There are plenty of coaches around the continent who deserve huge credit for what they’ve achieved over the past year – but who’s the best of the lot?
As another gruelling European football season draws to a close, those managers who have guided their teams through successful campaigns can finally sit back and admire their work, while others will still have their eyes on the silverware that will come within their grasp in the coming weeks.
There have been storylines galore, with names written into club folklore and history made across the continent. But who are the outstanding coaches of the 2022-23 season who deserve to be singled out for special praise?
GOAL ranks the 21 managers around Europe who have done the very best job:
21. Marco Rose (RB Leipzig)
It was by no means an easy season for Marco Rose and RB Leipzig, but he has done very well to steady the ship and guide the Roten Bullen to a third-placed league finish, the DFB-Pokal final and the Champions League knockout stages having taken over in September with his hometown club in 11th place in the Bundesliga.
20. Raffaele Palladino (Monza)
Raffaele Palladino has been a revelation at newly-promoted Monza having only been promoted from youth team manager in September.
At just 39, he has guided the newly-promoted club to a mid-table finish in Serie A, recording victories over the likes of Juventus, Inter and champions Napoli along the way, while enjoying two lengthy unbeaten streaks that gave them huge momentum.
Their success has been propelled – and indeed bankrolled – by owner Silvio Berlusconi.
19. Gary O’Neil (Bournemouth)
Bournemouth were pretty much every pundit and fan’s favourites for relegation from the Premier League at the start of the season, and eyebrows were raised when the club sacked Scott Parker and appointed the inexperienced Gary O’Neil as caretaker just four games in
He earned the job full-time after a strong showing, but the Cherries began to slip back down the table and appeared doomed with 10 games to go.
However, a late-season resurgence saw Bournemouth pull clear of the relegation zone with time to spare.
18. Jagoba Arrasate (Osasuna)
It has already been a memorable campaign for Osasuna, who reached the Copa del Rey final with a squad made up of predominantly academy products. Now, European football is within their grasp.
Having guided the club to mid-table finishes each season since their promotion back to La Liga in 2019, Jagoba Arrasate has pushed on in 2022-23 and his side currently occupies a Europa Conference League place with one game to go.
17. Christian Streich (Freiburg)
Freiburg have made steady progress since their promotion in 2016, and although they just missed out on Champions League qualification, a second-consecutive Europa League qualification is hugely creditable for the Bundesliga side, who also reached the semi-finals of the DFB-Pokal.
Long-serving manager Christian Streich has taken the team so far, and he will hope to go one step further in 2023-24.
16. Jose Luis Mendilibar (Sevilla)
Sevilla looked in real danger before humble Jose Luis Mendilibar replaced Jorge Sampaoli in March, but in just over two months he has overseen a remarkable turnaround.
The Rojiblancos have pulled clear of the relegation zone and now sit in mid-table with an outside chance of European qualification.
But most extraordinarily of all, despite their domestic struggles, the club managed to still battle their way to yet another Europa League title.
Mendilibar masterminded wins over Manchester United and Juventus before his half-time substitutions changed the game in the final, as his side fought back from falling 1-0 down to beat Roma on penalties.
15. Imanol Alguacil (Real Sociedad)
After a decade-long absence, Real Sociedad will finally return to the Champions League next season under the stewardship of Imanol Alguacil.
La Real have been consistent all season, pushing La Liga’s big names and remaining in and among the top four throughout the campaign despite losing star striker Alexander Isak to Newcastle and being without captain Mikel Oyarzabal through injury.
A return to European football’s top table will be a dream come true for Real Sociedad supporter Alguacil.
14. Simone Inzaghi (Inter)
How do you judge Simone Inzaghi’s season as Inter boss? On the one hand, the Nerazzurri’s expensively-assembled squad has underperformed in Serie A, and are only sure to finish inside the top four courtesy of Juventus’ points deduction.
On the other, Inzaghi has led the club to Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia triumphs, and remarkably they will contest the Champions League final against favourites Manchester City later in June. There is no doubt he deserves credit.
13. Erik ten Hag (Manchester United)
It hasn’t been a straightforward season for Manchester United or Erik ten Hag by any stretch of the imagination, but he has overcome adversity on and off the pitch to take United from the chaos of Ralf Rangnick’s ill-fated tenure back into the Champions League at the first time of asking, claiming the Carabao Cup along the way.
The Dutchman deserves huge credit for correcting some awful early season form, and navigating off-field issues involving Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho. An FA Cup final date with rivals Manchester City awaits, too.
12. Pascal Gastien (Clermont Foot)
Clermont Foot were only promoted to Ligue 1 for the first time ever in 2021 and, after finishing 17th in their debut campaign, Pascal Gastien – who had never managed in the French to- flight before – has guided Les Lanciers to within one game of an eighth-placed finish in 2022-23 at 59 years old.
11. Eddie Howe (Newcastle)
Newcastle may have had the backing of the wealthiest owners football has ever seen, but it was still no mean feat for Eddie Howe to restore the club to the Champions League after more than 20 years away.
Rather than overspending, some astute summer transfer business was followed by a strong start, and after overcoming a mid-season blip around their appearance in the Carabao Cup final, the Magpies secured their place at Europe’s top table with a game to spare.
