Given that I grew up in Holland I suppose I am biased, but I would say Johan Cruyff – because both as a player and as a manager he developed this collective, fast motion, one touch, positional interchange game that has since been perfected by Barcelona and in Germany, Bayern.
Everything that Cruyff thought of in the 60s at Ajax, and later as a manager at Ajax and Barcelona, has been carried on. And it is no coincidence that the guy regarded as the most innovative manager at the moment, Pep Guardiola, was Cruyff’s son in football terms. He took it forward. Guardiola said Cruyff made the chapel, our job is only to renovate it and keep the chapel looking good and update it. I think that is very accurate.
Bob Paisley, for example, won a fantastic number of titles and obviously deserves credit for that. But did Bob Paisley change football? Paisley also inherited a Liverpool from Shankly which had won far fewer titles – so if we are looking at just from the point of view of titles won and so on then Bob Paisley would probably emerge as the best manager in English football. But I find that a bit reductive.
Simon Kuper is the co-author of Soccernomics, also published as Why England Lose.