FC 100 best men's soccer managers, 2022-23

Illustration by MASA

Despite the seemingly limitless athletic, technical and tactical gifts of these players, it all means little without an equally adept mastermind on the touchline. Football's best managers are calculating with their tactics, charming enough with their man-management to handle the emotional rigours of a full club season and sufficiently self-aware to cope with the psychological stresses of a demanding media and the external pressures of the fans. Top managers will transform any squad from a group of individuals to a well-drilled, harmonious collective in which every player knows their role and their worth. And they'll look good doing it, too.

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This year's ballot had 50 entries from all over the globe and from all areas of ESPN FC, from writers to reporters, from editors to producers, from behind-the-scenes staff to on-air talent. Gab Marcotti, Julien Laurens, Mark Ogden and Luis Miguel Echegaray were just some of the key voters, along with their FC TV counterparts Craig Burley and Shaka Hislop.

Voters were encouraged to take the following things into consideration when casting their votes: who are the best men's players right now, weighted toward their 2022-23 seasons. Voters were given discretion as to how much injuries played in votes; several players made the cut despite missing chunks of the season given the scale of their contributions and performances when healthy. Equally, performances in individual competitions (aka Champions League, World Cup) were considered, but were not the overarching factor, in casting a vote. Players whose efforts spanned the largest sample size of games should naturally rank higher than those who excelled in short tournament formats.

'The GOAT?!' - Pep Guardiola voted best manager on ESPN FC 100

Gab Marcotti & Julien Laurens discuss Pep Guardiola being voted the best manager on the ESPN FC 100.

All player copy written by Bill Connelly, Constantin Eckner, Julien Laurens, Rob Dawson, Alex Kirkland and James Tyler.

10. XAVI, Barcelona

Why he's on the list:

Xavi has restored Barcelona's pride. The 2022-23 LaLiga title was Barca's first since 2019, and it was won thanks to Xavi's construction of a serious, well-organised team that conceded just 20 goals in 38 games to finish 10 points ahead of Real Madrid. All that, and dealing with the off-field chaos caused by Barca's dire financial situation. Xavi is well on the way to becoming the astute coach everybody expected him to be when his playing career ended.

His biggest failure was a disastrous Champions League campaign that saw Barca lose three of their six group stage games to crash out, before failing to make an impression in the Europa League either.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Taking the next step forward, and righting the wrongs of last season's Champions League. Xavi will be expected to guide Barca to the competition's latter stages in 2023-24, at a minimum, while defending the LaLiga title. And they'll have to do so playing away from Camp Nou -- which is now being rebuilt -- at their temporary home in Montjuic.

Xavi's challenges will include maintaining that defensive solidity, while scoring more goals -- fewer 1-0 wins, please -- as well as identifying and integrating a successor to Sergio Busquets, keeping Pedri injury free and recuperating Ansu Fati. It's quite a to-do list. -- Kirkland

9. Simone INZAGHI, Inter Milan

Why he's on the list:

The former striker (and brother of iconic Italy forward Filippo) has had a wild couple of seasons with Inter Milan, but it's clear he deserves respect when it comes to top-tier, attack-minded managers. After guiding Inter to a second-place finish in 2021-22 thanks to 84 goals in 38 games, Inzaghi kept the Nerazzurri competitive domestically (winning the Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italia) and saved his best work for the Champions League.

With a commitment to squad rotation -- rarely a game passed without Inzaghi using all five substitutes -- and a two-striker formation that paired a "big" (either Edin Dzeko or Romelu Lukaku) with the elusive Lautaro Martinez, Inter surged to its first Champions League final in 13 years. Jose Mourinho guided Inter to an improbable title back then with a style of play founded on rock-solid defending; Inzaghi's higher-octane approach proved equally effective, as Inter finished above Barcelona in the group stage and defeated Porto, Benfica and rivals AC Milan on their way to a valiant 1-0 defeat against Manchester City in the final.

Inzaghi is savvy, understated and always committed to his principles. Plenty of teams could benefit from such a clear vision and its persistent application.

Expectations for 2023-24:

Inzaghi has made no secret of his desire to remain at Inter and build on this foundation, but the club's financial outlook could be too tumultuous in the long run. Already, Inter have added midfielder Kristjan Asllani (Empoli) and forward Marcus Thuram (from Borussia Monchengladbach) to a formidable, but veteran, squad this summer. With Napoli in flux, AC Milan inconsistent and Juventus in need of yet another rebuild, there's a path to the title if Inzaghi's commitment to Inter is repaid in full. -- Tyler

8. Roberto DE ZERBI, Brighton & Hove Albion

Why he's on the list:

The rise of Brighton is an absolute fairytale, and De Zerbi deserves more than a few chapters considering how the Seagulls flew higher upon his arrival. Graham Potter's departure for Chelsea in September was seen as a death knell for the Seagulls' progress; so too were the steady departures of key players in both of last season's transfer windows, with Marc Cucurella (Chelsea), Yves Bissouma (Tottenham) and Leandro Trossard (Arsenal) leaving. Yet De Zerbi turned the remainders into a potent, brilliant counter-attacking team, with wins over Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal (that ended their title challenge) and Manchester City throughout the season.

