It’s not just about Pep, Jürgen and Carlo – the coaches with the best success rates in Europe

ASK any football fan who they believe is the best coach in European football and they will roll-out names like Pep Guardiola, Jürgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti. But despite their impressive records and the number of prizes they have won in their glittering careers, the two coaches with the best win rates among Europe’s top leagues are relatively unknown outside the countries they in which they work.

Rúben Amorim of Sporting Lisbon and Matthias Jaissle of Red Bull Salzburg have win rates of 73.15% and 72.92% respectively in their current jobs. Both win slightly more often than Guardiola at Manchester City, who has the best record among the top five leagues.

Amorim is just 37 years old and took Sporting to their first league title in years in 2020-21. The former Portugal international earned his spurs at Braga and took over at Sporting in March 2020 and in his first full season led the club to the Primeira Liga with just one defeat in 34 games, their only loss coming against Lisbon rivals Benfica.

Amorim also has the best career win rate as a manager, 73.48% versus Guardiola’s 72.83%. But he cannot match Pep’s trophy haul of 17 major trophies (League, Cup and Europe). Unsurprisingly, Amorim has attracted the attention of Paris Saint-Germain according to reports coming out of the French capital.

Red Bull Salzburg’s Jaissle (34) is another young coach who was appointed in July 2021, taking over from Leipzig-bound Jesse Marsch. In his first season, he won the double in Austria, finishing 18 points clear of second-placed Sturm Graz and beating Ried in the cup final. Of course, any team in the Red Bull franchise has distinct advantages over their competitors and that’s very clear in the case of Salzburg. Nevertheless, the ubiquitous energy drink continues to build a network of coaches that can be used across their multi-club model.

Win rates at their current club

  ClubCurrent win rate %Career win rate %
1Rúben AmorimSporting Lisbon73.1573.48
2Matthias JaissleRed Bull Salzburg72.9270.77
3Pep GuardiolaManchester City72.7372.52
4Sérgio ConceiçãoPorto71.9658.48
5Julian NagelsmannBayern Munich70.251.1
6Ange PostecoglouCeltic7052.09
7Carlo AncelottiReal Madrid69.658.3
8Ole WernerWerder Bremen68.4253.13
9Giovanni van BronckhorstRangers68.2959.17
10Mauricio PochettinoParis Saint-Germain65.4848.49
Top five leagues (England, France, Germany, Italy and Spain) plus Portugal, Netherlands, Austria, Scotland.

Guardiola has had a charmed career in that he has managed only very top clubs – Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City. Hence, he has had every chance to succeed, but there’s no denying the intelligence and influence of his approach. Guardiola’s career record is a win rate of 72.82%, almost identical to his figures at Manchester City.

Statistics only illustrate one aspect of performance and they can be misleading. It has to be noted that the records of Guardiola and some of his contemporaries have been built over many years, whereas some coaches have had relatively short careers and therefore, the true measurement of their ability will be revealed in time. A good example of this is Ole Werner of Werder Bremen, who has a win rate of 68.42% from just 19 games with the Bundesliga club.

Sérgio Conceição, Porto’s 47 year-old coach, has had a 271-game career with his club and has accumulated a win rate of 71.96%. Admittedly, Porto are one of three clubs dominating Portuguese football and there’s some distance between that trio and the rest of the league. His compatriot, José Mourinho has one of the best career records in the game, a win rate of 63.05% and a trophy haul of 17 major prizes. Yet Mourinho’s current rate – 52.73% at AS Roma – ranks among the lowest of his time in the game, even though he continued his penchant for lifting trophies in the form of the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League. Just ahead of Mourinho in terms of career win rates is Erik Ten Hag, the new Manchester United manager. Ten Hag’s figures, arguably, should be weighted because he’s yet to manage in a top five league, although he was very successful at Ajax, who rightly belong among Europe’s royal family of clubs. By contrast, Mourinho has coached in England, Italy and Spain, as well as his homeland of Portugal and has been employed by five former European champions. Carlo Ancelotti, who has a career stat of 58.3% and has won no less than four Champions Leagues as a manager, also has a killer CV that includes AC Milan, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Napoli and Juventus. Another top 10 coach, Ange Postecoglou, is a 70% success with Celtic, but he has made his name in lower level leagues, which does somewhat dilute his position.

