No team has spent more time as the best football club in England than Manchester United. Dating back to the early 20th century, Man U has been a premier club and has achieved unparalleled success in just about every decade save for the 1970s and 1980s. Because of its long history and varying success, there have been over 20 men to manage Manchester United, with many of them winning several honours.
Out of those men, though, which ones had the most success? Let’s take a look at Manchester United’s illustrious history and rank the top five managers of all time. Some of the managers who just missed the cut include Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, and Tommy Docherty.
While the rest of the managers on the list had professional careers as players, that wasn’t the case for Ernest Mangnall, the third manager in Manchester United history. Prior to his time with Man U, Mangnall had managed Burnley for three years at the start of the century and became the only man to manage both Manchester clubs after he left for Man City in 1912, sticking there for a dozen years.
Mangnall is third all-time in matches managed with 373, and Manchester United won 202 of those. His 54.16% winning rate is among the best in club history, and he added a pair of Charity Shields and an FA Cup to go along with his two First Division Titles.
Ron Atkinson started his youth career with Aston Villa but played his entire senior career with Oxford United from 1959 to 1971. After retiring, Atkinson managed Kettering Town, Cambridge United, and West Bromwich Albion. He then joined Manchester United in 1981 and stayed with the club for five years.
Exactly half of Atkinson’s 292 matches with Manchester United ended in a victory, while only 67 of them ended in a defeat. Atkinson didn’t win the top league title with Man U, but he was able to propel the club to a pair of FA Cups and the Charity Shield. He then went on to manage seven more clubs during the 1980s and 1990s before retiring at the end of the century.
Portuguese native Jose Mourinho has managed some of the biggest clubs in Europe, though he did have to start small. After a seven-year playing career as a professional, Mourinho managed Benfica for a year then moved on to Uniao de Leiria and Porto before signing on as Chelsea’s manager in 2004. Following stops with Inter Milan, Real Madrid, and another stint with Chelsea, Mourinho became Manchester United’s manager in 2016.
For managers that had at least 100 matches, Mourinho ranks second in Manchester United’s history in win percentage. In 144 matches, Mourinho won 84, good enough for 58.33 percent. Though his time was brief, Mourinho was able to win some significant trophies including the League Cup, UEFA Europa League, and Community Shield.
You have to go back into the earlier days of Manchester United to find the second-best manager in club history. Sir Matt Busby played for Man City and Liverpool before retiring in 1945, heading right into his managerial career as he took the Manchester United job the same year. Busby led the Man U in the post-World War II days and all the way through the 1960s.
There are only two managers with at least 375 matches managed, and those two went well over 1,000. The first is Busby, who in his two stints managed 1,141 matches, 576 of which ended with a Manchester United victory. Busby’s trophy case includes five Charity Shields, a European Cup, two FA Cups, and five First Division titles (the top English trophy prior to the Premier League).
For most clubs, there would be a debate as to who the top manager of all time is, but that’s not the case for Manchester United. Sir Alex Ferguson is far and away the top producer, though it took quite some time for him to land the job. After playing professionally for 17 years with six different clubs, Ferguson spent 14 years managing clubs like St Mirren and Aberdeen, landing the Man U gig in 1986.
Ferguson held the position all the way to 2013 and holds just about every managerial record imaginable. Ferguson managed 1,500 matches, winning just under 60 percent of them with 895 victories. Under his tutelage, the Red Devils won a pair of UEFA Champions League titles, four League Cups, five FA Cups, 10 Community Shields, and most importantly, 13 Premier League titles. No other manager comes close to having that trophy case.