Unheralded signings such as Julio Enciso and Pervis Estupinan quickly became first-team regulars, the likes of Alexis Mac Allister, Kaoru Mitoma and Moises Caicedo improved into elite Premier League contributors, and De Zerbi's intensity was reflected in his side's never-say-die attitude. Yes, his temper occasionally got him into trouble with the league, but his passion is his brand. Now, it's Brighton's too.

Expectations for 2023-24:

There's little indication to suggest De Zerbi has bigger fish to try beyond the south coast, though he will need to rework things in midfield to offset the departure of World Cup winner Mac Allister, who has taken his abundant talent to Liverpool. The key will be maintaining the progression of his squad -- Evan Ferguson is firmly in "One to watch" territory for next year's FC 100 -- while weathering the persistent inquiries of Premier League rivals for every single member of his first team.

We believe in Roberto. -- Tyler

7. Erik TEN HAG, Man United

Why he's on the list:

The Dutch manager was tasked to turn around a struggling Manchester United side and inject new life into Old Trafford. Ten Hag achieved exactly that, in parts by making difficult and sometimes even dangerous decisions. He stood up against Cristiano Ronaldo, trusted in his signings instead of established United players in some cases, and stayed true to his football principles. While there may have been doubters questioning whether Ten Hag had the stature to be successful at the helm of such a complex club, he made sure to prove that he belongs among the coaching elite.

Expectations for 2023-24:

After achieving the turnaround and creating a sense of hope, the upcoming campaign could present Ten Hag with a lot of obstacles. The natural way of things is that expectations will be rising and another third place in the Premier League may not be enough.

What makes Ten Hag's life even more difficult is the fact that he is dependent on decisions he has no involvement in, most notably the question over the new ownership of the club. Plus, Ten Hag may have to react to the consequences of off-the-pitch issues of a few of his players and has to hope for significant transfer investments to further strengthen parts of his squad. He is not always in the driver's seat, although it may serve United best to trust in the Dutchman. -- Eckner

6. Lionel SCALONI, Argentina

Why he's on the list:

Even Scaloni couldn't have dreamt of a more successful spell in charge when he was appointed Argentina coach in 2018. In a little less than five years in charge, he's won 41 of his 61 games, collecting the Copa America in 2021 and the World Cup in 2022. Even if he never wins another game, he will never have to buy another drink in Argentina! Scaloni found a way to get the best out of Lionel Messi but was also astute enough to modify his system during the World Cup campaign in Qatar, bringing in Julian Alvarez and Enzo Fernandez with fantastic results.

Expectations for 2023-24:

After lifting the World Cup in Qatar, Scaloni signed a new contract to stay on as Argentina coach until 2026, which will take him through next finals in the United States, Mexico and Canada. There's a Copa America to come first in the U.S. next summer, when Argentina will look to defend the title they won in Brazil in 2021, but there will also be one eye on building toward the World Cup in 2026. The key question for Scaloni is how long does Messi plan to play on? He's set to join Inter Miami this summer but there has been little indication yet as to when he plans to give up international football. -- Dawson

5. Jurgen KLOPP, Liverpool

Why he's on the list:

Liverpool's roster got a bit stale in 2022-23 and got caught in the middle of a rebuild. For the first time since Klopp's first season (when he took over a disappointing squad in October 2015), the Reds just finished outside of the Premier League top four.

For a disappointing season, though? This was pretty great. Liverpool scored the third-most goals and produced the fourth-best goal differential in the Premier League. They won the Community Shield, won five of six Champions League group-stage matches, won Premier League matches by scores of 9-0, 7-0 (against Manchester United, no less) and 6-1 and finished the season on an 11-match unbeaten streak.

That's what a bad season looks like for Klopp, 56, who has won three league titles and three domestic cups and reached three Champions League finals, winning one, with Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund. His high-octane, counter-pressing philosophy has defined the modern era of soccer, and while the 2020-21 and 2022-23 seasons proved that he needs just the right roster balance to produce the best possible results, Liverpool nearly won every trophy imaginable in 2021-22, proving he's never far away from the highest level.

Expectations for 2023-24:

With a desperately needed midfield refresh underway and expensive young attackers showing promise amid inconsistency last season, Liverpool will enter the coming season with high expectations once again. They might not be ready to make a charge at another league title just yet, but their spring hot streak was a reminder of what Klopp is capable of. He's still one of the sport's greats. -- Connelly

4. Mikel ARTETA, Arsenal

Why he's on the list:

The season didn't end in the way Arteta wanted, but Arsenal still far exceeded expectations. His goal at the start of the campaign was to secure a return to the Champions League, and it was achieved with room to spare. The downside was that Arsenal led the Premier League for most of the year, raising hopes of a first title since 2004, before being overhauled by Manchester City on their way to the treble.

