Brescia v Perugia X

Nothing in the news cycle was particularly interesting today, so rather than attempt to analyze things I have no business analyzing, I thought I’d try out a (very) unscientific experiment, solely out of curiosity.

While reading about Guus Hiddink, I’d wondered what position the best managers in history played in during their playing days (if they played at all). Would there be any weird similarities? Rather than spend ages trying to think up who would get on the list, I decided to poach a pretty good one.

Back in 2011, Irish Times writer and all around interesting guy Miguel Delaney created a list of the 50 best managers of all time on the now defunct blog Football Pantheon. His methodology for the list can be found here.

Now I have my small quibbles with it—in a perfect world, you’d see the list calculated by win percentage weighted by quality of competition and fully divorced from the partial coin-flip of trophies.

Delaney acknowledges the limitations of a trophy-only points system and corrects for it, but his use of table position to differentiate is again problematic from a purists point of view—the results are far too relative. However his attempt to balance against team spending, while a bit blunt, is a good one.

But none of this is really the point, because I was interested in something completely different. I was curious to see if there were any broad similarities between the historically recognized best all-time managers and their positions as players. Often people speculate on whether strikers make better managers, or midfielders, or whatever. So why not have a look?

The results (and the team for which each manager spent the bulk or most important part of their playing career) are after the jump, but even in the small sample size, there is roughly the distribution you’d expect on a soccer pitch. The list is weighted to midfielders, but some positions therein could easily be switched either to striker or defender, too.

The percentages in each position:

Goalkeepers Defenders Midfielders Forward N/A
2% 26% 46% 20% 8%

There was one goalkeeper in the bunch, Raymond Goethals, who led Marseille to a Champions League victory in 1993. Carlos Alberto Parreira, who won a World Cup with Brazil in 1994, never played the game, but started out as a fitness trainer. Two managers played but there is little information available for them. This is scientifically useless, but at least demonstrates that among the all-time best, they’re not all sweepers or something weird.

It also didn’t take me long to fill in a chalkboard by position just running down from the top of the list, either:


The full list is below. It’s pretty useless, but fun! Like football!

  1.  Alex Ferguson – forward (Dunfermline)
  2.  Helenio Herrera – defender (Red Star Olympique)
  3.  Ottmar Hitzfeld – striker (TuS Stetten)
  4.  Giovanni Trapattoni – defender, defensive mid (Milan)
  5.  Brian Clough – striker (Middlesbrough)
  6.  Bob Paisley – defender (Liverpool)
  7.  Valeri Lobanovskiy – forward, left winger (Dynamo Kiev)
  8.  Miguel Munoz – midfielder (Real Madrid)
  9.  Jose Mourinho – central midfielder (Sesimbra)
  10.  Jock Stein – centre half (Celtic)
  11.  Rinus Michels – striker (Ajax)
  12.  Matt Busby – right half, inside forward (Manchester City)
  13.  Ernst Happel – central defender (Rapid Wien)
  14. Udo Lattek – striker (Bayern Munich)
  15. Marcello Lippi – defender (Sampdoria)
  16. Nereo Rocco – winger (Triestina)
  17. Fabio Capello – midfielder (Juventus)
  18. Bill Shankly – right half (PNE)
  19. Carlos Bianchi – forward (Velez Sarsfield)
  20. Bela Guttmann – centre-half (NY Giants)
  21. Otto Rehhagel – defender (FC Kaiserslautern)
  22. Luiz Felipe Scolari – defender (Caxias)
  23. Guus Hiddink – midfielder (De Graafschap)
  24. Hennes Weisweiler – midfielder (FC Koln)
  25. Jose Villalonga – unknown
  26. Johann Cruyff – attacking midfielder/forward (Ajax)
  27. Albert Batteux – midfielder (Stade de Reims)
  28. Louis van Gaal – midfielder (Sparta Rotterdam)
  29. Arsene Wenger – sweeper/defender (Mutzig)
  30. Luis Alonso Perez – unknown
  31. Mario Zagallo – inside forward, left winger (Flamengo)
  32. Pep Guardiola – defensive midfielder (Barcelona)
  33. Stefan Kovacs – midfielder (CA Oradea)
  34. Don Revie – deep-lying centre forward (Manchester City)
  35. Herbert Chapman – inside forward (a lot of teams)
  36. Luis Alberto Cubilla – winger (River Plate)
  37. Osvaldo Zubeldia – striker (Boca Juniors)
  38. Arrigo Sacchi – defender (Bellaria)
  39. Rafa Benitez – sweeper (Real Madrid Castilla)
  40. Aime Jacquet – defensive midfielder (Saint Etienne)
  41. Raymond Goethals – goalkeeper (Daring Club de Bruxelles)
  42. Vicente Del Bosque – defensive midfielder (Real Madrid)
  43. Guillermo Stabile – striker (Genoa)
  44. Bobby Robson – inside forward (Fulham)
  45. Carlos Alberto Parreira – N/A
  46. Luis Carniglia – striker (Boca Juniors)
  47. Tomislav Ivic – midfielder (RNK Split)
  48. Roberto Scarone – right back (Penarol)
  49. Emerich Jenei – defensive midfielder (Steaua Bucuresti)
  50. Carlos Bilardo – midfielder (Estudiantes)