Which Premier League club’s managers would make the best team?

Bryan Robson juggling a ball wearing a suit jacket and tie, but Middlesbroiuh shorts and socks

There are few subjects in football more well-worn than your club’s best XI, but we at FTG got to thinking – which club could produce the best team of their manager? Looking at the 20 Premier League clubs, we set the following ground rules:

  1. The XI should be a realistic team. A number of clubs fall at the first hurdle here, as many have never been managed by a former goalkeeper. Additionally, you can’t have a defence of two left-backs, just to fit in five great strikers who have managed the club
  2. Caretaker and interim managers are only included if there is no alternative
  3. Likewise, pre-WW2 players are rare, and usually used when there is no other option, partly because we are naturally less familiar with many of them, and also because half-backs and the like are harder to fit into modern formations.


George Swindin – Don Howe, Terry Neill, Billy Wright, Tom Whittaker – Unai Emery, Bruce Rioch – Arsène Wenger, Mikel Arteta – George Graham, Herbert Chapman (4-2-2-2)

A side that lives up to two recent(ish) Arsenal stereotypes – a solid defence, and a French-style square midfield, caused by a lack of available width. As with some other of the very big clubs, there are relatively few managers to choose from, and we have to go back to the distant past for a few players.

Aston Villa

Andy Marshall – Alex McLeish, David O’Leary, Steve Bruce – Joe Mercer, Steven Gerrard, Billy McNeill, Paul Lambert, Martin O’Neill – Brian Little, Eric Houghton (3-5-2)

OK, two teams in and we’re already cheating massively. Andy Marshall was Villa caretaker for four days in February 2015, alongside Scott Marshall (no relation), and didn’t lead them out for a game. But there are no other goalkeepers available, so he’ll have to do. A surfeit of midfielders means that Remi Garde, Roberto di Matteo, Tommy Docherty, John Gregory and Tim Sherwood all miss out.


Ian Black – David Webb, Frank McLintock, Terry Butcher, Micky Adams – Martin Allen, Lee Carsley, Steve Perryman, Steve Coppell – Uwe Rösler, Tommy Lawton (4-4-2)

Another caretaker in goal, but Ian Black, a former Scotland international, did at least lead the team out for three games in 1966. Another strong team, with a solid centre-back pairing, while wartime star Tommy Lawton partners Uwe Rösler up front – God knows what he’d make of the latter’s t-shirt.

Brighton & Hove Albion

Peter T. Taylor – Chris Hughton, Sami Hyypia, Alan Mullery, Micky Adams – Peter J. Taylor, Jimmy Case, Liam Brady, Steve Coppell – Gus Poyet – Brian Clough (4-4-1-1)

A more legitimate goalkeeper, this time in the form of one of two Peter Taylors in the team (in this case the long-term assistant to the also-included Brian Clough). Again, it’s quite midfielder-heavy, with a lone striker and Mullery’s inclusion at centre-back a bit of a cheat. A formidable team though, with an identical left-flank to Brentford.


The first club without a goalkeeper. Had there been, current boss Vincent Kompany would be a standout player, along with Chris Waddle. Jimmy Adamson, Martin Buchan, Adrian Heath and Brian Laws would be among the other candidates.


Again, no goalkeeper, which denies us a team that could pick from Carlo Ancelotti, Antonio Conte, Ruud Gullit, Glenn Hoddle, Geoff Hurst, Frank Lampard and Gianluca Vialli, to name a few.

Crystal Palace

Cyril Spiers – George Burley, Steve Bruce, Frank de Boer – Attilio Lombardo, Patrick Vieira, Alan Mullery, Terry Venables, Steve Coppell – Trevor Francis, Dougie Freedman (3-5-2)

Another midfield-heavy team, with Coppell appearing in a third consecutive XI. As with Brighton, Mullery could drop back to strengthen the defence, but the presence of Lombardo means there’s no place for Peter Taylor. Freedman is just ahead of Iain Dowie to partner Trevor Francis.


Mike Walker – Johnny Carey, Ronald Koeman, Walter Smith, Sean Dyche – Billy Bingham, Carlo Ancelotti, Colin Harvey, Howard Kendall – Frank Lampard – Joe Royle (4-4-1-1)

So tempting to pick caretaker managers Dave Watson, David Unsworth and Duncan Ferguson, with whom this would be a very strong team, but nonetheless it’s not bad, albeit with a tail-off in quality across the back four. I’m sure Dyche was a D/DM RLC in Championship Manager, so he’ll do for a left-back.


Don Mackay – Claudio Ranieri, Kit Symons, Chris Coleman, Micky Adams – Jean Tigana – Ray Wilkins, Scott Parker – Bobby Robson – Kevin Keegan, Mark Hughes (4-4-2 Diamond)

Possibly the hardest team to pick – once again, so many midfielders, and all so central that it needs a full back four to provide some width. The defence is respectable, but Paul Bracewell, Slavisa Jokanovic, Martin Jol, Felix Magath, and Lawrie Sanchez will feel unlucky to be left out, as will forwards Bedford Jezzard and Malcolm Macdonald


Matt McQueen – Bill Shankly, George Kay, Jürgen Klopp, Roy Evans – Phil Taylor, Joe Fagan, Graeme Souness, Bob Paisley – Kenny Dalglish, Don Welsh (4-4-2).