The season ended in disappointment for Arteta, but he finally put to bed any doubts about whether he is capable of putting together a world-class team.

Expectations for 2023-24:

The 2023-24 season will be about Arsenal backing up what they did last year. The unexpected title challenge will raise the bar at the Emirates, and it will be down to Arteta to find a way of finishing ahead of Manchester City.

It's been a while since Arsenal had Champions League football to look forward to, but it won't be enough to take part. There will be an expectation to not only get through the group stage, but also make an impact in the knockout rounds. Arsenal probably aren't ready to win it just yet, but supporters will want to know that Arteta and his players can compete at that level. -- Dawson

3. Luciano SPALLETTI, Napoli

Why he's on the list:

Does magic count? Do you believe in magic? What Napoli accomplished in 2022-23 is nothing short of remarkable, with the preseason exits of their veteran core (forwards Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne, midfielder Fabian Ruiz, defender Kalidou Koulibaly) followed by 21 wins in their first 25 Serie A games, rendering the title race little more than a canter down the stretch. Spalletti's aggressive style of play was perfect for a team always driven by pure id and "vibes" over order and organization, and the players responded.

Victor Osimhen's ascent into the elite tier of strikers continued -- 31 goals in all competitions -- while Khvicha "Kvaradona" Kvaratskhelia burst onto the scene with a dynamism not seen in Naples since the days of Diego Maradona himself. Every new signee barely missed a beat under Spalletti's tutelage, and it's to his credit that the aforementioned pair -- along with defender Kim Min-Jae -- are top targets for Europe's elite clubs. That's coaching.

Bombast, heart and a relentless attitude: that was Napoli in 2022-23, and Spalletti was the perfect tactician to get them over the line. They thumped some of the biggest teams -- 4-1 over Liverpool, 6-1 over Ajax in the Champions League, 5-1 over Juventus in Serie A -- and cared little about reputations. Their title win was one of the highlights of the European season, and it's hard to imagine them accomplishing it without Spalletti on the sideline.

Expectations for 2023-24:

His sabbatical/yearlong exit from the job means we'll not get to see what Spalletti & Co. are capable of. Should many of the players who vaulted the Partenopei to that title end up leaving this summer -- Osimhen is surely going to be on the move despite a contract running through 2025 -- then last season's Serie A title will look like a one-off rather than step one of something bigger. -- Tyler

2. Carlo ANCELOTTI, Real Madrid

Why he's on the list:

When Real Madrid and Brazil both want you to coach them, you must be doing something right. In the past two years, Ancelotti has completed a full set of trophies at Madrid: LaLiga, the Champions League and the Spanish Supercopa in 2022, and the Copa del Rey, UEFA Super Cup and FIFA Club World Cup in 2023.

Last season was a disappointment compared to the one before, as Madrid failed to match Barcelona's pace in LaLiga, but a Champions League semifinal -- where they were beaten by the best team in the world, Manchester City -- was a respectable finish.

Everyone still loves Carlo. Just don't patronise him by calling him a good man-manager.

"Everybody recognises that I'm fantastic at [man] management," he said in April. "But this team is well coached. If we win the Copa, we'll have won every possible trophy in two seasons. Some teams don't do that in a lifetime."

Expectations for 2023-24:

Will this be Ancelotti's last season at Madrid, before switching to coaching Brazil in June 2024? That's the plan, after the Brazilian football confederation (CBF) were unable to get their man this summer. CBF president Ednaldo Rodrigues called Ancelotti "the ideal person" to coach Brazil, but Ancelotti was reluctant to break his Madrid contract.

That means he'll be back at the Bernabeu next season with the exciting challenge of slotting Jude Bellingham into Madrid's midfield, managing the ongoing transition to the next generation and finding the consistency they lacked in LaLiga. And there's still the tantalising possibility of signing Kylian Mbappe, too. -- Kirkland

1. Pep GUARDIOLA, Man City

Why he's on the list:

This time, there is no criticism possible, no doubts, no arguments. Guardiola completed the second treble of his managerial career, at an entirely different club than his first, and this achievement, as well as the brilliant football played by his team all season, surpasses everything.

The transformation of John Stones, the record-breaking season of Erling Haaland, the resurrection of Manuel Akanji: it's all Guardiola. There was so much more, too. For some, he was the greatest manager of all time even prior to this incredible season. For many, he is now for sure, ahead of Arrigo Sacchi, Johan Cruyff, Sir Alex Ferguson, Ancelotti and all the others. A very special season for a very special manager.

Expectations for 2023-24:

What more can he do? Another treble? A quadruple if he adds the League Cup to the rest? An Invincibles Premier League season? More goals scored and fewer conceded? Even more control of matches? A new tactical innovation?

Each of these could well happen for Guardiola and Manchester City. Now that the weight of the Champions League trophy has been lifted off his shoulders, now that the pressure is lessened, he will aim really high, as he always does. -- Laurens