Khel Now takes a look at the best minds in the game and how they transformed it over the years in a brilliant, rivetting piece. . .
Shakespeare once said, “Be not afraid of greatness, some are born great, some achieve greatness, others have greatness thrust upon them” but then there are some who become the synonym of the word itself.
Brian Clough, Arrigo Sacchi, Bill Shankly and Sir Alex Ferguson had striking similarities as they took their respective clubs from depths of uncertainties to the pinnacle of glory, but all of them are still very different from each other. But who among them was the ‘Greatest ever’?
Sacchi grew from humble beginnings to reach the zenith of football.
Born in the city of Fusignano, Italy, a shoe salesman changed the course of how football was being played in Italy. Arrigo Sacchi is a man of no parallels. He did it all without even having a professional playing career in the game. He also inspired a whole generation of managers who stepped their foot on the field professionally.
He grew up watching the illustrious Budapest Honved side led by the legendary Hungarian, Ferenc Puskas himself, who had ingenious like Sandor Kocsis and Jozsef Bozsik playing alongside him. Their mental strength, character, and intensity mesmerised Sacchi. Their game was poles apart from the stilted and diligent play of the Italians.
He was also in awe of the De Stefano led-peerless Real Madrid side, largely impressed by the high pressing, speed of the counter attack and rock solid defence of Los Blancos.
Although he started with Parma, it was his ’88 Milan side that changed everything. He combined his man-management, inventive zonal-marking and high tempo methods with whatever he had learned in the game and formed one of the greatest squads ever assembled.
His team was ingrained with the philosophy of ‘universality’- every player needed to feel homely in a variety of positions on the pitch and have the skills to pull off their best in each position. Embedded with the likes of Baresi and Maldini at the back, Ancelotti and the majestic Dutch trio of Marco Van Basten, Frank Rijkaard & Ruud Gullit, Milan were on course to change their fortunes and the game.
His astute tactics and autocratic eccentricities redefined the game and AC Milan, after having won their last Calcio in ’79, went on to win back-to-back Champions League titles. Sacchi had changed everything in the game, he was arguably the best tactician the game had ever seen. His high pressing game laid foundations for legendary sides of Manchester United and Barcelona under Sir Alex Ferguson and Pep Guardiola.
Brian Clough with his assistant Peter Taylor did the unbelievable at Nottingham Forrest.
Like Sacchi, this beautiful game has many stories to tell but none more poetic than Brian Clough. His story of reaching the summit of footballing glory is as overwhelming as anything.
Clough is known as someone who took smaller clubs to ceaseless heights. He took Derby from the bottom of the second tier to becoming the Champions of England and then to the semi-finals of European Cup the year later.
The Englishman was not very astute tactically nor he had any sustained success. But Clough, with his charisma and persona, along with his ability to recruit staff and players and get the best of them, made him the one of the best ever managers the game has ever seen.
After having been sacked by Derby, and smaller stints at Leeds and Brighton, he took over Nottingham Forest, a club down to the bottom of the second division of English football. Teaming up with his longtime assistant, Peter Taylor, and trainer Jimmy Gordon, he wrote a fairytale with Nottingham Forest, leading them to the promotion to Division One and winning the Division One title and two back to back European Cups, a feat only achieved by the peers like Liverpool, Benfica, Inter, Bayern, Milan, Real Madrid and Ajax of European football, all of that in a time of 5 years.
“We were like one of those comets you see flying across the night sky. We burned brightly, but it was all too brief. But, boy, did we burn brightly for a while.” – John McGovern.
Clough was a man of unmatched personality, outspoken at times but had the ability and armour to back it up. He did something that had never been done in the history of sports and dare you not think or anyone tell you that it was a fluke. What he did during that time was the stuff of dreams and his legend of Nottingham Forrest in the modern era of football seems even more impossible to replicate.
Wiliam Shankly built Liverpool Football Club from the very scratch and brought it to the fans.
