Saints top 10: managers
Following our debut piece ranking the top 10 Southampton goal scorers of all time, we are back with another top 10 – this time looking back at Saints’ 10 greatest managers.
Like with the goal scorers, I’ve tried to limit it to managers who have taken the helm of the Saints in living memory – with a potential bias for more recent gaffers.
This therefore excludes the three managers who have the highest win percentage of anyone to have managed Southampton – Alfred McMinn, Charles Robson and Cecil Knight – who all managed in the 19th century.
We begin with number 10:
10. Glenn Hoddle (2000-2001)
Of all the managers in our top 10, Hoddle managed the fewest games; just 52 during his 13 months in charge and the way he left Southampton may make this pick slightly controversial.
However, these 52 matches proved to be rather successful, starting with his first two clashes which were vital wins against West Ham and Sheffield Wednesday after his arrival in January 2000 with the side in a relegation battle.
Hoddle kept the Saints in the top-flight, a feat that looked unlikely for much of the campaign, eventually finishing in 15th on 44 points.
The former England manager then continued his reign into the following season and enjoyed their best form in several years with the side on course for an impressive 10th placed finish.
However, Hoddle shocked the footballing world by walking out on Southampton in late March before taking over at Spurs the next day.
Although many fans may not want to admit it, Hoddle’s influence was highlighted by the fact he won his final five matches in charge before failing to win any of their seven league meetings immediately after his departure, scoring just one goal in the process.
9. Alan Pardew (2009-2010)
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that Alan Pardew may not make too many teams’ top 10 list for all time managers – and he only just squeezes into ours.
This is largely down to the Englishman leading the Saints to their first piece of silverware since the 1976 FA Cup win when they triumphed in the 2010 Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in their first visit to the new Wembley.
Pardew was Markus Liebherr’s first appointment at the club having taken over in 2009 and the now-58-year old was responsible for bringing Rickie Lambert to the club who would go onto to play a massive part in the back-to-back promotions that followed.
Despite being burdened with a ten-point deduction, the Saints maintained a challenge for a playoff place until late in the season – but it was his achievement in the Football League trophy that he is mostly remembered for.
Goals from Lambert, Adam Lallana, Papa Waigo and Michail Antonio completed the rout against Carlisle in front of 73,476 supporters.
8. Ralph Hasenhuttl (2018-present)
Ok, so this one may seem a bit premature but hear me out.
The current Saints gaffer arrived at St Mary’s with the club in real bother following the failed spells of Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes and had to hit the ground running if Saints were to survive relegation.
The Austrian did just that with a superb 3-2 win against Arsenal and showed glimpses of a new philosophy that he wanted to implement.
Having suffered from three managers, the two already named plus their predecessor Claude Puel, that struggled to excite and ignite the south coast, Hasenhuttl was aiming to do something that hadn’t been seen at Southampton since Ronald Koeman’s days – while getting results in the process.
A fairly comfortable and somewhat entertaining survival was secured that campaign before we began the new 2019/20 season in a similarly sluggish manner.
It all came to a head in that 9-0 capitulation against Leicester that could’ve been enough to ruin even the greatest managers.
But the response has been superb, with Saints now playing some of the best football we’ve seen in years, guided by a man who leads by example.
It’s probably fair to say that we may have a future world-class manager on our hands who agrees in the cause at Southampton and could shoot up this list in years to come.
7. Alan Ball (1994-1995)
Alan Ball is best known for his playing career having been apart of the England 1966 squad that won the World Cup as well as making 195 appearances for Southampton across two separate spells.
He did also dabble his hand into management though and returned to the Dell in 1994 as the club’s new gaffer, replacing the unpopular Ian Branfoot with the side seemingly destined for relegation.
However, Ball would mastermind one of Southampton’s many great escapes with club legend Matt Le Tissier ranking this particular survival surge as one of his greatest achievements.
The England legend took charge in January of that season with the Saints having occupied the relegation places for most of the campaign before winning three of his first four games at the helm.
The club’s confidence was restored with Le Tissier in the form of his life; they were still in trouble in early April before coming out the better of a 5-4 thriller against Norwich having been 3-1 down.
Ball guided the side to further victories over Blackburn and Aston Villa as well as crucial final day win at West Ham that secured an incredible survival.
He continued his impressive time as manager into the next season as he ensured there was no need for any late heroics on this occasion by finishing in a comfortable 10th place before he was tempted away by Manchester City in that very summer.