Matt McQueen played in Liverpool’s first ever match, as a half-back. “That’s cheating!”, I hear you say, but McQueen was a true utility man, making almost half of his appearances for the club in goal. Liverpool haven’t had many managers, and a lot of the recent ones’ playing careers make Jürgen Klopp’s look stellar, so we’ve had to reach back into the past here. Souness and Dalglish are the clear stand-out players, and who knows, maybe the midfield will soon look stronger.

Luton Town

Sam Bartram – Joe Kinnear, Rob Edwards, Syd Owen, Nathan Jones – David Pleat, Ricky Hill, Lil Fucillo, Neil McBain – Mick Harford, Mike Newell (4-4-2)

A bit of an outlier, in that there are plenty of goalkeepers, but not many midfielders. Legendary Charlton keeper Sam Bartram is one of three dips into the past, along with Neil McBain, the league’s oldest ever player. A pretty workmanlike XI, with a formidable strikeforce.

Manchester City

Another potentially strong team but for the lack of a keeper. There’s Pep, obviously, but also Peter Reid, Alan Ball, Kevin Keegan, Stuart Pearce, Mark Hughes and Roberto Mancini, among others.

Manchester United

There’ll be no Manchester team in this hypothetical competition. I’ll tell the children. No goalkeeper, but not much star power elsewhere either, due to United’s relatively few managers. Caretakers aside, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is probably the star of a team that would include Scotland internationals Matt Busby, Tommy Docherty and Alex Ferguson.

Newcastle United

Wille McFaul – Joe Kinnear, Steve Bruce, Jack Charlton, Chris Hughton – Ossie Ardiles, Graeme Souness – Bobby Robson, Kenny Dalglish, Ruud Gullit – Kevin Keegan (4-2-3-1)

This is about as strong as it gets. McFaul, the least stellar name, is a decent goalkeeper, with almost 300 games for Newcastle, and his small number of caps for Northern Ireland is more to do with the presence of Pat Jennings than anything else. In front of a solid defence, there’s a nicely balanced midfield pair, and a forward line with a huge amount of talent, albeit perhaps a lack of width. Such is the quality that Alan Shearer – excluded as an interim manager – isn’t as missed as he could be.

Nottingham Forest

Nuno – Johnny Carey, Aitor Karanka, Alex McLeish, Stuart Pearce – Martin O’Neill, Sabri Lamouchi, David Platt, Dave Mackay – Brian Clough, Dougie Freedman (4-4-2)

Another strong team, and not by coincidence, it’s another club that have had a lot of managerial turmoil. Strength throughout the team, and the real depth is in defence. You could pick an entire alternative back four with Colin Calderwood and Frank Clark between the familiar full-back pairing of Joe Kinnear and Chris Hughton.

Sheffield United

Kevin Blackwell – Joe Mercer, Steve Bruce, David Weir, Gary Speed – Slavisa Jokanovic – Bryan Robson, Howard Kendall – Martin Peters – Arthur Rowley, Nigel Clough (4-4-2 Diamond)

Yet more midfielders means a) a Diamond formation, b) Gary Speed at left-back, and c) Adrian Heath, Ian Porterfield, Nigel Spackman and Danny Wilson miss out. Chris Wilder and the ubiquitous Micky Adams make for decent alternative fullbacks, while in Arthur Rowley, the team can boast the most prolific goalscorer in English league history.

Tottenham Hotspur

Ray Clemence – Bill Nicholson, Terry Neill, Maurico Pochettino – Ossie Ardiles, Antonio Conte, Terry Venables, Gerry Francis, Martin Jol – Glenn Hoddle – George Graham (3-5-1-1)

Once again, midfielders, midfielders, midfielders. The result is a team with a lot of ability, but a lack of width, a lack of an out and out striker, and a lack of Tim Sherwood. Caretaker managers Chris Hughton and Clive Allen would have come in handy, but rules is rules.

West Ham United

No goalkeeper here, among relatively few managers. If it was possible, the team could boast such players as Slaven Bilic, Billy Bonds, Alan Curbishley, Ron Greenwood, Harry Redknapp, Glenn Roeder and Gianfranco Zola. 

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Walter Zenga – Bill McGarry, Stan Cullis, Mick McCarthy, Ian Greaves – Stale Solbakken, Paul Lambert, Glenn Hoddle, Kenny Jackett – Ronnie Allen, Dean Saunders (4-4-2)

Three pretty good goalkeepers to choose from, but Zenga stands out ahead of Lopetegui and Nuno. It’s a solid team from start to finish, with John Barnwell, Tommy Docherty, Mark McGhee and Gary O’Neil among the outfielders that miss out.


It’s clear that midfielders, particularly central midfielders, remain the preferred choice for managers, with goalkeepers at the other end of the scale. The strongest teams come from Newcastle and Nottingham Forest, clubs in the sweet spot of being big enough to attract high-profile managers, but sufficiently chaotic that there are plenty to choose from. And finally, if you’re Sam Allardyce or David Moyes, you can manage as many clubs as you like, but you won’t get into their team because Steve Bruce probably also managed them.

What do you think? Comment below.

With thanks to Tom Adams, Dean Gripton, Denis Hurley, Chris Lepkowski, Paddy Pamment, Peter Ramsay and Will Swygart.

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