As the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar draws closer, the field of teams begins to solidify, and the odds to win the World Cup fluctuate, it would be pertinent to evaluate team Managers. Specifically, identifying the three best World Cup managers in FIFA history. Exploring all facets of FIFA World Cup managers includes identifying which managers have more than one World Cup title, how many appearances each one has in World Cup play, and how many top-four finishes they achieved.
Longevity is also important, and how many years a manager was on the team should be considered. We also identify whose talent these managers fostered, what the competition was like in the World Cup tournaments that they excelled in, and so on.
As you may have guessed, the managers highlighted are from the countries that have dominated the FIFA World Cup the most during its storied history. Without evaluating managers on any of their club or other international management roles, but purely on their FIFA World Cup legacy makes candidates automatically elite. Only eight countries have been victorious in the 21 World Cup tournaments.
Before we get to the three best managers in World Cup history, let’s first look at those who are just on the outside of this group. They are all great, just not the greatest.
Argentinian manager Carlos Bilardo is a memorable managerial name in FIFA World Cup history. Bilardo, known as El Narigón (big nose), was the Argentinian national team manager from 1983-1970. Under his control, Argentina won the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, and they were the runners-up in the 1990 World Cup.
He is credited for nurturing and coaching Diego Maradona into becoming the best player on the planet, something previous Argentinian managers were unable to accomplish. Perhaps secondarily, Bilardo was known for being one of the only managers to win at a high level using the 3–5–2 formation.
We must also mention Brazilian manager Mario Zagallo. Zagallo has three World Cup championships to his name, two as a player (1958 & 1962) and one as manager (1970). Then a fourth title, if you counted the 1994 World Cup in the USA when he came on as an assistant manager. He is only one of three men with a FIFA title as a player and manager. In 1992, Zagallo was awarded the FIFA Order of Merit, the most prestigious honor the football Federation gives out.
Lastly, we should bring up Italian manager Enzo Bearzot. Bearzot led Italy to a championship in the 1982 World Cup, ending the Italian drought that had lasted since 1938. Aside from restoring Italy to champion status, what made this victory so unique was that Azzurri was not supposed to be a top-contender in 1982.
Enzo chose not to manage at the club level in his early years. Instead, he went straight into working for the Italian Football Federation, eventually becoming head coach of Italy in 1975. In the 1978 FIFA World Cup, his first as manager of the team, he surprised many by taking the Italians to a fourth-place finish.
But their outlook for the 1982 World Cup was worse than ‘78, and calls from the media were mounting to have him sacked. Italy’s output in the first round of group play was unimpressive, tallying three draws, but it was just enough to advance.
The next round was when Bearzot implemented the now-famous Silenzio Stampa (press silence), trying to shield his players from distraction. One of the great runs in FIFA history followed. First, the Blues beat an incredible Argentinian team 2-1.
Then Italy knocked out heavily favored Brazil 3-2 before easily beating Poland 2-0 in the semi-final. The team prevailed over West Germany in the final by a score of 3-1. Bearzot proved many pundits incorrect on that day and reinstated Italy in the pantheon of greatness.
Check out all three of these teams’ FIFA World Cup odds in the Soccer Sportsbook, along with Olympic soccer, UEFA, and soccer betting action on all levels. After seeing who didn’t make our list, let’s check out who did.
#3 Franz Beckenbauer
German legend Franz Beckenbauer is an obvious choice. Like Mario Zagallo did with Brazil, Beckenbauer won a World Cup title as a player on the 1974 West German national team and as the manager for the West German team 16 years later in 1990.
Already a national hero after countless achievements as a player, Beckenbauer won the job as manager of West Germany in 1984. In his first appearance leading the Germans, the team made it to the World Cup final but lost to Argentina and Diego Maradona at the height of his career.
The 1990 World Cup came right before German reunification, making it the last year the team played as West Germany and the last year they played without players from East Germany. In a heroic run, Beckenbauer led the Germans through the group stage with ease. Then beat the Dutch 2-1, Czechoslovakia 1-0, and squeaked past England 4-3 in penalties to get back to the FIFA World Cup final. The game was a rematch against Argentina, and this time, Beckenbauer was ready. Playing with a solid defensive plan, West Germany won the World Cup Championship 1-0. The title tied West Germany with Brazil and Italy with the most World Cup Championship Trophies.
