To many, Manchester United is the biggest and best team in the history of soccer. The club based in the Northwest of England was established in 1878 and has had a total of 28 different managers during its 144-year existence.
Today we’re going to be counting down the top ten managers in Manchester United’s history, including managers that took control of the club before the Second World War.
Every one of these great men has had the honor of managing the biggest club in England and all tasted success during their time at the helm.
Here are the 10 best Manchester United managers of all time.
10. Scott Duncan
- Manager Years: 1932 – 1937
We start our list with a man you may not be familiar with yet, but somebody who is crucial to Manchester United being the soccer behemoth that they are today.
Scott Duncan was a player for both Rangers and Newcastle United before he went into management. Duncan took over at the club in 1932, leading the men in red for 5 years. The Scotsman had a win rate of 39% during his time in charge.
The most important contribution Duncan made as manager was leading the club back to the old First Division in the 1935-36 season. Despite this triumph, United was relegated again the following year and Duncan departed for Ipswich Town where he remained for 18 years.
9. David Moyes
- Manager Years: 2013 – 2014
Sticking with the Scotsmen, the next man on our list is one of the most troubled yet still relatively successful Manchester United managers of all time.
Following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, the club was left at a crossroads knowing that whoever took over had a tough job on their hands.
At the time, Moyes was one of the most respected managers in England, having been in charge at Everton since 2002. He was also the choice recommended to the club by the retiring Ferguson.
During his short time at Manchester United, Moyes faced heavy criticism from the fans and media alike despite delivering the Community Shield in one of his first games as manager. After less than a year in charge, Moyes was sacked and is now enjoying a successful stint at West Ham United.
8. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
- Manager Years: 2019 – 2021
The appointment of club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was one of the most popular in recent memory, with fans eager to see what their former Norwegian striker could do to a club in dire need of success.
Unfortunately, what followed was not what either party had hoped for, another three years with a trophy left the club in a much worse state than Solskjaer had found it in.
This slump was not all his fault though, as towards the end of his tenure a series of high-profile players rebelled against the club in order to enact change at the top.
It may all seem like Solskjaer was not particularly successful during his second time at Manchester United, but he did have a strong win rate of over 50%.
Had he been given more time, with less egotistical players alongside him, the trophies would have eventually started to fall his way.
7. Louis Van Gaal
- Manager Years: 2014 – 2016
After the media labeled the failure of appointing David Moyes, Manchester United wanted to move away from letting former managers have a say in what the future would look like. With this in mind, the club brought in Dutch manager Louis Van Gaal in July 2014.
Before moving to Manchester, Van Gaal had enjoyed a glittering managerial career that included time at Barcelona, Bayern Munich, and the Dutch national team alongside others. It was a very good appointment, that was sure to deliver some kind of success.
Van Gaal was keen to move away from the ways of Moyes, claiming that he had inherited a ‘broken’ squad that needed to be rejuvenated with youth. As such, the Dutchman gave many of his young players the chance to shine, bringing through talents such as Marcus Rashford.
In 2016, just two days before being sacked, Van Gaal delivered Manchester United their first major trophy since the Ferguson era. A 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace was enough to bring the FA Cup back to Manchester.
6. Tommy DochertyEmbed from Getty Images
- Manager Years: 1972 – 1979
‘The Doc’ as he was known to some fans was appointed as manager of Manchester United in 1972 following an already long managerial career that had seen the Scotsman take the reigns at five other clubs, as well as the Scottish national team.
It seemed like a no-brainer to bring in a man with such a wealth of knowledge, however, it was not all plain sailing for Docherty. In 1974, after multiple poor seasons, the club was relegated to the Second Division yet again and Docherty was tasked with restoring Manchester United to where it belonged.
What followed was an instant promotion back to the First Division, which resulted in a wave of good feelings carrying the club to third place the next season.
In 1977, Docherty carried his team to their second successive FA Cup Final, where they managed to overcome Liverpool to take their first cup win since the days of Matt Busby.
Just a short time after this victory, Docherty was found to have an affair with club Physio Laurie Brown. As such ‘The Doc’ was sacked and replaced by Dave Sexton.
5. Ron AtkinsonEmbed from Getty Images
- Manager Years: 1980 – 1987
After Sexton could only deliver a shared Charity Shield to the club, he was duly replaced by Ron Atkinson in June 1981.
