The seven best Premier League managers who have never won the title

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 24 March 2020, 14:46

As of March 2020 there have been 27 full seasons in the Premier League era, during which only 10 managers have hoisted the coveted trophy in the air.

Four of those managers - Sir Alex Ferguson (13), Arsene Wenger (3), Jose Mourinho (3) and Pep Guardiola (2) - boast a whopping 21 of the 27 titles between them.

In terms of the nationality make-up of victorious managers. Famously, or perhaps infamously, an English boss has yet to join a group which consists of two Scots, a Frenchman, a Portuguese coach, a Spaniard, a Chilean and four different Italians.

Right, enough of the winners for now. Below we take a gander at the seven best Premier League managers who have never got their hands on the trophy...

Jurgen Klopp

We have absolutely no idea what will happen with the current campaign but should, as expected, it continue at some point in the near or distant future then one outcome is certain: Jurgen Klopp will propel Liverpool to the Premier League title for the first time in their history.

However, for now at least, the German gaffer features on this particular list.

Back in 2015, it could have been so different. Before Klopp succeeded Brendan Rodgers at Anfield he actually turned down the Mexico job. 

Fast-forward five years and he’s drawn comparisons to the most famous and transformative manager in the club’s history: Bill Shankly. 

From fielding the likes of Joe Allen and Alberto Moreno in his first game in charge and finishing 8th at the end of his debut campaign, to elevating the club into title-challengers, with defensive kingpin Virgil van Dijk and attacking menace Mo Salah nestled within his ranks. 

Klopp has the make-up of a very modern manager with his infectious personality, touchline passion, tactical astuteness and man-management skills. He’s instantly recognisable, a people person who oozes charisma, charm and emotion. He’s calculated yet impulsive. He’s also fired up a fanbase and is the very embodiment of Liverpool.

From a football perspective he’s improved players both tactically and technically as Liverpool have transformed from a swashbuckling yet erratic side into a combative force.

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Facts: Rafa Benitez has managed Liverpool, Chelsea and Newcastle in the Premier League

No team in history has accumulated more points (82) after 29 matches than the Reds, while last season’s 97-point tally is the third-highest ever and good enough to win 25 of the previous 27 titles.

Although, this article focuses on achievements within in the Premier League sphere, it would be foolish to ignore Klopp’s wider impact at Liverpool with whom he’s taken to four major cup finals, including three European showstoppers, and Champions League glory.

He may not have won the Premier League title - just yet - but when he does he’ll not only become the first German to achieve this feat, but the first tracksuit manager.

Clubs: Liverpool

Matches: 173

Win Rate: 65.3%

Best Finish: 2nd

Rafa Benitez

Rafa Benitez’s trophy cabinet boasts two La Liga titles, a couple of UEFA Cups, the Champions League, FA Cup and Community Shield, the Supercoppa Italiana and Coppa Italia, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup, and even the English Championship, but as of yet there’s no Premier League title.

That’s not through a lack of trying. Liverpool were a regular top-four side under the Spaniard who came closest to glory in the 2008/09 season when they finished four points behind Sir Alex Ferguson’s Man Utd, having been top of the tree at Christmas.

The infamous ‘Facts’ press-conference, the tactics, the quotes, the signings - good and bad - endeared the boss not only to Liverpool fans but the wider English public.

Benitez twice returned to the Premier League. Firstly, amid supporter backlash he stabilised Chelsea - as interim manager - following the exit of Roberto Di Matteo, and orchestrated a third-place league finish, lifted the Europa League trophy and featured in both domestic cup semi-finals.

At Newcastle, he led the club back into the Premier League and inspired a 10th-place finish with a very average squad and a very stingy owner.

The lure of the Premier League is likely to prove too strong so you can bet your last penny that this is not the last we’ve seen of Benitez on English shores.

Clubs: Liverpool, Chelsea & Newcastle

Matches: 340

Win Rate: 49.4%

Best Finish: 2nd

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Mauricio Pochettino transformed both the Saints and Spurs

Mauricio Pochettino

When Mauricio Pochettino first stepped foot in England in a managerial capacity with Southampton he famously used a translator. But it wasn’t just for the press, the Argentine could barely speak a word of English so he had to find another way of communicating with his Saints players, whether it be hugs, facial expressions or gestures.

Whatever he did worked wonders. In the space of 18 months he starved off relegation and led the south coast side to 8th place; winning plaudits through their ability to upset the top teams, their lung-busting displays, along with Pochettino’s focus on developing young players.

Pochettino took his core principles to the next level at Tottenham where he made good players great players, including Harry Kane, Heung-min Son and Christian Eriksen. Prior to his arrival Tottenham had only ever finished 4th twice in the Premier League, yet under Poch they carved out four top-four finishes in five seasons including 2nd in 2016/17 and 3rd either side of that campaign.

Pochettino may yet to have won a trophy in his managerial career - he reached the Champions League and League Cup finals - but his impact at Tottenham was seismic, while his managerial footprint at Southampton will never be forgotten.

At 48-years-old this is far from the last we’ve seen of Pochettino in the Premier League.

