Today, Spanish managers are among the finest in world football. Their results, and more importantly their ideals, have educated, inspired, challenged and in many ways determined the game’s current landscape. In doing so, the current crop follow in the footsteps of a number of outstanding coaches from the past.
Ranking the greatest Spanish managers of all time is a tricky task. In doing so, it’s important to respect the achievements of those who didn’t have the chance to lead Real Madrid or Barcelona, while at the same time not underplaying the silverware won by those who did.
Some – such as Real Madrid great Luis Molowny, Real Sociedad title-winner Alberto Ormaetxea and three-time Europa League winner Unai Emery – were unfortunate not to make the cut.
Here are Football Whispers’ ten best Spanish managers of all time.
10. Juande Ramos
Much of the credit for Sevilla’s achievements over the past two decades has gone to Monchi, the club’s sporting director. However, while his transfer dealings and long-term strategising has had a massive impact on the Andalusian side’s progress, some praise must be given to Juande Ramos for kicking off an exciting new era.
Ramos didn’t enjoy much success as a player – he bounced around Spain’s lower leagues before retiring at the age of 28 – however, as a manager, he eventually worked his way up to La Liga through spells at Barcelona’s B team and Rayo Vallecano, where he won promotion.
In two seasons as Sevilla manager, from 2005 to 2007, he led the club to two consecutive UEFA Cup wins, one European Super Cup, one Spanish Cup and one Spanish Super Cup. In addition, he took the club to third place in La Liga in 2006/07, where they finished just five points behind champions Real Madrid.
A disappointing spell in England with Tottenham Hotspur tarnished Ramos’ reputation, but he has since gone on to do respectable work with Real Madrid and Ukrainian side Dnipro.
9. Javier Irureta
The Spanish league title traditionally goes to one of two clubs – Barcelona or Real Madrid. Indeed, 56 of 85 titles have been won by one of the big two. However, in 1999/00 Deportivo La Coruña broke the duopoly to win their first-ever championship. The manager behind the unexpected success was Javier Irureta.
Having made his name by leading unfashionable clubs such as Real Oviedo and Celta Vigo to continental qualification, Irureta joined Deportivo in 1998. And, with a defence led by Moroccan legend Noureddine Naybet and protected by Brazilian midfield shield Mauro Silva, as well as an attack spearheaded by Dutch international Roy Makaay, Irureta took the club to the title.
Over the following two seasons, he guided Depor to two runners-up medals in the league and one Copa del Rey win. He also led them into the quarter-finals of the Champions League twice, masterminding wins over Manchester United, Arsenal and Juventus in the process.
8. Javier Clemente
Javier Clemente never quite fulfilled his potential as a player, retiring at 24 after consecutive unsuccessful knee operations. However, as a manager he would steer Athletic Bilbao to their greatest period of achievement.
His first spell as club coach saw Athletic remain in La Liga’s top four for five seasons in a row. And, in 1983 and 1984, they won the title. His style of play came under scrutiny for its roughness, with one moment in particular standing out. In 1983, during one of Athletic’s battles with César Luis Menotti’s Barcelona, Andoni Goikoetxea broke Diego Maradona’s ankle with an aggressive tackle from behind.
Thus, Clemente’s Athletic aren’t what comes to mind nowadays when people think of a traditional “Spanish style” of football, but they were uncompromising, apologised to no one, and won major honours in the process.
7. Luis Enrique
He wisely backed down from a fight with Lionel Messi, allowing the Argentine icon to move to the right of the front three while Luis Suárez took on the central role, and re-jigged the Catalan giants’ style of play, bringing in a more transition-based approach that suited his attacking players and eased the transition away from an era of more possession-based football built around Xavi, who was ageing and on the verge of leaving the club.
These decisions had a huge impact as Enrique led Barcelona to a famous treble in his first season with the club, a domestic double of league and cup followed in his second campaign at the helm and another Copa del Rey win in the third.
Enrique’s managerial career is still in its formative stages. Prior to the Barça job, he took charge of their B team, had an underwhelming spell with Roma in Serie A, and enjoyed a good year with Celta Vigo.
How much more he can achieve remains to be seen. Enrique is currently taking a year off after leaving Barça at the end of the 2016/17 campaign, but expect to see him back in the dugout next year.
6. Luis Aragonés
While it has been criticised of late, Tiki-taka was once a celebrated term given to the style of play adopted by the Spanish national team as they won consecutive European Championships in 2008 and 2012, and the World Cup in 2010. The man behind the first victory, and the implementation of the style, was Luis Aragonés.
That achievement was undoubtedly his most important, but long before Aragonés ended decades of Spanish underachievement he won several major honours as Atlético Madrid manager.
Having scored over 100 league goals for the club, he took up the managerial post immediately upon his retirement as a player. He proceeded to win La Liga in 1977, as well as one cup and one Intercontinental Cup.
Aragonés had three more spells with Atlético, winning two more Spanish cups, as well as a brief spell at Barcelona, before taking the national team job in 2004.
