Football Features

Ranked: The top 10 managers in Real Madrid’s history

By Sam Leveridge, from La Liga Lowdown

Published: 16:30, 1 June 2021 | Updated: 18:06, 28 October 2021

For the second time in three years, Zinedine Zidane has stepped down as Real Madrid manager.

The Frenchman leaves Real Madrid after a trophyless 2020/21, having to watch on as rivals Atletico Madrid and Barcelona lifted the La Liga and Copa del Rey titles respectively.

In a pretty scathing open letter to Real Madrid fans, published in AS, Zidane credited his departure to the lack of faith and support from the club’s board for a long-term project.

“Dear Real Madrid fans,

“For more than 20 years, from the first day I arrived in Madrid and wore the white shirt, you’ve shown me your love. I’ve always felt that there was something special between us. I’ve had the enormous honour of being a player and the coach of the greatest club ever, but above all I’m just another Madrid fan. For all these reasons I wanted to write this letter, to say goodbye to you and explain my decision to leave the coaching job.

“When, in March 2019, I accepted the offer to return to Real Madrid after a break of eight months it was, of course, because President Florentino Pérez asked me, but also because all of you asked me every day to do so. When I met any of you in the street I felt your support and the desire to see me with the team again. Because I share the values of Real Madrid; this club belongs to its members, its fans and the entire world. I’ve tried to follow these values in everything I have done, and I’ve tried to be an example. Being at Madrid for 20 years is the most beautiful thing that’s happened to me in my life and I know I owe that entirely to the fact Florentino Pérez backed me in 2001, he fought to get me, to bring me here when some people were against it. I say it from the heart when I say that I will always be grateful to the ‘presi’ for that. Always.

“I have now decided to leave and I want to properly explain the reasons. I’m going, but I’m not jumping overboard, nor am I tired of coaching. In May 2018 I left because after two and a half years, with so many victories and so many trophies, I felt the team needed a new approach to stay at the very highest level. Right now, things are different. I’m leaving because I feel the club no longer has the faith in me I need, nor the support to build something in the medium or long term. I understand football and I know the demands of a club like Real Madrid. I know when you don’t win, you have to leave. But with this a very important thing has been forgotten, everything I built day-to-day has been forgotten, what I brought to my relationships with the players, with the 150 people who work with and around the team. I’m a natural-born winner and I was here to win trophies, but even more important than this are the people, their feelings, life itself and I have the sensation these things have not been taken into account, that there has been a failure to understand that these things also keep the dynamics of a great club going. To some extent I have even been rebuked for it.

“I want there to be respect for what we have achieved together. I would have liked my relationship with the club and the president over the past few months to have been a little different to that of other coaches. I wasn’t asking for privileges, of course not, just a little more recollection. These days the life of a coach in the dugout at a big club is two seasons, little more. For it to last longer the human relationships are essential, they are more important than money, more important than fame, more important than everything. They need to be nurtured. That’s why it hurt me so much when I read in the press, after a defeat, that I would be sacked if I didn’t win the next game. It hurt me and the whole team because these deliberately leaked messages to the media negatively influenced the squad, they created doubts and misunderstandings. Luckily I had these amazing lads who were with me to the death. When things turned ugly they saved me with magnificent victories. Because they believed in me and knew I believed in them. Of course I’m not the best coach in the world, but I’m able to give everyone, whether it’s a player, a member of the coaching staff or any employee, the strength and confidence they need in their job. I know perfectly well what a team needs. Over these 20 years at Madrid I’ve learnt that you, the fans, want to win, of course, but above all you want us to give our all: the coach, the staff, the employees and of course the players. And I can assure you we’ve given 100% of ourselves to this club.

“I’d like to take this opportunity to send a message to the journalists. I’ve given hundreds of press conferences and unfortunately we have spoken very little of football, though I know that you love football, this sport that brings us together. However, and without any desire to criticise or lecture, I would have liked the questions not to have always been about controversy, that we might have talked more often about the game and above all the players, who are and always will be the most important thing in this sport. Let’s not forget about football, let’s care for it.

“Dear Madrid fans, I will always be one of you.

“Hala Madrid!

“Zinedine Zidane”

Across his two spells with Real Madrid, Zidane won La Liga twice and three Champions League titles, among other competitions, with the three European Cups coming in consecutive seasons.

So that got us thinking. Where does Zidane rank among the best managers in Real Madrid’s history? Read on and find out!

10. Paco Bru

Honours: Copa del España (x2)

A Barcelona hero as a player, Paco Bru is a historic name in Spanish football.

First a player, then a journalist, a referee, the first national team coach, and eventually Real Madrid coach, he won two Copa España (Copa del Rey) titles. With 76 victories from 127 games in charge, only seven men won more games while in the Real Madrid dugout.

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9. Fabio Capello

Honours: La Liga (x2)

The Italian mastermind had two separate stints at the Bernabéu, with neither lasting more than a single season. And yet he won the La Liga title on both occasions.

His pragmatic, defensive style didn’t win over many fans, but he did bring players like Roberto Carlos to the club and the 2006/07 league win would be the club’s only title before the Galáctico project was dismantled for good.

8. Jose Mourinho

Honours: La Liga, Copa del Rey, Supercopa de España

Mourinho will always feel hard done by that his Real Madrid side faced the greatest Barcelona side in history as competition. A bitter rivalry was built up, which made the 100-point La Liga winning season of 2011/12 even sweeter as the team won 32 of 38 games played.