Clubs: Southampton & Tottenham

Matches: 256

Win Rate: 52.3%

Best Finish: 2nd

Kevin Keegan

Tactically, there are question marks about Kevin Keegan’s managerial ability, but from an entertainment perspective we’ve got to include the former England striker.

Keegan was a shock appointment at Second Division Newcastle back in 1992. In his first job in management he; kept the club in the second-tier, catapulted them into the Premier League as Champions, then set about causing beautiful carnage in the top-flight.

The Englishman moulded together one of the most exciting teams in Premier League history. A side which delighted through its dazzling blend of panache, skill and a glute of goals, yet infuriated in equal capacity with its inevitably leaky defence. 

The thrilling 4-3 defeat to Liverpool was Keegan’s Newcastle in a nutshell. 

Keegan oversaw three top-six finishes, two of which were in the top-three, with Newcastle famously 12 points clear in February 1996 only for that margin to be gobbled up by Sir Alex Ferguson’s Man Utd, as the Scot’s mind games pushed Keegan to the brink which in turn produced his iconic ‘I would love it’ rant.

Keegan bought the likes of Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, David Ginola and Faustino Asprilla, and while Newcastle fell short in their pursuit of the title, that pulsating period has gone down in Premier League folklore.

Keegan would later do a solid job at Man City, while he returned to Newcastle in what was ultimately a disappointing eight months.

Clubs: Newcastle (x2) & Man City

Matches: 267

Win Rate: 43.4%

Best Finish: 2nd

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After spells at Swansea and Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers is now in charge of Leicester City

Brendan Rodgers

Brendan Rodgers is currently in his third Premier League post, at Leicester City, who could well finish the 2019/20 campaign in the top-three ahead of the likes of Chelsea, Man Utd, Tottenham and Arsenal.

Rodgers has transformed the Foxes from a dull, confused and underwhelming side under former boss Claude Puel, into an exciting yet defensively solid outfit which utilises the strengths in the team e.g. getting the best out of main main Jamie Vardy.

Rodgers previously led Liverpool to within a cat’s whisker of the Premier League title back in the 2013/14 season. The rampant Reds, led by their rip-roaring front three of Raheem Sterling, Daniel Sturridge and Luis Suarez; fired home 101 goals, hammered the likes of Tottenham (twice), Everton and Arsenal, stunned Man Utd 3-0 at Old Trafford, and edged out Man City in a five goal thriller.

Unfortunately, they slipped up in the finale and were agonisingly pipped to the title by City. The LMA Manager of the Year award was a tiny bit of comfort at least.

Rodgers previously sailed the Swans into the Premier League for the first time in their history then finished 11th, which caught the eye of Liverpool.

Clubs: Swansea, Liverpool & Leicester

Matches: 199

Win Rate: 48.2%

Best Finish: 2nd

Martin O’Neill

It’s not always about how close you get to winning the title, but about what you can achieve with what’s at your disposal. 

So with that said, Martin O’Neill deserves great credit for the work he did at two clubs outside of the traditional big guns: Leicester and Aston Villa.

In just shy of five seasons at Leicester he led the club into the Premier League and proceeded to record four straight top-10 finishes - after his departure the Foxes didn’t register another top-10 standing until they miraculously won the title in 2015/16 - and steamed through to three League Cup finals, winning twice, and ventured into Europe.

Next up at Aston Villa the Northern Irishman finished 6th three seasons in a row, during which the club improved their points tally each time, and finished runners-up in the League Cup. He signed the likes of James Milner, Ashley Young and Stiliyan Petrov, while Gabriel Agbonlahor puts his rise through the ranks down to O’Neill’s management.

The Ulsterman’s passion, determination and heart was plain for all to see and while it didn’t quite go to plan at Sunderland - as a plethora of other managers would find out - O’Neill has left his own mark on the Premier League.

Clubs: Leicester, Aston Villa & Sunderland

Matches: 359

Win Rate: 47.3%

Best Finish: 6th

Sir Bobby Robson

Sir Bobby Robson enjoyed a long, varied and successful career in management, however unfortunately for us he only spent five years in the Premier League. His sole spell was at Newcastle, and featured three top-five finishes and six Manager of the Month awards - all won between February 2000 and October 2003.

Robson, who previously worked wonders in England with Ipswich, replaced Ruud Gullit in the early days of the 1999/00 season when the Toon were rock-bottom of the table with one point from six games. He led the Magpies to a stunning 8-0 win in his first home game and then steered them to a respectable 11th place, a repeated position in his first full season, followed by 4th, 3rd and 5th respectively.

Robson, one of the true gentlemen of the sport, took Newcastle from the depths of the drop-zone to a journey in the Champions League and UEFA League. In the process he won both hearts and minds at his boyhood club who have failed to reach the top-four since his departure in 2004.

Clubs: Newcastle

Matches: 188

Win Rate: 44.1%

Best Finish: 3rd

Other Shoutouts

Other managers worthy of a mention include the former Liverpool and Aston Villa boss Gerard Houllier, as well as Harry Redknapp who led Spurs into the Champions League and rejuvenated Portsmouth, and Sam Allardyce who managed a record seven different clubs and was never relegated, while he also led unfancied Bolton to four straight top-eight finishes, as well as into Europe.

Managers Departed

Last man down

Graham Westley
Graham Westley
(Stevenage)
16th February
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