It’s not easy getting information related to pre-world war 2 managers, and yet arguably that is when football was at its most influential. The tendency is to pick contemporary ones. Because I needed a figure from the ‘early years’ I have gone for Herbert Chapman. Arsenal’s achievements during those earlier years.
He fits much criteria for me: Undistinguished playing career, success with inferior clubs, (Northampton, Leeds, Huddersfield), domination by Arsenal in the 30’s (5 league titles) an early death preventing him from perhaps achieving even more, he must have possessed great tactical nous (I recall Arsenal being called the ‘one - nil wonders because of their defensive capabilities, and his man management and training skills must have been exceptional.
Moving forward a decade or two my second choice is Stan Cullis.
A pre-cursor to Matt Busby in terms of recognizing the allure and potential of European competition he attracted nationwide attention and excitement with his floodlight friendlies with the likes of Russian and Hungarian teams as well as shepherding several very successful years with an astutely built Wolves side. His sides were exciting and his teams efficient.
Matt Busby has to be next. His Busby babes’ team was wonderful and his faith in youth a novel approach in the 50’s. His cultivation of a youth programme at United led the way to the youth academies that exist today. He was fully aware that scouting and development were as big a part of success as transfers and money. Moreover his team rebuilding following the ‘Munich disaster’ speaks to his dedication and love of the sport. And he achieved all of this with a carrot rather than a big stick.
Brian Clough has to be included. A larger than life character who helped wrestle the control of football from the stifling influence of board members and directors. He surrounded himself with people (Peter Taylor) who could provide qualities to his managerial style that he perhaps lacked and he was able to take so called ‘troublemakers’ (Kenny Burns etc) as well as bringing out the best in ordinary players (Robertson, McGovern etc.) and he wasn’t afraid to spend big (Francis) on players deserving of their price tag. .He began at the bottom (Hartlepool) and finished at the top (Derby, Nottingham Forest) twice!
I’m going for a surprise 5th choice, bypassing other obvious contenders such as Alex Ferguson, Bill Shankly, Alf Ramsey, Bobby Robson, Bill Nicholson (sorry about that one Terry) and Arsene Wenger, and going for ....Dario Gradi
Beginning as a P.E. teacher, following an undistinguished playing career, he threw his lot into coaching. First as an assistant at Chelsea then as coach at the likes of
Non-league Wimbledon then Crystal Palace before joining Crewe he is still with in some capacity to this day. During those decades with this unfashionable club he has stuck to a philosophy of ‘football first’ and produced players who went on to represent their country (David Platt, Dean Ashton etc. etc.)
His longevity speaks to his ability to deal with and gain the confidence of players, supporters, directors and the media alike. Despite virtually all of his work being with unfashionable Crewe he has the respect of just about everyone in the world of football. He had no use for techniques such as ‘the ‘hairdryer’ or teams that were ‘wingless’, football was not more important than life, as some managers have been quoted as saying. For Dario Gradi management was an art to be practiced with style, both on and off the field, and so this is the man who makes up my top 5 picks for England’s top 5 managers.