Atkinson had already impressed during a stint at West Bromwich Albion, where he too the Baggies to third place in 1979, as well as taking them to the Quarter Finals of the UEFA Cup.
This caught the eye of the top men at Manchester United, who saw Atkinson as the kind of man that could reinvigorate a tired-looking club.
For some time it looked as though Atkinson was going to deliver the title to Manchester at his first attempt, before a late surge from Liverpool denied them.
Despite never managing to take his team to the League title they desperately wanted, Atkinson did bring three trophies back to Old Trafford.
This success included two FA Cup titles and one Charity Shield, as well as a series of promising campaigns in Europe.
4. José Mourinho
- Manager Years: 2016 – 2018
An appointment that always seemed destined the happen finally occurred in May 2016, following the departure of Louis Van Gaal.
The ‘Special One’ as he is often referred to, took over at Manchester United as the widely regarded best manager in the world. There were high expectations that the Portuguese legend could be the man to take the club back to the pinnacle.
Like many of his predecessors, the weight of expectation may have been too much even for a man as decorated as Mourinho. The Premier League title remained out of reach, but the club did enjoy its best finish since the days of Ferguson under Mourinho’s lead (Second Place).
It was in Europe that Mourinho enjoyed most of his success as Manchester United manager, much like has throughout his career. In 2017, Mourinho took the club to their first-ever Europa League title.
The ‘Red Devils’ defeated Ajax 2-0 to take their first European trophy since 2008. This was the second trophy that the club had won that season, after also winning the League Cup with a 3-2 win over Southampton.
3. Ernest MangnallEmbed from Getty Images
- Manager Years: 1903 – 1912
Just a year after the club changed its name from Newton Heath to Manchester United, they announced the appointment of Ernest Mangnall as club secretary (the old term for manager). The new man at the helm had already been in charge at Burnley for three years before taking over in Manchester.
During his time as secretary, Mangnall quickly became the most successful boss in the Manchester United’s short history. The Lancashire local delivered a total of five trophies during his 9 years at the top, including the club’s first-ever First Division title in 1908.
This period of success remains the third greatest in the club’s history, as a 40-year wait for the First Division trophy lay in wait for them. It is also widely believed that Mangnall was the main driver in the club moving to Old Trafford in 1910.
Following this period of triumph, Mangnall eventually left the club in favour of their local rival Manchester City where he took the Sky Blues to the runners-up spot in the First Division.
2. Sir Matt BusbyEmbed from Getty Images
- Manager Years: 1945 – 1969 and 1970 – 1971
Before Sir Alex, there was Sir Matt, another Scotsman that is fondly remembered by the older generation of Manchester United’s fanbase.
Matt Busby took over at the club following the end of the Second World War in 1945, determined to bring success to a city that sorely needed it.
Success was certainly what followed, with a period so impressive that many thought it would never be seen at the club again.
Busby won a total of 13 trophies during his two stints as manager, including the European Cup in 1968. This triumph was the first from any English side, something the fans are always keen to point out to their rivals.
Tragedy was also a part of Busby’s time at the helm, with the infamous Munich air disaster killing many of his ‘Busby Babes’ side that looked destined for greatness. The measure of a great leader is how you rebuild after setbacks though and Busby managed this and more.
1. Sir Alex Ferguson
- Manager Years: 1986 – 2013
It’s not even up for debate – the great Sir Alex Ferguson is quite clearly the best Manchester United manager of all time.
When he took over in November 1986, there were questions asked as to why the club had taken such a gamble in appointing a young manager.
Fast forward to 2013 and ‘Fergie’ as he is known to the fans had won 38 trophies as manager, including 13 Premier League titles and two Champions League triumphs.
Ferguson had a win rate of 59% during his time at the club, which isn’t actually the highest in their history, though given his longevity this is to be expected.
In 1999, Ferguson was knighted by the Queen of England for his services to soccer, becoming the second Manchester United manager to be given this honor.
Since retiring from the game, Ferguson has devoted himself to being a fan and ambassador to Manchester United and can regularly be found in the stands at Old Trafford.
It may seem like an obvious choice to select Ferguson as number one, however in this case there can be simply no denying that the great man is the best Manchester United manager of all time, he may well be the best ever full stop.