The Most Exciting Managers in Football

Gallardo, River Plate manager, holding a trophy infront of a background of fans holding flares.

We won’t pay homage to Klopp, Guardiola, or your Ancelotti’s. Instead, expect a focus on the lesser-known head-honchos in football who may be next to step up to a bigger European club considering their impressive work on display.

What is seen as an ‘exciting’ football manager, or to put it better, one equipped with an exciting style of play, has changed over the last few decades. In what feels like a bygone era, exciting football was primarily fast-paced, expansive wing-play. Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United became synonymous for such football, consisting of having a solid defence with two holding midfielders. Once the ball was won, in a blistering counter-attacking style, the wingers would dart to the byline before crossing the ball in for a towering centre-forward.

Although an exciting style to watch, football has evolved, and there is a new beast. The modern style encapsulates quick tempo, shorter passing, and high pressing. Formations are now fluid, and players are allowed more freedom.

Peter Bosz – Leverkusen

Like a few on our list, the Dutchman has had quite a nomadic career in a relatively short amount of years.

Bosz started his playing career at Vitesse before moving to Toulouse. After finally returned to Holland, he saw out his playing career at Feyenoord. In 1999 he hung up his boots and began to move into a managerial career.

Once appointed as head coach by Agovv Apeldom, he held the role for two years, winning the National amateur league. Bosz’s first professional club was De Graafschap. Unfortunately, it was a formidable job for him at the time that took its toll, with De Graafschap relegated.

Perhaps Bosz could be seen as a journeyman, bouncing around from club to club. He went on to manage Heracles Almelo, to a 2004/05 Eerste Divise triumph (second-highest tier in the Netherlands). In their first season in the Eredivisie, they maintained a 13th place finish.

After time spent with Heracles Almelo and Feyenoord, Bosz would manage Vitesse and Maccabi Tel-Aviv. During his stint at Vitesse, he was up for manager of the season but was pipped by Phillip Cocu.

The next big move for Bosz was Ajax, the most significant post in his already hectic career. In 2016, Ajax failed to get past the Champions League’s group stage and had no more joy domestically. In 2017, Ajax performed a lot better, finishing runners up in both the Europa League and in the Eredivise.

Bosz was courted by Borussia Dortmund in 2017, who paid £5 million to clinch his services. He lasted only four months before being sacked after failing to win any Champions League games.

Next up was Bayer Leverkusen in 2018 where he managed to clinch European qualification. Leverkusen were 9th when he took over, with Bosz overseeing a 5th-placed finish in his first season. Currently, Leverkusen are competitively fighting in the Bundesliga title race.

Bosz has spoken of how his idol is Johan Cruyff, which is visible in how his teams play. He believes in a fast-paced, short passing style. When at Dortmund he told his players he wants a two-second rule, meaning no player should hold onto possession any longer.

The Leverkusen gaffer encourages attacking pass and move sequences.

Bosz has stated he loves attacking football because it connects with people’s emotions. At Leverkusen, Bosz prefers to play a 4-2-3-1 formation but tends to change shape depending on the opponent. Bosz prides himself on the fact his team and players are tactically versatile with players changing positions to allow a new shape. 

An example of this is Karim Bellarabi – the German winger is comfortable on the right-wing but can also play as a right wing-back and even upfront if needed. Leverkusen lost one of their most valuable players this season in Kai Havertz; the imperial talent could play several positions from false nine to box-to-box. 

Leverkusen rely on retaining possession as the foundation to their play – last campaign the German outfit averaged 60% possession. Leverkusen utilises pressing traps, and this is where they cause their opposition to come out of position, leaving space behind them. This allows Bosz’s side to attack with more numbers and intent. The downfall to this style of build-up is, if caught, it leaves Leverkusen in a precarious position. 

Bosz wants his side to play high possession football with players expected to pass and frequently move, causing more space to open. Without the ball, the team is instructed to press, with the widespread belief that the best time to do so is when the opposition has just won the ball – something Jose Mourinho has often stated. Pressing while a team are transitioning can catch them off guard and provide counter-attacking opportunities. 

Bosz, speaking to DW, discussed the quality of players he inherited and the mental strength which he and his coaching team have tried to instil; “It starts with the fact that we have good players and a clear idea of how we want to play. We have convinced the players that they can do it. Then the players also are having fun and stand behind [our philosophy]. All players like to have the ball. Sometimes we have 70% of the ball and want to play forward. If the players are having fun, then most of the time they are successful, too.”