Interestingly, notable managers of the past did not have anything like the statistics of Guardiola (72.82%), Klopp (61.4%), and Thomas Tuchel (61.29%). Arsenal’s Herbert Chapman, for instance. He won 49.64% of his games with the Gunners and secured two league titles and the FA Cup once. The current boss at the Emirates, Mikel Arteta, has won 54.2% of the 131 games he’s been in charge and yet it is unlikely Arteta will create the sort of impact Chapman made. Liverpool’s Bill Shankly had a win rate of 49.24%, much lower than his successors Bob Paisley and Kenny Dalglish, but the legend of Shankly lives on. Matt Busby (Manchester United), Don Revie (Leeds United), Bill Nicholson (Tottenham) and Bobby Robson (Various) all hovered around the 50% mark. Brian Clough’s career record was 46.5%. Different times, different methods and perhaps a more democratic era for football.

The figures for the current batch of managers will not change the perception people have of the really top coaches. They are the big names in the management game because of the quality of their CVs. These generally take time to compile, so some of the characters in the current list will either rise or fall, depending on performance. Just as we have elite teams and competitions, football also has an elite group of coaches who command the very best jobs.

The duopoly of Manchester City and Liverpool – how long will it go on?

IT is clear English football has become a duopoly comprising Manchester City and Liverpool. It’s not necessarily a good thing for the game, but these two teams are among the best in Europe at this precise moment. Interestingly, Real Madrid beat both in the Champions League.

Many years ago, football folk in England laughed at the duopolies that existed in Scotland, Portugal, the Netherlands and other continental European countries. English football, they believed, was more open, more democratic and anyone could win the top trophies. In those days, the Football League Cup had been won by a couple of third division clubs (QPR and Swindon) and FA Cup lifted by no less than three second division clubs (Sunderland, Southampton and West Ham). Giant-killing was a peculiarly English thing, the classic David versus Goliath story. Perhaps this was why it took some time before English clubs could challenge for the European Cup, their opponents from Italy, Spain and Portugal just didn’t know how to lose the big games.

Most two-team rivalries have been short-lived

Twenty-four clubs have been English champions, 10 of whom were crowned for the first time before the first world war. The leading clubs of that era had emerged from the industrial regions of the country, places like Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham and the north-east. Although there were fierce rivalries in the pre-WW1 footballing universe, such as Villa and midland neighbours who loved to beat them, and Newcastle and Sunderland, there was a broad range of contenders. In the Football League’s first 12 years, 10 clubs achieved top three placings and in the period 1900 to 1915, there were 14 top three teams. During this time, one of the most exciting seasons was 1912-13, when Aston Villa and Sunderland were the dominant forces. Sunderland won the league and Villa beat them in the FA Cup final. Both teams could have won the double that year.

Most two-team rivalries have been relatively short-lived. For example, in the 1930s, when Arsenal won five league titles, there were four different runners-up. Quite simply, most of their opponents didn’t have the consistency or financial resources to challenge them every year. At the same time, it should be noted Arsenal were never runaway winners, they won four of their five championships in the 1930s by four points or less.

The Manchester United team that came to an end in the tragedy of the Munich air crash may have gone on to win many more prizes and given Wolverhampton Wanderers took over as the leading side of the day, winning the league in 1958 and 1959, there might have been a two-way struggle for supremacy in the late 1950s. Furthermore, the Tottenham double winners of 1961 may have added to that equation, although would Spurs have been so successful had United’s young team not perished in the snow. We shall never know, of course.

The Liverpool age of 1975 to 1990 was an incredible chapter of success and came after teams such as Leeds United and Arsenal had developed a brief and abrasive spirit of competitiveness. Leeds were consistent and too manic for their own good, yet they were the best team in England between 1968 and 1972. Arsenal won the double in 1971, overtaking Leeds right at the death, but didn’t have the players to go beyond that memorable year. Leeds United’s real rivals were themselves, although Liverpool were waiting to become the new alpha club.

The big problem for English football was the lack of long-term competition for Liverpool. While the transition from Bill Shankly to Bob Paisley was seamless, they didn’t have a consistent challenger. Between 1975-76 and 1982-83, QPR, Manchester City, Nottingham Forest, Manchester United, Ipswich Town and Watford all finished second to the Reds. Although fans from Forest talk about the time Brian Clough’s team went head-to-head with Liverpool, it was only really a two season confrontation. It was not until 1984-85 that Liverpool had a week-by-week rivals to push them all the way, and ironically, it came from their own city and just across Stanley Park.

For three seasons, Everton and Liverpool could barely be separated, with Everton winning two of three league titles in that period. The two Merseyside clubs were two points apart in the league, the title being won by a Kenny Dalglish goal at Chelsea in his first season as player-manager. Then they met in the FA Cup final, with Liverpool winning 3-1 and completing the double with arguably their least effective side in a few years. But in truth, the Liverpool golden era was drawing to a close and in 1990, they won their last league title for 30 years.

Manchester United took over as the top side in the country, partly due to their sheer size and financial power, but also because they had the game’s top manager in Alex Ferguson. United had also tapped into youth development, bringing on group of highly talented players that would form the core of their team for the next decade, the so-called “Class of ’92”.

