The Premier League was founded in 1992 when the officials of 22 teams, eyes bulging with imagined riches, made the decision to split from the 104-year-old Football League in order to form a new, more lucrative breakaway competition. While the format has, with a few minor exceptions, stayed almost exactly the same, the league’s ethos and identity are almost unrecognisable from when Howard Wilkinson became the last manager to win the old First Division in the 1991-92 campaign. Since then, 11 managers have won the Premier League: four Italians, two Scotsmen, a Chilean, a Portuguese, a Frenchman, a Spaniard and now a German – still no Englishman.
1. Sir Alex Ferguson – Manchester United (1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1996–97, 1998–99, 1999–2000, 2000–01, 2002–03, 2006–07, 2007–08, 2008–09, 2010–11, 2012–13)
When it comes to Premier League winning managers, there really is no other place to start, both in terms of significance and chronology. Fergie’s trophy haul since the beginning of the new order is unparalleled and almost certainly unsurpassable. In the first 21 seasons of the Premier League, the final day saw a Manchester United captain lift the trophy 13 times.
When he waved goodbye to the game on the 19th of May 2013 – after 5-5 final day clash with West Bromwich Albion which coincided with his 1500th match in charge of United – Premier League managers everywhere collectively breathed a sigh of relief.
The sight of Sir Alex stood on the touchline tapping his watch in the dying minutes of a game struck heart-thumping terror into any opposition he faced and became one of the most enduring and iconic images in top-flight history. Countless Fergie-isms (‘squeaky-bum time’, ‘football, bloody hell’ et al.) are still commonplace in football discourse and the great man’s monolithic shadow looms large over the Premier League to this day.
The Premier League era has been dominated by Sir Alex Ferguson – every other manager on this list who punctuated his supremacy with a short spell of resistance is ultimately a footnote in the story of this dominance.
2. Kenny Dalglish – Blackburn Rover (1994-95)
Kenny Dalglish won only one Premier League title but, as Gary Lineker persistently reminds us on our TV screens, football existed before the Premier League. With Liverpool, King Kenny won three First Division titles in 1985–86, 1987–88, 1989–90 making him the only man on this list to have won the top prize both before and after the formation of the Premier League.
His only Premier League success came in the 1994-95 campaign with Blackburn Rovers. Financed by Jack Walker – a local steel magnate and boyhood Rovers fan – Dalglish led a team featuring Alan Shearer, Tim Sherwood, Chris Sutton and Henning Berg to Premier League glory despite winning only two of their final six fixtures.
Given his integral role as a player in Liverpool’s era-defining team of the 1970s and 80s, Dalglish’s place in the pantheon of British footballing greats was secured long before this triumph, but his Premier League victory was the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake.
3. Arsene Wenger – Arsenal (1997-98, 2000-01, 2003-04)
Apart from Sir Alex Ferguson, there isn’t a manager on this list whose impact was felt as widely as Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal manager was something of an unknown quantity when he arrived on these shores. After a successful spell with Monaco in which he’d won a Division One title and a Coupe de France, Wenger disappeared into relative obscurity when he went to manage Nagoya Grampus in Japan, a move which was the subject of derision amongst his contemporaries. Famously Sir Alex Ferguson suggested that Wenger “should keep his opinions to Japanese football.”
What his detractors couldn’t have known was that this enigmatic, bespectacled Frenchman would go on to be without peer in terms of sports science and tactical innovation and become the first non-British manager to win the English top-flight. Wenger was the first to challenge Manchester United’s monopolisation of the Premier League and, in many ways, the six remaining Premier League-winning managers on this list live in the house that he built.
Wenger won the first of his three Premier League titles in 1998, but his crowning achievement was the undefeated season, in which his Arsenal side were league champions. Arsenal had some staggeringly good players that season, but it was Wenger who brought their talent into full flower.
It transpired that this would be his last Premier League triumph. The remaining years of his Arsenal career saw a gradual decline in the relationship between himself and Arsenal fans. It was an undignified end to a generational reign.
