Football Features

Ranked: The best English managers right now

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 21:30, 17 January 2021

Pep Guardiola was effusive in his praise for Graham Potter after Manchester City’s recent win over Brighton.

“We were in front of the best English manager right now,” Guardiola said after the match. “You have to be a top side to play that way.” That is absolutely massive praise, especially coming from a manager as admired, imitated and decorated as Guardiola.

But is Potter the best English manager right now? We’ve had a look at all nine of the Englishmen coaching in the Premier League as well as the best within other leagues and come up with a top 11. Disagree with any of our picks? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook!

11. Sam Allardyce

Club: West Brom
Position: 19th

If we were to take the totality of their careers, then “Big Sam” would be right near the top of this list for all of the miracles he’s pulled off while coaching (the best of which is probably still convincing Fernando Hierro, Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff to play for Bolton). But in 2021, Big Sam just doesn’t have what it takes. Brought in to save West Brom, he’s done nothing of the sort except for taking his customary point from Anfield. Although let’s just wait and see what that 3-2 win over Wolves — albeit needing two penalties — will do for the Baggies’ confidence. It’s a shame, but it is what it is.

10. Steve Bruce

Club: Newcastle
Position: 15th

Steve Bruce is a real blank slate of a manager. There’s not really anything there. Sure, he’s not terrible, but he’s just so bland. Very nice, for sure, but a coach who exists just for the sake of it. His teams are decent but they rely heavily on individual player quality to raise them to that meagre level.

9. Chris Wilder

Club: Sheffield United
Position: 20th

What a difference a season makes. In 2019/20, Chris Wilder was the toast of the town with his innovative team structure that saw the centre-backs overlap the full-backs. It was such a unique system that it took the Premier League by storm. Unfortunately this season, the system is old hat, opponents have it scouted, and Sheffield United have been simply dreadful without that surprise factor. They’ve won just once all season and look almost certain to go down.

8. Frank Lampard

Club: Chelsea
Position: 7th

Chelsea have one of the best chief executives in the world. Marina Granovskaia is a genius whose recruitment, while top-heavy, is almost unimpeachably good. Yet Chelsea are a disorganised shambles of a side.

Players that haven’t won the World Cup or didn’t play under assistant Jody Morris in the youth system at Chelsea routinely get worse under Lampard’s charge. To a man. Look at how Kepa Arrizabalaga turned into a cowering whelp, or Timo Werner’s erratic shooting.

There’s no doubt Lampard talks a good game, and his trust in youth is admirable in the extreme, but he doesn’t appear to have any coherent ideas on how to play the game both in attack and defence. Instead of embodying the best of all the geniuses he’s played under, he seems like Chelsea-era Claudio Ranieri-style “Tinkerman” with a dash of José Mourinho’s skill at press conferences thrown in.

7. Scott Parker

Club: Fulham
Position: 18th

Scott Parker looks great in a suit and is definitely a manager that has given his all to his club. You can see he puts his heart and soul into Fulham, And after their awful start to the season, they’ve beaten Leicester away and then gone on a five-match unbeaten run, all draws, including stalemates with Spurs and Liverpool, finally ended by a narrow 1-0 defeat to Chelsea. Even that was close, perhaps swung by Antonee Robinson’s first-half red card. Given how limited his resources are, he’s doing quite well.

6. Roy Hodgson

Club: Crystal Palace
Position: 13th

Roy Hodgson’s ability to build an organised 4-4-2 that springs forward on the break is seriously admirable. His Palace side is a masterclass in how to use talent when it’s concentrated in a few positions. Hodgson has constructed a solid team that allows the likes of Wilfried Zaha, Andros Townsend and Eberechi Eze to go forward and thrive. There are limits to how far this style can take you, but he’s usually pressed right against them.

5. Dean Smith

Club: Aston Villa
Position: 10th

Aston Villa are genuinely delightful to watch, and that’s because Dean Smith understands that his best player is an absolute maverick and has built his whole side around that. Douglas Luiz and John McGinn is an amazingly balanced midfield and Jack Grealish’s growth into one of the very best No. 10s in the league must be credited to him. With how well he has organised the defence, if Smith had a more consistent goalscoring presence in attack, he’d have won more games and be pushing at the top of the table.

4. Gareth Southgate

Country: England
Position: n/a

The Waistcoat Who Could. Gareth Southgate redefined what the English national team could be. And presently, he’s streamlining that 2018 squad and building on it, incorporating some of the frankly ludicrous young talents England have at their disposal. Southgate can be a bit too cautious sometimes, but he has a clear idea of how he wants England to play and the knowledge of how to get them to play that way. He’s fostered a genuinely positive atmosphere in the squad and made England fun to watch again for the most part.

3. Sean Dyche

Club: Burnley
Position: 17th

Burnley, by contrast, are not fun to watch. They are a stoic side who play a defensive block and launch the ball forward to big strikers. However, given the squad’s profile and budget, you cannot begrudge them their style. Burnley are an established Premier League presence who no one wants to play against, and they have no right to be that good given the players they have. Dyche works wonders, and with Dwight McNeil is showing an ability to meld genuine attacking flair with his defensive steel in a way that undid the league’s previous underdog defensive mastermind (Tony Pulis, at Stoke), there is more to come from Sean Dyche.

2. Steven Gerrard

Club: Rangers
Position: 1st (in the SPL)

Steven Gerrard took the Rangers job two years ago, which was the perfect combination of a big club that needed improving but existed in a very winnable league. Now in 2021, the Englishman has returned the Scottish side to the top of the table in Scotland. And not just top, but top by a distance having gone unbeaten so far. They are 21 points ahead of Celtic and have conceded just seven goals all season.

Rangers are genuinely a great side, so well organised and fun to watch in attack, while they’ve been impressive in Europe, too, beating the likes of Standard Liege and Lech Poznan and drawing twice with Benfica. That has to come down to the manager. Unfortunately for those who were sick of hearing about how great Gerrard was as a player, he appears to be great as a manager too.

1. Graham Potter

Club: Brighton
Position: 16th

Guardiola talks a lot, and sometimes he speaks nonsense. However, in the case of proclaiming Potter the best English manager right now, the Catalan is absolutely correct. Potter is a very special coach.

Obviously, at first glance, you see Brighton languishing at 16th in the table and you wonder how Potter could be that good? But then you watch them, and they are mesmeric. To quote Guardiola: “The quality they have, they show it. They have good players, good build-up. Every pass makes sense. Their movement between the lines up-front makes sense. Every player is in his position to get the ball and be free.”

So why aren’t they doing better? “They are struggling to score goals,” said Guardiola. “That’s why they are in the position.” And that tracks. Brighton’s expected goals (xG) total so far this season is 25.11, which is ninth-best in the division, and their expected goals conceded (xGC) stands at 20.74, which is seventh-best in the division.

Despite not having an expensively assembled squad, they are playing thrilling football and creating and conceding enough chances to be solidly mid-table. If they had a more consistent goalscorer, that’s where they’d be. They lack for luck and execution, which is a matter of player quality; the recruitment has been good, but not quite good enough. They are an exceptionally coached side, Potter is magic.