The three nominees for The Best FIFA Men’s Coach Award have been revealed, with 2016’s two fairytale stories represented alongside a novice coach on the final shortlist. Leicester City’s Claudio Ranieri, Portugal coach Fernando Santos and Real Madrid legend Zinedine Zidane make up the coaching trio, as the list of names is trimmed from ten to three, with one to be honoured as The Best in Zurich on Monday 9 January.
Leicester City’s underdog story, a first top flight title in the club’s 130-year history after being rank-outsiders with odds of 5000-1 at the season’s start, captured the imagination of the footballing world this year. At the helm was the Italian mastermind Ranieri who himself had never won a top flight league title in a near-30 year coaching career before Leicester’s unlikely triumph. Hitting the front early on, and only ever dropping as low as sixth thanks to a run of form powered by a team of seeming misfits, the Foxes ended up winning the English Premier League by a ten-point margin from nearest challengers Arsenal.
Another unlikely champion emerged at UEFA EURO 2016, with Santos guiding Portugal to his country’s first ever major trophy. After a stuttering start in France, qualifying for the knockout stages as one of the best third-placed sides, the Portuguese ground out victories against Croatia, Poland (on penalties) and Wales to face the hosts in the final. Despite losing talismanic forward Cristiano Ronaldo to injury early in the finale, and facing a vociferous Parisian crowd, Santos emerged the victor, sending on substitute striker Eder whose extra time winner sent a nation into ecstasy.
Zidane’s route to the pinnacle of club coaching was somewhat fast-tracked by Rafael Benitez’s dismissal at Real Madrid in early January. The Frenchman, who won La Liga and the UEFA Champions League with Los Blancos as a player, but had less than two years’ of coaching experience with the club’s reserve side Castilla, guided the senior side through the knockout stages of Europe’s premier club competition. His side emerged victorious in his first major final as a coach with a penalty shootout win against Atletico Madrid.
The winner of The Best Men’s Coach Award, decided in equal measure by votes from captains and coaches of national teams, select members of the media and fans voting on FIFA.com, will be presented with the award at the ceremony in Zurich on Monday 9 January.