Who is the best active manager in football? A year or two ago, the likes of Jose Mourinho, Louis van Gaal, Jurgen Klopp, and Carlo Ancelotti all would have likely made the shortlist. Now, though, Mourinho has been sacked from Chelsea, Louis van Gaal has failed to create another dynasty at Manchester United, Jurgen Klopp resigned from Borussia Dortmund following a disappointing 2014/15 season (and has been arguably underwhelming at Liverpool), and Carlo Ancelotti was sacked from the Real Madrid job after failing to win a title during the 2014/15 campaign.
All of those coaches still have claims to greatness-particularly Ancelotti, whose sacking was arguably unjust and who will have another chance to prove his pedigree when he takes over at Bayern Munich this summer. Until then, though, it's probably fair to cut the battle for the best active manager title down to two prime contenders: current Bayern Munich manager Pep Guardiola and FC Barcelona head coach Luis Enrique.
Brilliant Barca Debuts
This conversation certainly won't be the first time that Guardiola and Enrique have been compared. Fans and soccer pundits alike started citing parallels between the two managers last year, as Enrique closed in on a treble winning debut season at Barcelona. Guardiola too had won the treble in his first season as Barcelona's senior level coach, back in 2008/09.
Needless to say, comparing debut seasons at Barcelona is probably the most direct way to compare and contrast the legacies of Guardiola and Enrique. Both men came to Camp Nou following seasons where Barcelona disappointed in their title races. Guardiola replaced Frank Rijkaard, who had coached Barcelona to a third place finish in the La Liga and semi-final exits from both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey. Enrique, on the other hand, replaced Gerard Martino, who resigned after just one season at Barcelona. Martino's side had finished second in both the La Liga and the Copa del Rey but got eliminated from the Champions League in the quarterfinals.
Following Guardiola's arrival in 2008/09, Barcelona won the La Liga, the Champions League, and the Copa del Rey. Led by a front three of Samuel Eto'o, Lionel Messi, and Thierry Henry, Guardiola's debutante Barcelona squad finished the La Liga with a record of 27 wins, six draws, five losses, and 105 goals. The team beat Athletic Bilbao to clinch the Copa del Rey and topped Manchester United to win the Champions League. They also won the Supercopa de Espana, the FIFA Club World Cup, and the UEFA Super Cup, for a perfect six-trophy year in 2009.
Enrique's debut Barcelona season was comparable in many ways. With the help of another dynamite front three (Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez), Enrique coached Barca to their second treble in history. In some ways, his soccer squad was better than Guardiola's: his team had the better record (30 wins, four draws, and four losses) and scored more goals (110). Unlike Guardiola, Enrique just missed the perfect six-trophy run in 2015, losing the Supercopa de Espana to Athletic Bilbao. Other than that, though, both men enjoyed amazing starts at Barcelona.
Pep Guardiola's Career Accomplishments
Looking at career accomplishments, it's tough to pick anyone over Pep Guardiola for the "best manager in the world" title. When he took the senior coaching job at Barcelona in 2008, Guardiola had never coached a senior football club. He'd cut his teeth managing Barcelona's B team, but his treble-winning debut season was that much more impressive because it was his first in the big leagues.
Since then, Pep has only expanded his impressive legacy. The 2015/16 campaign marks the Spaniard's seventh season in charge of a senior soccer club. If Bayern Munich's performance thus far has been any indication, this season will also mark his sixth time coaching a league-winning team. (Guardiola's 2011/12 Barcelona squad finished second in the La Liga, trailing Real Madrid by nine points.) He's also won three domestic cups, three domestic super cups, two Champions Leagues, three UEFA Super Cup titles, and three Club World Cup trophies.
In terms of awards, Pep Guardiola is likely the most decorated active manager. He won the La Liga Coach of the Year award four times in a row, from 2009 to 2012, was the UEFA's "Team of the Year" Best Coach in 2009 and 2011, and was named the FIFA World Coach of the Year in 2011. These awards are merely the most major of the prizes that the famed manager has won throughout his relatively short but incredibly fruitful career.
Perhaps most impressive, Guardiola is clearly not afraid to wander in search of new challenges. He could have easily stuck around at Barcelona and continued winning titles, but he moved to Bayern Munich to expand his experience. Now, he's en route to England and Manchester City for what will likely prove to be his biggest challenge yet. Some dissenters have suggested that just about any coach could have won titles with the players that Guardiola has had in Spain and Germany. Man City is nowhere near as dominant in the Premier League as Barcelona was in the La Liga, though, or as Bayern Munich is in the Bundesliga. If Pep can win titles there-with, probably, a special focus on European trophies-then he could win titles anywhere.
Luis Enrique's Career Accomplishments
Like Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique got his first managerial experience coaching the Barcelona B squad. Unlike Guardiola, though, Enrique did have a few years of senior coaching experience under his belt before he took the Barcelona head coaching job in 2014. Enrique coached the Barcelona B team for the majority of Guardiola's managerial tenure, from spring 2008 through June 2011. From there, he moved on to the head coaching job at AS Roma and then to Celta de Vigo, before circling back to Camp Nou.
The amazing thing about Guardiola so far is that he's been able to manage 70+ win percentages at both Barcelona and Bayern Munich. Enrique is skirting an even higher win percentage (around 80%) at Barcelona right now, but his other coaching exploits were nowhere near as successful. In his one season at Roma (in 2011/12), Luis won just 40% of his games. After Roma finished seventh in the Serie A and failed to qualify for a European competition, Enrique decided to resign as head coach, rather than stick out the remaining two years on his contract.
At Celta Vigo, Enrique's win percentage was just 37.5, ending with a ninth place finish for the club in the 2013/14 La Liga. Once again, he departed after just a year with the club.
Still, Enrique's 2014/15 campaign with Barcelona shows just how well a good coach can do with the right squad of players. He managed to turn Messi, Neymar, and Suarez into the most effective offensive vanguard in football (and arguably the best front three in Barcelona history) despite the fact that they all brought differing play styles (not to mention sizable egos) to the table. And the fact that his team missed out on that sixth trophy really had as much to with scheduling (the Supercopa de Espana came just days after a grueling UEFA Super Cup final for Barca) as it did with coaching or talent.
For good reason, Luis Enrique was the most decorated football manager in 2015, winning the La Liga Coach of the Year, the FIFA World Coach of the Year, the IFFHS World's Best Club Coach, and World Soccer Magazine's World Manager of the Year awards.
Ultimately, it's a close call between these two managers for the "best in the world" distinction. Enrique's current side might be better, and the manager could well win another treble in his sophomore season at Barcelona. Guardiola, meanwhile, is still looking for his second treble as a coach.
Still, in terms of sheer magnitude of statistics and influence, the edge has to go with Guardiola. He's turned not one, but two clubs into dominant powerhouses that can compete for any given title in any given year. With his move to Manchester City next year, he has a chance to build a dynasty in the toughest league in all of football. He's simply unparalleled in the world of soccer right now.
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