4. Jose Mourinho – Chelsea (2004-05, 2005-06, 2014-15)
Speaking of undignified ends to managerial tenures, here’s a man who’s had a few. Jose Mourinho arrived in England fresh from his Porto side’s stunning 3-0 Champions League Final victory over AS Monaco. In Porto’s penultimate fixture in the competition, Mourinho celebrated Costinha’s 89th-minute winner against Manchester United by bombing down the Old Trafford touchline join in a pile-on with his players. It was English football’s first taste of the kind of theatrics which would become emblematic of the Portuguese coach’s Premier League career.
Arguably the most quotable manager in Premier League history, Mourinho was dubbed ‘the special one’ upon his arrival in England in reference to boasts in his introductory press conference. It was a title he was able to justify. In his debut season, he won the Premier League with what was then a record points total. In the following campaign, they won the league at a canter once more.
He was exiled to Italy when relations between himself and Roman Abramovich broke down. There he won a famous treble with Inter Milan before moving to Spain and enjoying domestic success with Real Madrid. He then returned to Blighty where he won another Premier League title with Chelsea. After departing the club in typically acrimonious Jose style, Mourinho joined Manchester United. Domestically, his time at Old Trafford was disappointing although his second-place finish in the 2016-17 campaign seems a great deal more impressive with the luxury of hindsight.
5. Carlo Ancelotti – Chelsea (2009-10)
Though he has now won titles in Italy, England, France, Spain and Germany, Carlo Ancelotti’s maiden season with Chelsea was his first outside his homeland.
He took the reins at the London club following the unsuccessful tenure of Luiz Felipe Scolari and his job was to recapture the glory of the Mourinho years. He did so instantly, winning the Premier League at the first attempt. An FA Cup triumph followed shortly after.
Ancelotti’s side became the highest scorers in Premier League history at the time, but a 4th place finish the following season meant Abramovich swung the axe as he so often does. Perhaps prematurely, Ancelotti was dismissed.
In the years since, he has held some of the most prestigious positions in football, winning the league with Paris Saint Germain and Bayern Munich as well as the long awaited “La Decima” Champions League title for Real Madrid.
He is now back in the Premier League with Everton.
6. Roberto Mancini – Manchester City (2011-12)
The first of three Italians to win the Premier League in a six-year spell, Roberto Mancini’s victorious campaign with Manchester City in the 2011-12 season will be remembered as a watershed moment when the balance of power in the division switched from the red half of Manchester to the blue.
Even discounting the unadulterated barminess of the final day (‘AGUEROOOOOOO’), the title race between Manchester United and Manchester City that year was one of the best in modern history. It delivered two of the most memorable scorelines in recent memory: Manchester United 8-2 Arsenal and Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City.
It was a season in which Roberto Mancini’s management pushed Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and David Silva into Manchester City mythos. It may have been Roberto Mancini’s only Premier League victory, but it set the wheels in motion for many more for the club.
7. Manuel Pellegrini – Manchester City (2013-14)
Manuel Pellegrini is second of three Manchester City managers on this list and the only non-European manager ever to have won the English top flight. The Chileans one and only triumph came in the 2013-14 campaign when his Manchester City side edged out Liverpool to win their second Premier League title. In many ways, the season is remembered more for Liverpool’s capitulation – Gerrard’s slip, their collapse from 3-0 up against Palace, Suarez’s tears etc. – than for Manchester City’s success. Indeed, there’s a case to be made that Manuel Pellegrini never quite got the recognition he deserved.
City won the league that year with +65 goal difference and a very respectable points tally of 86. He stayed with the club for another two seasons before being given the boot in favour of Pep Guardiola, and that, above all else, might be how history remembers him: as a sacrificial lamb.
8. Antonio Conte – Chelsea (2016-17)
In a typical pub chat about the greatest Premier League teams, the same few names are invariably bandied about – Arsenal’s invincibles, Guardiola’s centurions, 08/09 Manchester United, usually. But, and perhaps unfairly, Antonio Conte’s 2016-17 Chelsea side are rarely given a look-in.