What’s also nearly impossible is for someone to come in at a majestic club like Liverpool and do what Bill Shankly did nearly 50 years ago.
Liverpool were a second rate team before the arrival of the charismatic maverick, Bill Shankly. He took charge of Liverpool in the year 1959 when they were eroding in the bottom of the second division. Shankly led Liverpool to the first division within just 2 years, changing everything around the club and laid the early foundations of one of the Greatest football clubs.
He had to change everything in and around Liverpool. They were led by unambitious directors who knew nothing more than milking money out of the club. Shankly, however, had different plans. He wanted to make them the best not only in England but in Europe and started with the training facility of Melwood.
He was more than a manager who came to a club and took them to glory. He was like Liverpool football club’s father-figure, more than his tactics and management on the field, it was his off-the-field work that is more of a legacy. His on-field success was no less as he led Liverpool to three first division championships, two FA Cups and their first ever European title in his 15 years at the Merseyside club.
Bill Shankly will forever be remembered for bringing the Liverpool football club to fans, building an everlasting legacy with his on and off the field work.
Sir Alex Ferguson kept on reinventing himself with time and took Manchester United to the apex of glory.
Talking of a legacy, in football, there’s no legacy to match what Sir Alexander Chapman Ferguson did at Manchester United.
The Scot started his coaching career at Aberdeen, where he took the club to the pinnacle of Scottish football, leading them to European glory as well, who at that time was a club living in the shadows of Celtics and Rangers.
The United hierarchy was in need to give the club a major shake-up because ever since the retirement of Sir Matt Busby, they never really had sustained success. They were fast becoming the fading giant and were in dire need of someone who would give the club the much-needed injection of upliftment and identity.
His arrival marked the era of Manchester United’s greatest years of glory, not only in England but in Europe too. His impact has transcended the sport.
United’s FA Cup glory in 1990 under Sir Alex ushered the club to the era of their dominance and greatness. He was a master team builder and his eye for talent was second to none. He built title winning teams after teams at United while developing prodigies like Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo and various others to world class players who also served the club with loyalty.
He was a master tactician too, very flexible with his systems, changing formations as per the players at his disposal and using his excellent man-management to get the best out of them at the same time.
His trophy cabinet at United is just peerless in the history of the game, winning 13 Premier League titles, 2 Champions League titles, one Club World Cup and five FA Cups with a total of 38 major honours.
But his legacy just doesn’t end with titles.
All of them changed the game we know, leaving a perpetual effect on the game with the way they worked and comparing these legendary managers is not justified in the realm of the game but it has to be done.
Sacchi’s tactics changed the face of Italian football, his methods are still followed by the managers of the modern era like Jurgen Klopp, Antonio Conte and Cesare Prandelli. Clough did the unimaginable first with Derby and then, Nottingham Forrest. Shankly built the Liverpool football club that we know but what made Fergie stand taller than all of them was how he managed to flourish in both Bosman and pre-Bosman era.
Sir Alex stood to the challenge of time which others failed to live up to, Sacchi only had a very brief time of success and couldn’t cope with the modern game. Clough also had his success in a very condensed period of time and Shankly, although he built a legacy, couldn’t continue it very well himself, as his inability to chop and change the ageing squad and getting rid of players past their prime daunted his chances of glory.
Sir Alex was arguably the mould of best of the other three and more. He, like Sacchi, build a United side during 06-09 that can match any side in the history of football. What Clough did with Nottingham, Sir Alex had already done with Aberdeen although it wasn’t of the same level, it still is comparable and like Shankly he build a legacy of his own at Manchester United, building everything in and around the club.
He led United to glory from era of ‘working class boys’ to the era of ‘Galacticos’, making them not only one of the peers on the field but off the field too. He also created the roadmap for every modern era manager.
His ability of man-management, keeping players hungry and grounded and not allowing them to grow them bigger than the club (e.g David Beckham, Roy Keane) with his master tactics which kept on evolving with the game and time, along with his longevity at the top, makes him the ‘Greatest ever’ in the history of the game.