6. Gordon Strachan (2001-2004)
It’s fair to say that Gordon Strachan’s managerial career has been a mixed one – but there’s little doubt that his time at Southampton was a profitable one.
The former Scottish international replaced Stuart Gray after a disastrous start to the 2001/02 season that saw the side struggle to adapt to the new St Mary’s stadium.
The Saints had been written off by many when Strachan arrived but he managed to turn around their fortunes and remarkably guided them to an 11th placed finish.
However, it would be the next campaign where Strachan would cement himself into Southampton folklore.
The Saints got off to a slow start, winning just one of their opening eight league matches but quickly turned that around with eight wins from their next 15 – seeing them rise up the table, peaking in fifth place.
The side would eventually finish in eighth, a league high since 1989–90 but it was their run in the FA Cup that would make it a memorable season.
Saints began their cup run with an impressive 4-0 win over Spurs in the third round before overcoming Millwall 2-1 after extra time in the fourth-round replay.
2-0 wins against Norwich and Wolves followed which preceded the memorable semi-final triumph over Watford at Villa Park before they were narrowly beaten 1-0 in the final by Arsenal.
But it was still an immense achievement from Strachan before he departed at the end of the following season which Southampton failed to recover from as they were relegated soon after – perhaps underlining Strachan’s impressive time at the club.
5. Nigel Adkins (2010-2013)
Nigel Adkins will always be remembered as the man who guided the Saints back into the top-flight after a seven-year hiatus and set the springboard to bigger and better things.
The English gaffer joined the club almost 10 years ago with the side struggling in League One and hoping to put the financial difficulties that had plagued the late part of the noughties firmly behind them.
Adkins had an immediate impact and put them firmly in the mix for promotion in his first season – this run included a 4-1 win over Peterborough that ensured Southampton won six home matches in a row, their best run since 1992.
Adam Lallana, who would go on to be a pivotal player in Adkins’ tenure, was signed in January and the Saints eventually secured promotion with a 3-1 win over Walsall.
Southampton’s return to the Championship started by breaking a 12-year hoodoo of not winning on the opening day of the league season by beating Leeds United 3-1 at St Mary’s.
While pre-season hopes were cautiously optimistic, few would’ve predicted Adkins’ side to be in the automatic promotion mix once again but the Saints were showing how much quality was in the squad after only losing two of their first 17 matches.
Back-to-back promotions was sealed on the final day of the campaign following a memorable 4-0 win against Coventry that sparked jubilant scenes at St Mary’s.
Saints were finally back in the big time, a feat that the unassuming Adkins had enabled to happen in such a short space of time.
It didn’t stop there though as further impressive and memorable moments followed in the Premier League including valiant efforts against Manchesters City and United and coming from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Chelsea before his slightly harsh dismissal.
To illustrate Adkins’ success, his win percentage of 54.03% is the highest of any manager since 1897.
4. Mauricio Pochettino (2013-2014)
When the Southampton board controversially sacked Adkins in their first season back in the Premier League and replaced him with obscure Argentine Mauricio Pochettino, many fans feared that this would be a mistake.
With his only managerial experience coming at Espanyol prior to his move to the Saints, coupled with the fact that he couldn’t speak English in his press conferences – this was a left-field choice of the highest order, especially with the threat of relegation a real possibility.
However, he was quickly proving the sceptics wrong and soon won his first game in charge in wonderful fashion, a 3-1 victory against reigning champions Manchester City.
Impressive wins against Liverpool and Chelsea followed which helped cement Southampton in mid-table, eventually finishing in 14th place.
Pochettino would then begin his first full season in charge which proved to be one Saints’s most successful campaigns in recent years after guiding the team to 8th on 56 points.
That season was particularly notable for an English quartet – Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Luke Shaw – with three of them called up for that summer’s World Cup (Rodriguez only missed out through a long-term injury).
This would become a theme of Pochettino’s work as he moved to Spurs that very summer and proved adept once more at bring young English talent through, with his managerial stature growing all the time.
3. Ronald Koeman (2014-2016)
Pochettino was not an easy man to follow when the Argentine left for Spurs in the Summer of 2014, but step forward former Dutch international Ronald Koeman who would enjoy Saints’ most successful spell in the 21st century.
Koeman signed a three-year contract with the aims of pushing the side on from their 8th place finish in the previous campaign.
His start on the south coast wasn’t ideal though as he was forced to see many players who starred previously depart for clubs higher up the table; most notable Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Dejan Lovren, Luke Shaw and Callum Chambers.
