Pochettino, Klopp, Mourinho: Ranking Premier League 'big six' managers of the 21st century

  • Kobe Tong

The Premier League’s ‘big six’ clubs are some of the most prestigious gigs in world football.

While recent seasons have shown that they are not necessarily England’s best-performing clubs, it’s pretty evident that they’re the top dogs when it comes to finances and international influence.

As such, anyone who is lucky enough to be appointed manager at Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur or Manchester City has a lot of pressure to contend with.

Premier League ‘big six’ clubs

And although the likes of Jose Mourinho, Antonio Conte and Arsene Wenger have handled the stress in the past, there are also plenty of cases where top-class managers have simply crumbled.

So, on the back of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s dismissal at Old Trafford, we decided to take a closer look at the managers who stepped into the technical area of a ‘big six’ club during the 21st century.

And given the internet age’s propensity to rank everything, we’ve turned to our trusty medium of Tiermaker to rank each of the coaches into categories ranging from ‘disastrous’ to ‘legendary’.

Any manager who has coached one of the ‘big six’ clubs since 2000 is up for consideration, but interim and caretaker managers are off the table, so there’ll be no Guus Hiddink or Ryan Giggs.

Liverpool vs Arsenal Match Reaction (Football Terrace)

How did ‘big six’ coaches perform?

Each of the rankings will be based purely upon the managers’ achievements at ‘big six’ clubs and will be considered within the context of the job as it presented itself at the time.

By that we mean, Joe Royle won’t automatically be rock bottom just because he had to manage City in the Football League whereas almost all of the other coaches solely competed in the top-flight.

Plus, managers who have led more than one of the ‘big six’ clubs this century will be judged by an amalgam of their performances as opposed to splitting up their tenures with each team.

And it’s crucial to note that the definitions of each tier – all will be explained as we go along – are more important than the order of them, which don’t necessary infer who we think is a better or worse manager than who.

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Who is this manager who lasted just 84 days?

Ranking ‘big six’ managers since 2000

Got it? Right then, enough with the disclaimers and housekeeping because there are more than 40 managers to rank and you can check out exactly how we lined them up down below:


Roy Hodgson, Nuno Espirito Santo and David Moyes

Hodgson is certainly a decent manager, but marooning Liverpool in 13th place and wasting money on Milan Jovanovic and Christian Poulsen proves his spell on Merseyside was simply catastrophic.

Meanwhile, Moyes was sacked just 10 months into guiding United to their lowest-ever Premier League finish despite boasting a largely unchanged squad to the one that won the title the previous year.

And such was the horrendous state of Tottenham’s football under Santo that he was sacked after just 17 games for the shortest managerial reign at a ‘big six’ club in Premier League history.



Unai Emery, Jacques Santini, Mark Hughes, Louis van Gaal, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Tim Sherwood and Stuart Pearce

Maybe we’ve been harsh on Emery here, but transitioning out of the Wenger era by bottling the Europa League final and a top four place before being sacked after a dreadful start to his second season was certainly shaky.

On a similar note, it quickly became clear that Scolari, Hughes and Sherwood didn’t have what it takes to mix it with the Premier League elite, while Santini’s brief stint at Spurs was the definition of a ‘misstep’.

Elsewhere, although Van Gaal’s reign wasn’t without merit, notably winning the FA Cup, the drab and dreary brand of football that he oversaw at Old Trafford was not the right direction for United to take after Moyes’ sacking.

And while Pearce did push City towards European football at one stage, it’s hard to forgive him for overseeing the monstrosity that was the club’s 2006/07 season. Oh, and the David James incident.



Roberto Di Matteo, Sir Kenny Dalglish and Andre Villas-Boas

This isn’t poor Roberto’s fault, but the moral of the story is that his largely player-led charge to Champions League glory distracted from inconsistent Premier League results that saw him sacked after just eight months.

I know, I know, it feels blasphemous to say that anything Dalglish achieved at Liverpool is overrated, but leading the Reds to the League Cup and FA Cup finals really has papered over the cracks.

The reality is that Dalglish oversaw Liverpool slumping to a dreadful eighth-place finish with nine defeats in their final 15 games having signed Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Craig Bellamy.

Meanwhile, Premier League managers have seldom come more overrated than Villas-Boas, who was widely panned at Chelsea and came apart at the seams with Spurs as soon as Gareth Bale departed.


Middle of the road

Joe Royle, Kevin Keegan, Mikel Arteta, Juande Ramos, Avram Grant, Sven-Göran Eriksson, George Graham and Glenn Hoddle

Within the context of their roles at the time, these managers neither did terribly nor brilliantly enough to wind up anywhere other than bang-smack in the middle in various tones of mediocrity.

Royle and Keegan did particularly well at City during their stints in the First Division, so can’t be written off due to context alone, but they ultimately can’t compete with some of the top-class tenures to come.