After a summer of losing two vital players in Kevin Volland and Kai Havertz, perhaps most onlookers would have tipped Leverkusen for a difficult season. Thankfully, Bosz still has Charles Áranguiz at his disposal who is vital to proceedings. The midfielder is a useful tool for changing shape, dropping into the defensive line when operating a three at the back system. To replace the Monaco-bound Volland, RB Leipzig’s Patrick Shick took his place and has proved his worth already alongside the increasingly-impressive Leon Bailey.

Jesse Marsch – RB Salzburg

Jesse Marsch played for several MLS clubs during his career including DC United, Chigaco Fire, and Chivas USA. After his playing career, he was hired by Bob Bradley as an assistant to the US Men’s National Team.

Marsch later joined Montreal Impact in 2011 and spent one season there managing a 12th place finish. He later left the role after a disagreement in philosophy.

Marsch stayed in the MLS and joined New York Red Bulls, winning the MLS supporters cup, and achieving a club record of 18 league wins and MLS coach of the year. Marsh stayed for two years before leaving and left with the best win ratio of all previous coaches.

The American would leave New York and make his first move to Europe when he joined RB Leipzig as Ralf Rangnick’s assistant. Leipzig finished third that year and were runners up to in the DFB Pokal.

Marsch would return to a managerial position when joining RB Salzburg. He had impressed enough at RB Leipzig to encourage the opportunity, and he duly delivered. The American went on to win the double in Austria, scoring an incredible 203 goals in 62 games.

Marsch is known to set his teams up in a 4-2-2-2, favouring the 4-2-3-1 from time to time. His teams play with a pressing mentality, looking to win the ball up high and attack. His style of play is similar to Julian Nagelsman, Jurgen Klopp, and Ralph Hassenhuttl. In his first months at Salzburg, Marsch tried as many as nine formations to counteract their opposition when pressing. Due to his history at New York Red Bulls, Marsch is fully aware of the Red Bull setup and the expectations. 

Marsch believes pressing is all about timing, and tells his players to press once the ball is played. Correct timing allows more pressure on the ball receiver and leads to poor misjudged passes. At the back, they ensure the last line of defence gets close to opposing attackers, nullifying long balls over the top where faster players can run onto the ball. ‘Recover and repress’ is the term coined by Marsch, attributed to when his team return to their position after each press, before pressing the next ball receiver.

While attacking, Salzburg ensure they make the most of space and demand numbers in the opposing box. Marsch demands that his players make runs into the opposing box and often looks back at the stats to see if his players are executing his requirements. Marsch, similar to Bosz, believes in pressing teams while in transition, causing them to be unorganised. With direct passing, this can lead to goal scoring options. 

Roberto De Zerbi – Sassoulo

De Zerbi’s Sassuolo are enjoying a terrific run in the Serie A, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing in his career. As a player, the attacking midfielder came through AC Milan’s academy. He played for several Italian clubs, most notably Napoli from 2006-2010.

The first coaching role he would undertake was with Darfo Boario. He would later leave this role joining Foggia in 2014 and winning the Lega-Pro Coppa Italia and narrowly missing out on promotion, losing to Pisa in the final.

After a short stint at Crotone, De Zerbi was sacked following a disagreement on transfers. He then joined Palermo where he would have a horrific run. Seven consecutive defeats and no points at home in three months led to another sacking by November of that year.

De Zerbi had the chance to prove Palermo was just a blip when he took the reigns at Benevento in 2017/18. Unfortunately, they were relegated from Serie A, but De Zerbi saw praise for his attacking and possession-based football style. 

His Benevento showing earned him the Sassuolo job in 2018, who are currently competing for a European place in Italy. Sassuolo have enjoyed some impressive scalps in De Zerbi’s time, including one which may have tasted sweeter than most for the manager – Napoli.

De Zerbi breaks the mould of the Italian style, favouring an approach similar to Pep Guardiola. In his 4-2-3-1, he plays with deeper full-backs whose job is to close the half-spaces. De Zerbi has faced criticism from pundits and reporters who say his side can’t defend and that their attacking play is too intricate. 

Sassuolo often change shape to a 3-4-3 when needed. An example of this was against Napoli earlier in the season. The team pride themselves on short passing, according to Whoscored.com, averaging at 500 short-passes per game. The wing-backs will spread out wide allowing space for a vertical ball into the midfielders. These short passes bring the opposition into press and allow space creation. Sassuolo play with an expansive style but aren’t a crossing side; they do so to create space. For De Zerbi, his approach revolved around creating space and using short passes to break down the opposition.

