What Makes a Great Football Manager?

In the next edition of our “Anatomy of a Successful Football Team” series, we look at what it takes to be a great manager.

Anyone can become the manager of a football club, pick the team, decide the tactics, and shout instructions from the dugout.

But, not everyone can lead their teams to glory several times, man-manage and bring the best out of headstrong and volatile players, and deal with criticism and extreme pressure.

The only managers to do that are the great ones, and this article will look at what it takes to be a great football manager.

Attributes required to be a Great Manager

A manager needs to have many different attributes, which vary depending on management style and type of team they manage. For example, a club manager will require a different skillset to that of an international manager.

However, there are certain attributes which all managers require if they want to ever be considered one of the greats.


It goes without saying that a manager must be able to lead a team. A manager must pick a style of leadership and stick to it, with two main types available to them.

They can be autocratic, where the boss is the boss and what he says goes, or democratic, with everyone having a say and the manager taking on others ideas

Regardless of the approach they adopt, the manager must be able to lead from the front and give their players the tools required to make success happen on the pitch.

Tactical Knowledge

The best managers in world football have been tactical masters. They have a main way of playing but also have several back-up plans available to them.

Great managers can adapt their tactical instructions depending on the opposition’s style of play, how the match is going, and what the team need to do to either score a goal or defend a lead.

A poor tactician will run out of ideas, have their team playing one-dimensional football, and look like a headless chicken running round on the touchline shouting instructions the players do not understand.

An Eye for Talent

Transfer market expertise is required for club managers, with financial restrictions on some teams meaning the manager may have to adopt a wheeler-dealer type of approach to bag themselves a bargain.

However, great managers have an eye for talent and can spot the next superstar. They then nurture that talent and help build them into a world class player.

Whether it’s finding a diamond in a clubs youth system or taking a risk in bringing an under-loved player into the international fold, great managers know talent when they see it and know how to use it to their advantage.


A great manager must be confident that their players can get a result regardless of how bad things get. Their team may be 2-0 down with five minutes left, but giving up hope won’t help anyone.

The best managers will ooze confidence, which will rub off on to their players. This in turn builds a team of players who will never give up and never stop believing they can be successful.

Confidence breeds’ success and the greatest managers of all time knew just how good they were.

Man Management

The greatest managers in history have known how to deal with volatile players, can pick up players low on confidence, and can help nurture and protect a young wonderkid or new signing.

Being a great people person and being able to man-manage, with different approaches to different players, can be the difference between success and failure.

If a player is mis-managed, they will not perform at their best and that can negatively impact the whole team.

Two of the Best Managers of All-Time

Rinus Michels

The inventor of “Total Football” and the man who was named FIFA Coach of the Century in 1999, Rinus Michels is one of the greatest managers of all time.

He started his coaching career at Ajax, with them languishing in the lower echelons of the Dutch top flight. He had an immediate impact and changed them from relegation candidates to four time league champions, three time cup winners, and European champions in the space of six years.

Then followed a spell at Barcelona, where he led them to the league title. He also led the Netherlands to a World Cup Final and to becoming European champions.

Another great Dutch manager, Johan Cruyff, credits Michels with teaching him more than anyone else.

Michels was that great a manager that the Dutch manager of the year is given the Rinus Michels Award.

Alex Ferguson

Alex Ferguson is arguably the greatest manager of all time, and undoubtedly the most successful at club level.

He won several Scottish league titles with Aberdeen, managed Scotland at a World Cup, and led Manchester United to an amazing thirty-eight trophies during an almost twenty-seven year reign.

Known as a fiercely disciplined manager, famed for the hairdryer treatment, Ferguson demanded and received respect.

He was also extremely adaptable and, behind the fierceness, was a father figure who knew exactly how to deal with some of the biggest egos and volatile players in the game.

One of Fergusons greatest achievements was picking the best players from a successful youth team and building the senior squad around that core. It was a masterstroke of epic proportions.

A fantastic tactical manager, motivator, and disciplinarian who dealt with every situation in his own, successful, way.

Great, and Not So Great, Manager Moments

Every manager has moments of elation, where everything works out well and there’s a time to celebrate.

Managers at the lower reaches of football leagues may celebrate surviving relegation, or advancing to the next round of the cup, whilst the greatest managers celebrate winning silverware domestically and nationally.

There are far too many examples of great managers enjoying success, and it’s far too difficult to pick the right ones to share with you. So, I’m going to concentrate on the not so great manager moments here.

First up is Kevin Keegan letting the pressure of a title challenge get to him, leading to a rant that has gone down in the history books.

Next up is Louis van Gaal, who tried to show the fourth official the opposition were diving during a match, by diving on the floor. It may have seemed a good idea to him at the time, and in the heat of the moment, but he made himself look a bit silly.


Finally, here’s an embarrassing example of a manager celebrating success far too early.

During the 2016 FA Cup Final, then Crystal Palace manager Alan Pardew did a dad-dance on the touchline after his side took the lead, only to then see them lose after extra time.

Read the rest of the series

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