It’s also worth noting that Beckenbauer has had an influential career since managing West Germany. In addition to doing commentary for televised soccer on Sky Germany and having a column in Bild-Zeitung for many years, he managed and later became the club team Bayern Munich’s president.
He was the face of Germany’s bid to host the 2006 World Cup, which the country ended up winning. Ten years later, news broke that Beckenbauer was under investigation for fraud and money laundering in his capacity as chairman of the organizing committee. The charges were a shock at first but eventually failed to stick and thus, did not have a lasting effect on his reputation.
The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be thirty-two years removed from when Beckenbauer managed Germany to their third World Cup title. Germany is still very much one of the best teams in the world, and the oddsmakers have their chances at +950 to win the 2022 FIFA World Cup championship.
#2 Helmut Schön
Helmut Schön makes two German managers in the top three. Schön is only one of two managers in FIFA history to hold the manager position for long enough and perform well enough to lead a national team to four straight FIFA World Cup tournaments. Under Schön, West Germany finished in the top four in three of their four appearances, which is almost unrivaled, and he holds the FIFA record for most World Cup games managed, with 25. The German manager also has the FIFA record for most World Cup wins as a manager with 16.
In the 1966 World Cup, Schön’s first tournament as manager, West Germany made the finals but lost to England 2-4. In his second tournament, the West German team avenged their manager, and themselves, against England in the quarter-finals to move on to the World Cup semi-final. Despite a heroic performance, Schön and company lost to Italy in a historic game, later called the Game of the Century.
In the 1974 World Cup, which took place on German soil, Schön was on a mission. Coaching his stars to perform at their best, Muller, Beckenbauer, and Hoeness could not be stopped. West Germany beat the Dutch 2-1 in the final and clinched the second title for the nation. Schön managed the West German national team for 14 years, and in 1984 he was deservedly honored with the FIFA Order of Merit.
#1 Vittorio Pozzo
Italian manager Vittorio Pozzo rounds out this elite group. He earned the top spot as he is the only manager in FIFA World Cup history to coach a team to two World Cup titles. Vittorio Pozzo’s first managerial title came in 1934, on his home soil, as Italy hosted the second-ever World Cup. Starting with a 7-1 victory over the USA, then a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Spain in the quarter-finals, the Italians followed up with a 1-0 win over an injured Austrian team in the semi-finals. The 1934 World Cup Final had the Blues facing off against Czechoslovakia, and “Gli Azzurri” scored two goals late in the game to win 2-1.
Intervened in the tournament
Many said after the fact that Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had intervened in the tournament, helping Italy. That may have been true, but the sentiment was rendered irrelevant by Pozzo in 1938. As he managed Italy to their second straight World Cup, this time on French soil and out of reach of Mussolini’s Fascist Party, Pozzo was able to vindicate himself in front of those who doubted him.
Pozzo’s squad won four consecutive matches in the 1938 World Cup, with no draws or claims of tampering. The Italians first beat Norway 2-1, then took down France 3-1 in the quarter-finals before defeating Brazil 2-1 in the semi-finals. The Italian team dominated Hungary in the World Cup final and won 4-2.
Nicknamed the Vecchio Maestro (the Old Master), Pozzo not only won two titles managing Italy, but he also invented a tactical strategy that changed the way that soccer was played. In soccer at the time, there were five forwards, and the game was dominated by offense. Vecchio Maestro famously pulled two forwards backward in more midfield roles and focused the strategy around defensive cover. This innovative 2-3-2-3 formation was called ‘Il Metodo.’
His strategy is credited with unlocking the talents of players like Giuseppe Meazza, who led the team on the field during their two FIFA World Cups. From November 1935 to July 1939, Pozzo managed the Italians through thirty consecutive matches without losing.
Italy would continue to be one of the three best national teams globally, winning the World Cup again in 1982 and 2006. After that, it was downhill, being quickly eliminated in the 2010 and the 2014 World Cup and not qualifying for the tournament altogether in 2018. Their squad is said to have turned things around, but World Cup oddsmakers still have them as a long shot for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
Likely the last World Cup appearance for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, the 2022 World Cup in Qatar should be one for the ages. Check out the soccer Sportsbook for early 2022 World Cup team odds and much more World Cup action to come. And if you can not wait for November 2022, check out the 2020 Euros or the 2020 UEFA Nations League in the online sportsbook.