The Italian won the league with 93 points in his debut season and pioneered the 3-4-3 system which we see so often nowadays but, prior to the ex-Juventus and Italy manager’s arrival in England, was a foreign concept. His blues side played some spellbinding football that year and Conte became the first manager in the history of the English top-flight to win three consecutive Manager of the Month awards.
The Italian was given the boot at the end of the following campaign and Chelsea have been unable to recapture the kind of glory that Conte inspired ever since.
9. Claudio Ranieri – Leicester City (2015-16)
When Claudio Ranieri arrived at Leicester City in 2015, the Italian was greeted with scepticism, trepidation and, from some quarters, even ridicule. It’s fair to say that the thought of them winning the Premier League that year was laughable, crazy, almost imbecilic. And yet, astonishingly, that’s exactly what they did.
In terms of upsets, the 2015/16 seasons will never be matched, both in football or in any others port. The Foxes narrowly survived relegation at the end of the previous campaign under Nigel Pearson and had a modest squad – Vardy, Mahrez, Kante, none of them were exactly household names. The narrative that unfolded around these players over the course of Ranieri’s first nine months in England was so far-fetched that if you’d pitched it as a heart-warming underdog story to a room of Hollywood execs, you’d have been laughed out of the office for having the temerity to suggest such a cheesy plotline.
But it happened. Three seasons later and still no one can believe it. Ranieri’s reign at Leicester came to a messy end amidst a fall-out with his players, but the charming Italian’s name will forever be written into Premier League folklore.
10. Pep Guardiola – Manchester City (2017-18, 2018-19)
From Catalonia to Munich to Manchester, wherever Pep Guardiola has gone greatness has followed. It seems an eternity ago now but his first season with Manchester City was relatively unconvincing. Caught out playing out from the back on multiple occasions, the British public’s attitude towards the ex-Barca man and Johan Cruyff disciple seemed to be ‘that foreign nonsense will never work here’.
Just one year later he won the league with 100 points, then again the following season with 98. Some of the football they played over the course of these campaigns has been otherworldly. Manchester City don’t so much as lay siege but occupy enemy territory. Never before had the Premier League seen a team so dominant in individual games.
There are debates as to whether this oppressive strategy is good for the English game. But, whichever way you look at it, there’s no disputing that Guardiola influence on the Premier League has been monumental.
11. Jurgen Klopp – Liverpool (2019-20)
The latest addition. The fist-pumping German has already established himself as a legend at a club whose threshold is far higher than most. In four seasons, Klopp has taken Liverpool to three European finals, winning the most recent. But the one prize that alluded them had been just out of reach.
In the 18-19 campaign, they missed out by a single point despite recording the third highest points total of all time. But this season, Klopp has somehow managed to find an even greater gear. They won their first league title in 30 years with an astonishing seven games remaining. At the time of writing, they sit on 86 points with a further 21 remaining – there is every chance they will win the league with a record points total.
Though Liverpool’s football has become slightly more sensible in the past couple of seasons, Klopp’s side have still played some captivating stuff. He has made “the press” an integral part of football’s lexicon and has wrestled the tactical limelight away from Guardiola – for the time being, at least.
There is every chance that, by the end of his Liverpool career, Jurgen Klopp may have seen his team overtake Manchester Untied once more as the most successful team in the English top-flight. When Alex Ferguson was appointed, he spoke of knocking Liverpool “right off their f**king perch.” Under the guidance of Klopp, it’s safe to say that they have climbed right back on it.
These are the 11 managers who have tasted Premier League glory. It’s an illustrious list. In recent years, there has been much more variation in it too. The end of Manchester United’s dominance has allowed other managers to carve out their own slice of English football history.
When Manchester City won the league under Guardiola at the end of the 18-19 campaign, it marked the first time that managers not called Alex Ferguson had won the league more times than the man himself. With Klopp now extending this advantage, the Premier League is at the dawn of a new era.