International management may not be considered the holy grail it once was, due to the influx of cash in the domestic game, but it still stands as a highlight for any career. If playing for your country is the best achievement you can achieve as a player, then surely the best achievement as a manager is leading your nation to success?
It doesn’t always work out that way though, many fantastic club manages have struggled on the international stage, whilst some international managers haven’t been able to shine in day-to-day football management. More often than not, a manager of an international side is a different nationality. In most cases though, it doesn’t really matter.
As we approach the end of the international break, we racked our heads together to work out the top eleven international managers in the world right now. With so much changing after the Copa America and European Championships this summer, some selections may surprise you!
Joachim Low: Germany
Kicking off our list is a man who has guided Germany to World Cup glory, taking the serial nearly-men all the way. Taking over in 2006, after Germany’s disappointing finish at their own World Cup, Joachim Low brought through a new era of German stars- with the likes of Manuel Neuer, Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil all making their debuts under the long-serving boss.
In 2008, they lost the European Championship final to Spain but showed increasing signs of promise, especially at the 2010 World Cup; where they finished third. Then, in 2012, Germany lost the semi-final to Italy, which again raised questions of whether Germany could go all the way, but by 2014 they were world champions- with a long project turning fruitful. Instead of turning away, Low stayed on, reaching the semi-finals at Euro 2016, and will now aim to retain Germany’s World Cup crown in 2018.
Heimir Hallfrimsson: Iceland
Iceland were the name on everybody’s lips this summer where, led by then joint-managers Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallfrimsson, the minnows reached the quarter-finals. Given it was their first ever major international tournament, it was certainly a momentous achievement.
It didn’t come from nowhere though and those who followed Iceland in recent years won’t be too surprised, as they prevented the Netherlands from reaching Euro 2016 and were defeated in the play-off for the 2014 World Cup by Croatia. Now, with Hallfrimsson in sole control of the national side, Iceland will be looking to cap everything off by qualifying for the tournament in Russia- which will be difficult in group alongside the aforementioned Croatia, Ukraine and Turkey.
Gianni De Biasi: Albania
Gianni De Biasi guided Albania to their first ever international tournament this summer at Euro 2016, where they were victorious over Romania but lost to host nation France and Switzerland, but history had already been reached. Topping off the achievement is a big ask but, with Albania now ranked ahead of Sweden and neighbours Serbia in the FIFA World Rankings, it’s achievable.
Unfortunately, their qualifying draw for the 2018 World Cup was not kind, handing them Spain and Italy, as well as Israel, but should either of the top nations slip-up, Albania will be there to take advantage.
Michael O’Neill: Northern Ireland
Whilst the likes of Wales have their golden boy in Gareth Bale, Northern Ireland don’t have a world-class talent to guide them to glory. What they do have though is Michael O’Neill, a manager who has unified a squad who would be considered to be average into genuine contenders- even advancing to the knock-out stages of Euro 2016.
Now, the target is to qualify for a first World Cup since 1986. It certainly won’t be an easy task, with Norway, Azerbaijan and the Czech Republic to compete with for a play-off spot, assuming Germany advance to the finals as group winners.
Marcel Koller: Austria
The Swiss boss was a controversial appointment when he was named manager of Austria in 2011 but he’s achieved great things since, leading the nation to the group stages of Euro 2016. Whilst many considered them to be dark horses, it would be unfair to suggest the nation didn’t live up to expectations and the aim now is to qualify for their first World Cup this side of the millennia, having last featured in the tournament way back in 1998.
Jose Pekerman: Colombia
In charge since 2012, Jose Pekerman led Colombia to their first World Cup in 16 years back in 2014 and was awarded Colombian citizenship as a result. In the tournament, Colombia won all three of their group matches before dispatching Uruguay in the first knock-out round, before being defeated by host nation Brazil in the quarter-finals.
Colombia and Pekerman got their revenge last year with a 1-0 victory in the Copa America and then achieved a third-place finish in the tournament this summer. A shaky start to qualification for the 2018 World Cup led to speculation he could lose his job but he’s bounced back, with Colombia now fourth in the standings, ahead of Argentina, and on-course for qualification.
Chris Coleman: Wales
Any side with Gareth Bale amongst the ranks should succeed but a lot of credit has to go to Chris Coleman, who inherited a squad which was rocked by the passing of previous manager Gary Speed. The former Fulham and Coventry boss unified the squad and the end result was reaching Euro 2016 this summer, their first major international tournament since 1958. Once there, he led them all the way to the semi-finals, before losing to eventual champions Portugal.
Rui Aguas: Cape Verde
We’ll forgive you if you don’t recognise this name. Rui Aguas is manager of the small African island Cape Verde, a minnow that he has remarkably led to 72nd in the world- and once had them ranked 32nd. Even a decline of 40 spots in the past year-or-so is still a great feat for the small nation, who now have a genuine chance of remarkably reaching a World Cup- just 30 years after getting their FIFA membership.
Oscar Tabarez: Uruguay
The 69-year-old has been in charge of Uruguay for a decade now and, during that time, he’s led the South American nation to two World Cup’s, finishing 4th in 2010, and four consecutive Copa America’s- winning the tournament in 2011. Whilst his recent success may not be as good, he’s a legend on the international stage for a good reason and there can be no complaints with what he has achieved.
Didier Deschamps: France
Defeated in the European Championships final to Portugal, which was a disappointment, it’s worth noting how much Didier Deschamps has achieved since taking over in 2012. He inherited a squad of full of big egos, and one that finished embarrassingly in the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championships, but has fixed the issues to make France into contenders once again.
He’s also helped develop one of the most promising French sides in years, utilising the likes of Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann superbly. The oldest of that trio, Griezmann, is just 25 and, with two years until the World Cup, each of the aforementioned players could well be amongst the best in the world in their positions- more so than they already are.
Valid Halilhodzic: Japan
Taking over as manager of the Japanese national side in March 2015, the Bosnian inherited a side with big aims but little success. Last winning the AFC Asian Cup in 2011, Japan’s best finish in a World Cup has seen them reach only the first knock-out round. Under Halilhodzic, there have been some improvements.
Having led the Ivory Coast to the 2010 World Cup and then leading Algeria to the knock-out round in Brazil four years later, Halilhodzic has the experience Japan requires to achieve their ambitions and, with Chinese football on the rise, the nation needs a steady hand to lead.