Marcelo Gallardo – River Plate

The 44-year-old Argentine has been linked with several jobs in Europe, including Everton, before Marco Silva’s tenure. As a player, Gallardo was an advanced playmaker who represented his National team at two World Cups. 

He made his debut for River Plate at the age 17 and held a varied career for Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, DC United, and Nacional. As a player, Gallardo won the Ligue 1, Coupe de la Ligue, Supercopa Sudamericana, Copa Libertadores, and six Argentine Premera divisions. Gallardo had his first job as a Nacional manager, winning the Championship in 2011/12 before leaving the club.

He then joined up with his former club, River Plate, where he has been manager ever since. He is River Plate’s most successful manager and has the trophy haul to prove it.

From the dugout, he has won the Recopa Sudamericana on three occasions, the Copa Libertadores twice, the Saruga bank Championship, a Supercopa Argentina, and three Copa Argentinas.

Gallardo sets up with a midfield diamond and occasionally, a narrow 4-4-2. His teams play with a quick passing tempo, distributing into the channels for forwards who break into space and look to cross or cut back. A Gallardo outfit works to keep the ball and use it well to break opposing teams; they do this with quick turnovers. 

The Defensive midfielder acts as a pivot to break down the opposition’s attack and allows full-backs to push higher up the field, while the two wider men tuck inside, creating more space for through balls. In defence, Gallardo demands a high pressing side. The two high-energy forwards press the defenders, while the full-backs press higher up as an option for a wide ball. 

Gallardo’s playmaker presses high to cause a three-man press upfront to stop an attack through the middle, while the defensive pivot remains to clear up any loose balls. The press causes long balls from the opposition which is dealt with by the pivot and turned into an attack. Once possession is retained, River quickly transitions into the attack and seeks through-ball opportunities to break the defensive line. 

Marco Rose – Borussia Mönchengladbach

Rose started his playing career at VfB Leipzig before joining Hannover and achieving promotion in 2002. Rose played under Jurgen Klopp next on loan at Mainz. Following another successful promotion, Mainz signed Rose permanently, where he totalled 199 appearances.

His coaching career started as a player/coach for Mainz’s second team before returning to VfB Leipzig. VfB terminated his contract after one season.

Rose landed a role at RB Salzburg’s under-16 team in 2013/14, before moving up to their under-18 squad. The German won the Austrian under-18 championship in his first season, and later went on to win the under 19’s Europa League in April 2017, beating Benfica.

In 2017/18 Rose took charge of the first-team and had a fantastic first season. His team won the Austrian Bundesliga, reaching the Europa League’s semi-finals by beating Dortmund and Lazio. Salzburg also reached the final of the Austrian Cup but lost to Sturm Graz. In their second season, they won the first ten league games, breaking the league record. In the Europa League, Napoli sent them packing in the quarter-finals. Rose never lost a home game in his tenure in Austria – impressive.

Rose would then go to Borussia Mönchengladbach where he started strong in his first season, and after a win over Bayern, they were top of the league. In the end, Gladbach couldn’t maintain their strong start and finished fourth. In the this season’s Champions League, Gladbach have managed to make it to the Round of 16 where they face Manchester City. 

In the Bundesliga, Rose’s team find themselves competing for a place in the Champions League. Rose says his style is full of emotionality, hunger, and activity.

Discussing his side’s approach, Rose said: “We want to be very active against the ball, sprint a lot. We want to win high balls and have short ways to the goal. We don’t want to play high and wide, but fast, dynamic and actively forward.”

Rose has used a variety of formations from a 4-4-2 diamond, 4-3-3, and even a 4-2-3-1. In the build-up, Gladbach utilise their full-backs who play forward passes and engage with their wingers. Gladbach use their defence to restart their attack. Both centre-backs spread wider, allowing the defensive midfielder to drop in deep and join the defence. This creates a 2-4-3-1 formation which will enable Gladbach to have a numerical advantage further up the field. 

During the press, Rose wants his team to be man to man orientated instead of space orientated. Unlike most teams were they press their opposition towards their own goal, Gladbach press their opponents out wide to win the ball back. Gladbach thrive in transitions, and once they win the ball back, they go on the front foot. 

The team have several decent ball carriers who can help move the ball vertically as quickly as possible. The counter-attacking mentality isn’t used to score, but more to move up the field. The fast pace movement allows opportunities to present themselves for the team.

An esteemed list who are all impressing and turning heads throughout boardrooms in Europe and beyond. Expect the names mentioned here to be in the hat for football’s most significant jobs sooner rather than later.

Words by Connor Williams@C_Williams61097

Graphic by @SamIngram_