for them. A Leicester City supporter earned a large quantity of money after betting on the team to win the Premier League title at 5000:1 odds – it was the gamble of gambles!

It was a storybook conclusion, therefore I had no choice but to name Ranieri as one of the best managers in Premier League history. When you think about it, what happened was still incredible, and I’m not sure we’ll ever see anything like it again. Something like that was required in the game, and as a result, everyone bought into the romance. I dismissed them at every turn, but they defied expectations to do something exceptional, so I salute Leicester City and Claudio Ranieri.

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Dominic Nwodo

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