A few years later and Eriksson was in the Citizens dugout. As much as it’s easy to bash the Swede for ending his reign with an 8-1 loss to Middlesbrough, he did guide City to their joint-highest points total in the Premier League at that juncture.


As for Ramos, we’ve got to counterbalance his League Cup triumph – Spurs haven’t won a major honour since – with the club’s worst ever start to a Premier League season that led to his dismissal.

Similarly, no Spurs fan is going to get too weak at the knees about the heady days of Graham and Hoddle, but even the former’s controversial exit doesn’t take away from the fact that both they did solid jobs.

Meanwhile, ‘middle of the road’ feels pretty apt for Arteta as things stand because his Arsenal reign has hitherto made for a blurry collage of catastrophic losing streaks and triumphant purple patches.

Finally, Grant might have led Chelsea to a Champions League final and a second-place finish, but doubts over how much he was personally responsible for those achievements mean we can’t quite justify upgrading him to ‘top drawer.’


Made the best of a bad situation

Frank Lampard and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

This tier pretty much does what it says on the tin and Lampard is a prime example of this because his achievements during his first season at Chelsea don’t get spoken about enough.

For a coach with just one year’s experience at Derby County, Lampard did fantastically well to guide a transfer-banned Blues who had just lost Eden Hazard to a top-four finish and FA Cup final.

Similarly, given all the turmoil and unrest at United, Solskjaer did a solid enough job elevating the Red Devils through third and second-place finishes despite the wheels falling off this season.



Maurizio Sarri, Gerard Houllier, Gianluca Vialli, Brendan Rodgers, Claudio Ranieri and Martin Jol

For Sarri, this has less to do with being some sort of ignored genius and more to do with not getting the credit he deserves for winning the Europa League, reaching the League Cup final and securing a third-place finish.

On a similar note, it feels like some fans remember Ranieri as a flop at Chelsea despite guiding the club to second place and a Champions League semi-final during his final season in west London.

And when do you hear Vialli getting praise for winning the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in just over two years in charge of Chelsea? Not often enough, that’s when.

Meanwhile, Houllier and Rodgers both warrant more respect for elevating Liverpool to second-place seasons with Reds sides that would have been miles off the pace under lesser coaches.

Lastly, Jol’s Tottenham sacking, which literally happened during a game, will always be remembered as one of the harshest in Premier League history on the back of securing European football for two seasons in a row.


Top drawer

Carlo Ancelotti, Mauricio Pochettino, Rafael Benitez, Manuel Pellegrini, Thomas Tuchel, Harry Redknapp, Roberto Mancini and Antonio Conte

At the end of the day, we’d feel dirty if we didn’t include Ancelotti, Pellegrini, Mancini and Conte at least this high in the Tiermaker simply because they managed to win the Premier League title.

By that metric, maybe we’ve been too generous to Redknapp, but there’s no escaping just how immense it was for him to lead Spurs to consecutive top-four finishes and a Champions League quarter-final.

That being said, Pochettino then went on to raise the bar even higher at Spurs by lifting them to within just 90 minutes of ‘Big Ears’ and launching consistent assaults on the Premier League title.

Elsewhere, Benitez bagged the Champions League and FA Cup during his time at Liverpool and if it wasn’t for those meddling United players, he could have added the league title, too, as they lost just twice in 2008/09.

And Tuchel has been a game-changer for Chelsea in 2021 by winning the Champions League, reaching an FA Cup final, securing a top-four finish and launching a title challenge this season.



Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Jose Mourinho

The mastermind behind the greatest Premier League season in history, Guardiola has more than doubled City’s haul of post-1992 titles with some of the silkiest football the country has ever seen.

Meanwhile, what Klopp has done for Liverpool over the last six years is the stuff of legend, lifting the club from outside shots at the top four to Champions League and Premier League glory.

If Mourinho was being judged on his Chelsea spells alone, winning three titles and countless domestic honours, he might have threatened the highest tier, but we’ve got to counterbalance things with his weary United and Spurs tenures.



Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger

Such is the longevity and precedence of the legendary achievements etched into football’s history books by Ferguson and Wenger that they undoubtedly deserved a tier all to themselves.

Naturally, if we had to choose one GOAT to rule them all, then it would be Ferguson as arguably the greatest manager in the history of the sport with a staggering 13 Premier League titles to his name.

However, downplay Wenger’s CV at your peril because nobody has overseen more Premier League games than the Frenchman, who also masterminded the competition’s only ever ‘invincible’ season.


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A mixed bag of failure and success

So, there you have it, from Premier League-winning legends of the game to brief stints that went up in smoke, the English top-flight has seen a real range of coaches across its ‘big six’ clubs.

Sadly, Solskjaer wasn’t able to rank amongst some of the icons and heroes that have come before him, but he can sleep easy knowing that other coaches have done much worse jobs than him.

We’ll just have to wait and see where his successor at Old Trafford will rank amongst our Tiermaker in future. That is, of course, if he isn’t technically on there already…



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