10. Unai Emery (Aston Villa)
Aston Villa are going on a European tour! Few could have predicted the turnaround in fortunes that Unai Emery has overseen at Villa Park, but once again he has proven that he is an elite-level coach for clubs of a certain size.
The Spaniard’s arrival propelled the club from just above the Premier League relegation zone to European qualification as Villa sealed a Conference League place. Given his track record in UEFA competition, who knows what Emery could achieve next season?
9. Maurizio Sarri (Lazio)
Lazio finishing in Serie A’s top four may not seem too significant on paper, but Maurizio Sarri has worked miracles to take the club back to the Champions League – still playing his trademark brand of attacking, possession-based football despite having a limited squad at his disposal in the Italian capital.
Indeed, Sarri understands his achievement, saying recently: “I don’t like to give myself grades, I never liked them in 21 years of school. We had a poor season in Europe, but we were incredible in the league and exceeded expectations. Nobody thought we were going to finish higher than seventh place.”
8. Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)
Still ahead of schedule in his Arsenal project, 2022-23 was so nearly the culmination of Mikel Arteta’s hard work on and off the pitch to reunify the club.
Although they were brutally punished by Manchester City for a late-season blip, the Gunners topped the Premier League table for the vast majority of the season as Arteta forged a new-found togetherness through a young squad playing exciting attacking football, and a (seemingly) relentless winning mentality.
Ultimately it wasn’t to be, but Arteta’s Arsenal are ahead of where many expected them to be, and with the fans right behind them, the good times are back.
7. Roberto De Zerbi (Brighton)
Brighton in the Europa League?! Roberto De Zerbi’s tenure on the south coast to date has been nothing short of a Football Manager fantasy, with the Italian tactician developing a young side that combines Premier League experience and astute signings recommended by the Seagulls’ scouting department, whom very few people have ever heard of.
It was a winning formula in 2022-23, as Brighton played some sublime football, scored some gorgeous goals and secured their highest-ever league finish to seal European football for the first time. Dreamland.
6. Urs Fischer (Union Berlin)
One of the most remarkable stories of the 2022-23 European campaign. Union Berlin will compete in the Champions League next season after securing a top-four place in the Bundesliga under the tutelage of Swiss manager Urs Fischer.
The club was only promoted to the German top-flight for the first time in 2019, and the enigmatic and humble head coach has drawn the best out of a squad of relatively unknown players with high-intensity, counter-attacking football, building on Conference and Europa League qualification in the past two seasons to reach Europe’s premier competition for the first time ever.
5. Xavi (Barcelona)
It hasn’t been a vintage Barcelona season by any stretch of the imagination, but that should not undermine Xavi’s achievement given his inexperience as a top-level coach.
Of course, Real Madrid’s challenge has been uncharacteristically weak this season, and premature Champions League and Europa League exits should not be overlooked, but Xavi and his relatively youthful charges have done what was required to take advantage and claim a first La Liga title in four years, as well as the Supercopa de Espana.
4. Arne Slot (Feyenoord)
Eredivisie titles have been few and far between for Feyenoord in the modern era, which underlines the significance of Arne Slot’s achievement in 2022-23.
A subscriber to the Dutch philosophy of Total Football, Slot has an unflinching commitment to playing front-footed attacking football, no matter the opponent.
It’s an approach that has paid dividends this season, with his players executing his instructions to a tee and seeing off the usual suspects PSV and Ajax to claim the title, finishing 13 points clear of the latter in third.
In their desperate search for a new manager, Tottenham came a-calling for Slot, but he’s staying put after signing a new contract.
3. Pep Guardiola (Man City)
Given the squad and finances at his disposal at Man City, and of course his world-renowned coaching ability, Pep Guardiola should always be expected to win at least one trophy per season – but he stands on the cusp of greatness as 2022-23 draws to a close.
City have already claimed the Premier League title from under Arsenal’s noses after finishing the campaign with typical relentlessness and panache, and they are now just two games away from an historic treble.
Enough has already been said and written about Guardiola’s greatness down the years, but a treble would surely cement him as arguably the greatest club manager of all time.
2. Franck Haise (RC Lens)
Few would have predicted that it would be Lens who would push Paris Saint-Germain closest in the Ligue 1 title race, but that’s what transpired in a sensational season for Les Sang et Or. In his first full-time job as a first-team coach, Franck Haise has followed promotion with consecutive seventh-placed finishes and now a title challenge.
Though his side have fallen a handful of points short of PSG’s total, they have returned to the Champions League for the first time in 20 years, with Haise getting the best out of a group of relatively unknown players as a collective in his 3-4-3 shape.
- Luciano Spalletti (Napoli)
A fantastic, sensational, beautiful season for Napoli, masterminded by wily tactician Luciano Spalletti.
The club ended a 33-year wait for a Scudetto courtesy of scintillating domestic campaign spearheaded by Victor Osimhen and the breakout star of the 2022-23 European season, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia. Ultimately it was a romp, as the runaway league leaders strolled to an unprecedented Serie A title with their rivals in their wake.
In total, it’s taken Spalletti 553 games to reach the summit of Serie A – no title-winning coach has ever had to wait so long for their first Scudetto and, at 64, he’s the oldest to ever do it.
It’s just a shame that Spalletti has decided to take up the option of a sabbatical in his contract, but you can’t say he hasn’t earned it.