This is where the Premier League, which was formed in 1992, experienced its first two-team battle for power in the often fractious relationship between Arsenal and Manchester United. The dynamic between these two clubs saw some titanic struggles for the league title. Between 1998 and 2001, the two teams filled the first two places in the Premier every season. In a seven-year period ending in 2004, Arsenal won three titles to United’s four. The two teams were superior to the rest of the Premier because of their management and methods, Arsenal benefitting from the progressive approach of Arséne Wenger, which not only brought foreign talent to the club, but also a more scientific regime for players that included diet, training and mentality. In 2004, Arsenal under Wenger reached their zenith with the Premier title and an unbeaten league programme. But this duopoly was coming to an end as Chelsea became the richest club in the country thanks to their new owner Roman Abramovich.

Arsenal drifted away from the forefront gradually and Chelsea took up an arms race with Manchester United. For a while, the league’s chief rivalry was between these two clubs, but it was never as hectic as the Arsenal-United bout. Wenger was never happy about Chelsea and their sudden wealth and to some extent, this became something of a psychological hurdle for both club and coach.

The Chelsea-United period of dominance began in 2004 and really ended in 2011. Chelsea’s second season under Abramovich – and first with José Mourinho – saw them win the Premier League with 95 points,12 ahead of Arsenal, they retained the title a year later with 91. From 2004-05 to 2010-11, United still managed to win more Premier Leagues than Chelsea, four to three, and although they were both champions afterwards, their position was now under threat from Manchester City.

If Chelsea’s success was considered “bought” by the club’s critics, the same could be applied to City’s elevation. Both clubs, along with France’s Paris Saint-Germain were examples of a new breed, clubs who climbed the ladder thanks to huge investments of cash. In the case of Chelsea and City, they were both relative underachievers before being taken over. They were now looking the traditional giants of the English game, Manchester United, Arsenal and Liverpool in the eye, much to the irritation of the establishment.

City and Liverpool simply have the best squads, the smartest management

But City’s wealth was enormous compared to Abramovich’s money and so the advantages Chelsea had between 2003 and 2010 were no longer quite as significant. Similarly, Manchester United and Arsenal’s US ownership, were now running their clubs far differently, no longer able to compete with the model adopted by City or Chelsea. The financial position of both United and Arsenal eroded over a period of time and they were no longer certainties for Champions League football.

Although Liverpool were also owned by Americans, the club started to break free of the malaise that descended upon Anfield after a prolonged period without the league trophy. They pulled off a major coup in hiring former Borussia Dortmund manager Jürgen Klopp and although the trophies didn’t flow at first, a new, vibrant team was moulded at the club. City, who by 2016 had secured Pep Guardiola, were also building something more substantial than their rivals off the pitch. The City project was not just about playing success, it was also about creating something with much more depth and longevity. By 2021, the club had overtaken United in terms of revenue generation, which underlined the stagnation at Old Trafford after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson as much as it emphasised the smart thinking of City’s owners and management.

Between them, City and Liverpool now had the best coaches, the most intelligent approach to transfer market activity and the most fluid teams. In 2018, there were signs Klopp was creating something special at Liverpool when they reached the UEFA Champions League final, trouncing City on the way. A year later, Liverpool finished just one point behind City in the league and returned to the Champions League final, beating Tottenham in Madrid. Liverpool lost just one game in the Premier and notched up 97 points, but City were still ahead of them as they won the domestic treble. Between 2017-18 and 2018-19, City won five of the six domestic prizes on offer.The power and consistency of the front two was also evidenced by the 15-point gap between Liverpool and Chelsea in third.

The Premier League was arguably the most coveted prize for Liverpool after a 30-year gap since their last triumph. Liverpool topped the table from the start and lost only three games, winning 18 of their 19 home games. City were 18 points behind in second place, but scored 102 goals to Liverpool’s 85. The two teams were still way ahead of the competition, Manchester United, in third, were 15 points worse off than City.

Winning the title may have taken more out of Liverpool than they expected, for they seemed to run out of steam in 2020-21, but in 2021-22, with some squad additions, they chased City all the way. The two teams are finely matched and there’s very little between them, but there’s a considerable gap between City and Liverpool and the team just behind them.

City topped the Deloitte Football Money League for the first time in 2022, their revenues rising 7% to £ 571.1 million. This is an impressive statistic given the pandemic and impact it had on club income. Manchester United, traditionally the highest-placed English club, generated £ 494 million, while Liverpool were not far behind with income of £ 487 million.

The simple fact is, City and Liverpool are now standing astride the Premier League because they have the best squads. A remarkable 20% of the Guardian top 100 for 2021 comprised players from these two clubs, while 13 of the top 40 most highly valued players are from Liverpool and Manchester City (Football Benchmark).