His win percentage of 72% is the best in the club’s history. Success in Europe evaded him, while a Copa del Rey final defeat to Atlético on home turf meant a humiliating departure.

7. Carlo Ancelotti

Honours: Copa del Rey, Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup

The reported new/old Real Madrid coach will always be remembered by Los Blancos fans for being the man to clinch La Décima, their 10th Champions League triumph, after a 12-year wait.

League success evaded him, but he did establish the BBC trident which would provide the foundations for Zidane’s later success and bring the Frenchman into his coaching set-up.

6. José Villalonga

Honours: La Liga (x2), Copa Latina (x2), European Cup (x2)

The man to lead the team to their first European success, José Villalonga remains the youngest coach to win the European Cup to this day at just 36 years of age. He also oversaw the club’s first Treble, winning La Liga, the Copa Latina and the European Cup.

His legacy was only soured somewhat when he departed and joined Atlético Madrid, beating Miguel Muñoz’s side in consecutive Copa del Generalísimo finals in 1960 and 1961.

5. Luis Molowny

Honours: La Liga (x3), Copa del Rey (x2), Copa de la Liga, UEFA Cup (x2)

A Spaniard of Irish descent, Molowny had the unenvious task of replacing Muñoz but originally lasted only 16 games, despite winning the Copa del Generalísimo. Having played for the club and impressed as coach of UD Las Palmas, Real Madrid wanted to keep him on board as a club director.

He would regularly step in and take up the reigns on an interim basis, never lasting longer than two years in the role. Despite that, he still won three league titles, three Copas, and, most impressively, two UEFA Cups in as many years before being replaced by Leo Beenhakker.

4. Leo Beenhakker

Honours: La Liga (x3), Copa del Rey, Supercopa de España (x2)

Sometimes disregarded due to European struggles during his reign, Beenhakker won three consecutive league titles, two Spanish Supercopas and one Copa del Rey in just three years. Despite a domestic domination only rivalled by Miguel Muñoz, the club wanted European success and there were calls for his head come his departure.

“One thing is wanting to carry on and another, very different, is being able to carry on,” is what he said when he confirmed that he would not renew his contract in 1989. Despite “pressures” as he called them, he remains one of the club’s most decorated coaches to this day.

3. Vicente del Bosque

Honours: La Liga (x2), Supercopa de España, Copa Iberoamericana, Champions League (x2), UEFA Super Cup, Intercontinental Cup

Few men represent Real Madrid as well as Vicente del Bosque. With the club from the age of 17, playing over 400 games for them, he would coach Castilla and then the first team as caretaker manager twice before getting the gig full-time in 1999.

In his four years in charge, he won a major title in each season, including two Champions Leagues. He built a supremely talented team around a mix of local talent, featuring Raúl and Iker Casillas leading at both ends, and dazzling star signings like Zinedine Zidane.

His departure in 2003, only days after winning his second LaLiga title, sparked controversy, with several players, including captain Fernando Hierro, expressing their outrage to club president Florentino Pérez.

2. Zinedine Zidane

Honours: La Liga (x2), Supercopa de España (x2), Champions League (x3), UEFA Super Cup (x2), Club World Cup (x2)

The only Real Madrid coach to win three Champions League titles with the club, Zidane’s sparkling dynasty as a player was converted into a magnificent legacy as a coach. A winner on and off the field, he lifted a trophy every 23 games on average, having won two thirds of the games he oversaw.

When Zidane left the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in 2018, he stunned the club with his surprise departure. His absence was so sorely felt that he returned only 10 months, and two coaches, later. His second spell wasn’t quite as decorated, leaving again in May 2021 after a trophyless season, but his status as the leader of one of the team’s most decorated sides was confirmed.

Domestically, he was forced to settle for just one league title per spell in charge, and always lamented the difficulty of the competition. “The league is more difficult than the Champions League, I’ve always said it,” he said in 2018 and would later repeat.

It proved to be the case, unable to retain his LaLiga crown, but his achievements remain remarkable.

1. Miguel Muñoz

Honours: La Liga (x9), Copa del Rey (x2), European Cup (x2) Intercontinental Cup

When Zidane left Real Madrid this summer, he said “these days the life of a coach in the dugout at a big club is two seasons.” He should try telling that to Miguel Muñoz, who lasted 14 years in the Bernabéu dugout.

Spending 26 straight years at Real Madrid as a player and coach, he won La Liga five times in a row between 1961 and 1965 as the club completely dominated Spanish football. With nine titles to his name, and two Copas del Rey, his trophy cabinet is one that simply cannot be beaten.

Having won the European Cup three times as a player, he became the first man to win the competition as both a player and a coach, winning it in 1960, only two years after he’d last won it as a player, and again in 1965.

“He was a very quiet coach, but he knew what he was doing. He was very intelligent,” said former player Amancio Amaro. His 3-3-4 formation would revolutionise the game, capitalising on the talents of Paco Gento, Alfredo Di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás among others.

In total, he would lead the club for 605 matches, winning 14 titles. His reputation was so great that LaLiga’s trophy for coach of the season, the Trofeo Miguel Muñoz, carries his name to this day.

Article produced by Sam Leveridge in partnership with La Liga Lowdown, your home for Spanish football in English with reporters based in Spain. Find them on Twitter @LaLigaLowdown