5. José Villalonga
If Aragonés was the man to end Spain’s torment, José Villalonga could be blamed as the man who got the country’s footballing hopes up in the first place. In 1964, he led La Roja to their first-ever international honour, winning the European Nations’ Cup on home soil with victories over Hungary and the Soviet Union.
Prior to that game-changing summer, Villalonga had, unusually, enjoyed spells as manager of both major Madrid clubs – Real and Atlético. With the former he won two leagues and two European Cups before a fall-out with his assistant coach and questions over his use of Alfredo Di Stéfano led to his dismissal. He then went on to second place in La Liga while winning two Spanish Cups and one European Cup Winners’ Cup.
4. Rafael Benítez
Opinions of Rafael Benítez differ greatly depending on who is asked. Napoli fans would say his football was chaotic and his desire to stick with a 4-2-3-1 too rigid. Real Madrid fans would say he was effective but unexciting. Liverpool fans would mention the glorious night in Istanbul where Benítez’s Reds overcame a 3-0 deficit to beat AC Milan on penalties in the Champions League final. Valencia fans would profess love for the man.
It’s easy to forget that the Spaniard, who is currently in charge of Newcastle United, once led Valencia to two league titles and a UEFA Cup in three years. Building on the work of Héctor Cúper – who had led the club to two Champions League finals – and with a strong defence based on goalkeeper Santiago Cañizares and centre-back Roberto Ayala, Valencia were almost impenetrable under Benítez.
And Benítez has had success elsewhere, too. As well as the Champions League win with Liverpool, he brought an FA Cup to Anfield, won a Europa League with Chelsea, clinched two promotions in Spain with Extremadura and Tenerife and ensured Newcastle returned to the Premier League at the first attempt after suffering relegation.
Benítez lacks the appeal of some his contemporaries, but his trophy haul is a remarkable one and his three years with Valencia are simply unforgettable.
3. Vicente del Bosque
Vicente del Bosque was, quite simply, a manager to the stars. Few could take control of a group of sizeable egos and lead them with such composure and understated class. One short spell with Turkish club Beşiktaş aside, he has spent all of his managerial career with Real Madrid or Spain, handling both roles with aplomb.
Just as the Galácticos era went into overdrive, del Bosque won two league titles and two Champions Leagues with Real Madrid. Some would argue that with a team including stars such as Zinédine Zidane, Luis Figo and Ronaldo it would have been hard not to win, but Real had significant issues regarding the team’s balance that del Bosque managed expertly. As former player Steve McManaman said: “His [del Bosque’s] skill is in subtly weighing up how the team could tick.”
Del Bosque then built on Aragonés’ 2008 European Championship win, taking Spain to the same trophy in 2012 with a first-ever World Cup triumph in-between.
2. Miguel Muñoz
It isn’t easy to hold down the Real Madrid manager’s position – even the aforementioned del Bosque was sacked eventually. Thus it speaks volumes about Miguel Muñoz’s quality and consistency that he is the club’s longest serving coach.
Between 1960 and 1974 he managed Los Blancos, winning an incredible nine Spanish titles, more than any other manager has achieved (his nearest rivals – Enrique Fernandez, Helenio Herrera and Johan Cruyff – won four apiece). Muñoz also continued the club’s fine tradition of winning European Cups, overseeing their victories in the competition in 1960 and 1966. On top of all that, he won one Intercontinental Cup and two Spanish cups.
While he had an array of talent at his disposal, Muñoz was a bold man-manager. Indeed, it was his decision to drop Di Stéfano from the team in 1964. And, while he was unable to win further silverware with Granada, Las Palmas or Sevilla, he did take the Spanish national team to the final of the 1984 European Championships in France.
1. Pep Guardiola
The football played by Pep Guardiola's Barcelona will live long in the memory. His decision to bring Messi inside and have him operate as a false nine; his promotion and deployment of Sergio Busquets in a deep-lying midfield role; his re-signing and development of Gerard Piqué from Manchester United reject to world class centre-back; there are so many calls made by Guardiola that shaped arguably the greatest club side in history.
The Catalan's decision-making and sensational style of play led Barcelona to a treble of league, cup and Champions League in 2009. That was added to by a Spanish Super Cup, a European Super Cup and an Intercontinental Cup. Two more La Liga titles, one more Champions League and one more Spanish cup followed, before the manager took his aura to Bayern Munich.
Under unbearable pressure immediately after the German side won the treble the season prior to his arrival, Guardiola nonetheless implemented his own vision of football, holding off the threat posed by Jürgen Klopp’s Dortmund to win three consecutive Bundesliga titles.
Guardiola’s inability to win the Champions League with Bayern did blot his copybook and his first season in charge of Manchester City saw him end a season without a trophy for the first time.
However, his place in sporting history as Spain’s greatest ever manager is already assured and, if City continue as they've started the 2017/18 campaign, it won't be long until Guardiola has added further titles to his illustrious CV.