But is this really good for English football? Will we look back in five years and see the continuation of a two-horse race? It is unlikely for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is a certainty that neither Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp will still be in charge at their respective clubs. In fact, their reign may end sooner rather than later. This is important because they are arguably the two most influential managers of their generation, and there are not many coaches to compare. Secondly, the two teams will need to rebuild at some point, they have players who are past or approaching the end of peak marketability. Thirdly, other rivals will come to the fore – Newcastle United will be a rising force in the next year or two as their new ownership starts to really shape their playing resources. Other clubs will also be beneficiaries of investor money and become challengers. Finally, nothing lasts forever in football, just recall the fall of Liverpool after 1990 and the current mess that is Manchester United. And who would have predicted Abramovich leaving Chelsea? The current duopoly, by historic standards, is approaching maturity and may have already peaked. For the game’s sake, it needs to change, even if we do enjoy the high quality of two excellent teams.

Pep’s City may need a clenched fist

ANOTHER drama, another collapse. Manchester City, European champions-elect virtually every year since 2016, crashed out in the most bizarre circumstances. City went to Madrid with a one-goal advantage from the first leg, but they also conceded three goals in the process. In another age, a one-goal lead would have been considered precarious. Riyad Mahrez extended that lead to two goals and that should have been it, but then the world caved in. Madrid had discovered from that chaotic first leg that City let goals in.

Notwithstanding the durability of Real Madrid and their European heritage, City’s inability to hang on to a 5-3 aggregate lead demonstrated a certain weakness in their make-up. Although Pep Guardiola claims the club’s owners have never insisted tthe Champions League is a priority, no investor would spend as much money to merely win a domestic league that could be won by far less. Paris Saint-Germain have the same issue in France, although they are not as stretched as City.

The target has to be European domination, but the problem is, that is also the goal of the elite band that City now belong. They may have a big advantage locally, but moving into a different socio-economic group means fiercer competition from clubs with more know-how.

As we have seen with PSG, failure on the European stage triggers a release clause in the form of a manager getting sacked. City, to their credit, are not quite as impatient, although after six years of Guardiola they must be wondering what they have to do to win the big prize. Progress has been made, however, with the last two seasons delivering a final and semi-final, the two best seasons under Guardiola in the competition. The expectation hasn’t necessarily come from the coach or the club, City have been relatively quiet about their hopes and they have generally been very respectful about each and every opponent.

City’s league form under Guardiola is beyond impressive – 167 wins in 225 games, a win rate of 74.22%, 2.47 goals per game and a yearly average points haul of 88. In the past few years, they have been egged-on by the emergence of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool and the two teams are far more advanced than the rest of the competition. This pre-eminence simply places these teams among the best in Europe, but the dynamic changes at this point, although it is very clear that the Premier League’s wealth is starting to move City and Liverpool ahead of the game. If the Champions League was a genuine league, these clubs would be at the top, because financial power, coupled with an intelligent approach to coaching, player acquisition and a sustainable structure, will always give them a big advantage.

Knockout competitions are different, especially those that included two-legged ties. Ask most football followers and they will tell you the Champions League becomes exciting when it reached the KO phase. Excitement doesn’t just come from predictable, attritional league games, it comes from the unexpected, from the sheer theatre of it all.

Maybe, just maybe, City need a different, more industrial approach for these games than the purist technique and long-distance running of the Premier League. Guardiola’s City have won five Cups, four of which have been the EFL Cup, a competition that doesn’t seem to overstretch them. Only once have they won the FA Cup. Their real strength lies in the long-haul competition, where class prevails and victories can be notched-up at their own pace. Hence, City slipped back into gear quite easily against Newcastle United, winning 5-0. Klopp knew what he was talking about when he said he could not see City dropping points.

At the same time, the vision we all have of Manchester City is not of a team scrapping for points and success, it is more of a sweeping tide of beautiful, skilful football that overwhelms the opposition. Perhaps there is one element that can be improved in the City set-up, but it may not be aligned to Guardiola’s character? He has coached Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Manchester City, clubs where he has had the pick of the best talent and financial power over the rest of the league. Has a fist ever been clenched in the City dressing room?

Manchester City will, one day, become European champions, but it may not be in Guardiola’s time. The club is wealthier than almost every rival and can attract any players they choose to focus on. But they may have to develop a harder edge and that doesn’t appear to be Pep’s way. Serial champions is one thing, but achieving greatness among a select peer group could require muscle and blood. Right now, in Abu Dhabi, they will be casting their eyes enviously at Liverpool and Real Madrid, two clubs that have solved the mystery of the holy grail.