This season saw a first, an all German Champions League final as the tournament was characterized by tactical masterstrokes from Jurgen Klopp and Jupp Heynckes. Domestic leagues mostly saw a single team win the title after dominating for most of the season as Sir Alex Ferguson bowed out on top of his game. Two of the other managers in the list didn’t win the league titles but were highly impressive nonetheless
For five decades Jupp Heynckes has been a loyal servant to football. As a player he had the second greatest scoring rate in Bundesliga after legendary Gerd Muller and had medals of a European Champion and World Champion with his country. As coach he won multiple league titles and a Champions League with Real Madrid. Yet, in a lot of ways he remained under-rated and under appreciated. He was sacked from Real despite winning the league as his team finished 4th in the league. Uli Hoeness regards his sacking from Bayern in early 1990s as his worst decision ever. After 2012/13 season Heynckes has surely wiped out all the wrongs done to him in past and entered a pantheon of the greatest ever managers.
In the league his Bayern was completely unstoppable; their complete domination of one of the more competitive leagues put even the Spanish giants to shame. Bayern lost just once in Bundesliga, winning 85% games with an incredible average of 2.8 goals per match and a goal difference of +81. That form was replicated in Europe – a 4-0 swatting away of Italian champions Juventus was followed by inflicting of the worst ever two legged defeat in FC Barcelona’s history, a 7-0 mauling. The final hurdle was Champions League – Bayern had lost five of their six finals since mid 1970s. Inspired by Heynckes, Bayern got the monkey off their back with a 2-1 win in an exciting all German final to seal their fifth UCL title. “Osaram” became the fourth manager in history to win Champions league with two different clubs and may retire after completing a treble, another unprecedented feat.
There hasn’t been a team which was cheered louder by neutrals in recent times than Borussia Dortmund in 2012/13 Champions League campaign. Young, dynamic and fearless, the eleven players in yellow, backed by possibly the most boisterous fans in football, navigated from arguably the toughest group in the history of the competition without breaking a sweat. Few will deny that Dortmund’s re-entry was caused by the man on their bench who, by his looks, would comfortably fit into a blue smoke filled coffee table of left leaning intellectuals of 1970s. Jurgen Klopp transformed Borussia in past two seasons, breaking Bayern’s dominance by winning back to back league titles but they had to improve in Europe this season. And they did.
Given the Bayern juggernaut’s pace defending Bundesliga proved to be a bridge too far so Borussia focused on Europe. Progression from group was followed by a relatively easy outing against plucky Ukrainians Shakhtar. Malaga was next and Borussia Dortmund looked down and out with the score 2-1 in Signal Iduna Park in the second leg with the clock ticking down. What followed was one of the most exciting and emotional ends to a knock-out game in recent memory as Borussia scored two in last few minutes to reach their first UCL semi-final in almost two decades. Despite some late drama in the second leg, Dortmund was a clear winner over Real’s star studded cast as the first all German UCL final in history took place. Despite overwhelming support from neturals Dortmund didn’t win any trophy this season but Klopp definitely deserves credit for one of the best runs in Europe in recent memory.
Antonio Conte sealed his second consecutive league title but his absence from Juventus bench for half the season means he doesn’t make this list. Francesco Guidolin and Sebastien Maran had good times in patches but the real star on bench of this season’s Serie A was Vincenzo Montella. The former Italian national was not kept in AS Roma in view of their never ending and ever changing “project” but the capital club was bound to regret their decision seeing how things transpired in past two seasons. Fiorentina made an overhaul in summer transfer window as Sporting Director Daniel Prade successfully undid the mistakes made by his predecessor, replacing undisciplined and spoilt players by technically gifted ones.
Lack of cohesion never became an issue as Montella used 16 new players, in 3-5-1-1, 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 systems, playing possibly the best football in Serie A this season. Over reliance on Stevan Jovetic has been an issue for Fiorentina in recent past but Montella reduced it considerably with Juan Cuadrado, possibly best signing of last season, playing a crucial role along with other new signings Borja Valero and Mati Fernandez. Fiorentina was one of the most in-form teams near the fag end – winning seven out of nine matches in April and May. In the end, a defeat, ironically against ex-club Roma and AC Milan’s superior big match experience meant that La Viola missed out for Champions League football but it was nonetheless a remarkable progress for a club which dallied with relegation at one point last season. Under one of Italy’s brightest young coaches, Fiorentina have finally come out of the shadows of Prandelli era.
As a player Diego Simeone was famous for his grit and never say die attitude. As a player he had seen the golden days of Atletico Madrid, winning a double during the first of his combined six year long double stints. He has successfully injected his attitude and the pride he feels for the club into his players and may well be the most important coach in their recent history. He won Europa League last season but perhaps did something even more this season – removing Atletico’s inferiority complex against their cross city rivals.
Atletico didn’t go far in Europe this season but they more than made up for it with their brilliant performance in the league. At one point Atletico looked like breaking the hegemony of Real Madrid and Barcelona in top-2 of La Liga and were ahead of Real for more than a dozen rounds. Eventually they finished third but with a considerable points cushion over the fourth placed team. Their real coupe de grace came in Copa del Rey final when Atletico beat Real for the first time since 1999, that too in their own backyard. Real Madrid created a flurry of chances after taking the lead but Atletico hung in gritted teeth before a wonderful pass from Falcao helped Miranda to score the winning goal in extra-time. Atletico’s season was marked by solid performances in both ends of the field from young ‘keeper Thibaut Courtois in goal to Falcao and Arda Turan upfront. Under Simeone Atletico has won back to back trophies for the first time in 21 years and with an impressive 62.35% success rate, he is the most successful Atletico manager in recent history.
Sir Alex Ferguson
In 1986 Alex Ferguson was employed by a club which played inconsistently brilliant football in patches but didn’t look anywhere near to challenging for titles. At that time Manchester United had won six league titles and one International Cup in their history. In 2013 when Alex Ferguson, now knighted, announced his retirement after an unbroken stint, Manchester United’s trophy cabinet was bulging with fourteen more league titles and six more International trophies. Yet his reign one that is unlikely to be eclipsed by anyone ever, was not about trophies. It was the fact that under Sir Alex Manchester United had transformed them from a sentimental favourite in England to an unparalleled sporting institution in the world.
Sir Alex ended his career on top as he led his club to be the first in England to win 20 league titles. In a lot of ways, this was a perfect swansong for him. Throughout his career he had evolved time and again to cope with changing football world and has maximized his resources to max. This Manchester United side was hardly a vintage league winning team. Yet, they kept getting results regularly, often fulfilling the most common Alex Ferguson stereotype of coming back from losing positions. Indeed, Manchester United won a total of 29 points from losing positions this season, a whopping 34% of their total tally. Their Champions League campaign may ended controversially but the Red Devils rarely looked troubled in Premier League. His final match finished in a draw, a historic one nonetheless as Manchester United drew 5-5 against West Brom, a scoreline they last faced in 1898. Had Sir Alex given one of his famous hairdryer treatments to his defenders after that match? Probably not.