However, the recruitment was spot on with Dusan Tadic, Graziano Pelle, Fraser Forster, Shane Long, Sadio Mane, Ryan Bertrand and Toby Alderweireld joining in that one summer – all of whom would enjoy fantastic seasons with many of them still admired greatly by supporters.
A seventh place finish would be their reward that season, including being in the top four for much of the early stages of the campaign, but they would then managed to better that the following year.
Under Koeman, Southampton completed a memorable season by qualifying for the Europa League with a record Premier League points tally – in a season that was simply joyful to watch from start to finish.
The former Barcelona star would then shock everyone by making what seemed like a sideways move to Everton, and Saints have struggled to recover ever since.
It’s not easy to decide who was the more successful manager between Pochettino and Koeman as the former paved the way for the latter to achieve great things at St Mary’s.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the football played under Ronald Koeman was the most visually attractive in my time of watching Saints and was certainly the most enjoyable and fruitful spell.
2. Ted Bates (1955-1973)
The only man on this list to have a statue built in his honour – Ted Bates is a true Southampton legend.
Ted devoted an incredible amount of time and portion of his life to the Saints after first signing for the club as a player in 1937 and eventually leaving as manager in 1973.
As a player, Bates scored 63 goals in 202 matches before embarking on a managerial career that would span even longer than his playing one.
Southampton were in the (then regional) Third Division South when he took over in 1955 and guided the side into the national Second Division five years later.
They didn’t stop there though as a further promotion to the First Division came in 1966 and cemented themselves as a staple of England’s top flight, including qualifying for Europe in 1969 and 1971 while young players such as Mick Channon and Ron Davies were really blossoming under Bates’ stewardship.
Bates eventually stepped down in 1973 but really laid down the foundations for successor Lawrie McMenemy to lead to club to their most successful period in history.
In fact, Bates acted as McMenemy’s assistant for the next few years which included the Saints’ historic FA Cup triumph in 1976 with Bobby Stokes scoring the winner – a man signed by Bates.
All-in-all, Ted managed a remarkable 850 matches, 311 more than the next highest, winning 333 of them and securing himself in history as the man who made Southampton a force to be reckoned with.
If anyone ever needs reminding of what Ted Bates did for this club, take a wonder down to St Mary’s and take note of the waving statue that guards its premises and serves as a constant reminder his brilliant legacy.
1.Lawrie McMenemy (1973-1985)
And so we reach our number one.
Lawrie McMenemy is the man that oversaw the greatest achievement in Southampton’s 135-year history after guiding the team to FA Cup glory in 1976.
After being promoted to first-team manager in November 1973, McMenemy was unable to keep the Saints in the First Division but the board stuck by him and entrusted him with guiding the side back to the big time.
Before that was able to happen though, Saints surprised the football world by embarking on a cup run, first beating Aston Villa in the FA Cup third round replay before a 3-1 win over Blackpool and a 4-0 triumph against West Brom in the fifth-round replay.
A 1-0 win at Bradford followed before a 2-0 victory against Crystal Palace in the semi-final at Stamford Bridge, while Manchester United overcame Derby at Hillsborough in a game that United manager Tommy Docherty described as the ‘real final’.
Docherty was to regret his words on the day of the final as over 99,000 people watched Southampton produce one of the competition’s great shocks at Wembley as Bobby Stokes struck the goal that would ensure it would be Southampton that lifted the famous cup.
McMenemy didn’t stop there however as he soon guided the team back to England’s top division in 1978 and then reached the League Cup final the following year where they lost 3-2 to Nottingham Forest.
Lawrie was soon putting together a quality team having signed World Cup winner Alan Ball and former Liverpool star Kevin Keegan as Saints were in the midst of their greatest ever period as a professional football club.
The club emerged as title challengers, first in 1981/82 where the club topped the table for large portions before finishing 7th, and then in 1983/84 (after adding Peter Shilton to his ranks) where he guided the club to second place – their highest ever finish.
All-in-all, Lawrie McMenemy’s reign at Southampton is unforgettable and would take something truly remarkable to beat. Honourable mentions go to Ernest Arnfield (1897-1911) who won 268 of his 514 games but was too early to make my list, Chris Nicholl (1985-1991) whose 293 games in charge saw him bring through players such as Matt Le Tissier and Alan Shearer although he was largely perceived to have underachieved at the Dell and the popular George Burley (2005-2008) who did his best