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Greatest Managers, No. 17: Jock Stein

"John, you're immortal now."

Bill Shankly used Jock Stein's given name in the aftermath of Celtic winning the 1967 European Cup; his 1985 passing exposed the mortality of the football manager.

Jock Stein led a group largely made up of Glasgow lads to be the best in Europe.
Jock Stein led a group largely made up of Glasgow lads to be the best in Europe.

Stein's achievement in winning the Lisbon final of 1967 notched the mark that all British managers must reach: Celtic were the first British club to win the competition. When Matt Busby presented Stein and his Hoops with the BBC's Team of the Year award for that year, he could hardly take his hands off the trophy he had craved for so long himself. Stein had beaten him to it.

Celtic had achieved it through a group of players that was as parochial as any that have won Europe's greatest club prize. All but one of the 15 squad members who won the European Cup hailed from within 10 miles of Celtic Park. Stein's team played a relentless style of attacking football that blew away Inter's catenaccio game, never giving Helenio Herrera's team a minute's rest.

It was the crowning glory of a team that actually won a quintuple of trophies in that year. Celtic were in the midst of winning nine league titles in a row. Stein, a former Celtic player who had spent 13 years as a coal miner, was their mastermind.

 

With a photographic memory for teams, players and their facets, he was a supreme man-manager whose grasp of the psychological side of the game was years ahead of its time. Stein was also a progenitor of ideas like zonal marking, but did not choose complicated technical terms for such practices. The managers who have been schooled by Stein are legion. Scotland's continuing proud tradition of coaches owes its lineage to him. Sir Alex Ferguson and Walter Smith both learned their art from "Big Jock," as did David Moyes.  

Avowed socialist Stein was a benevolent dictator who knew just when to put an arm round some players and fire a rocket up others. His force of personality always earned their respect. Former players now in their 70s call him "Mr Stein" to this day.    

In the era of Shankly and Busby, Stein was the highest achiever, and he should have won more. Celtic lost in the 1970 European Cup final to Feyenoord, a match Stein admitted he could have prepared better for.

A car crash in 1975 all but ended his time at Celtic, and a 44-day spell at Leeds came to a close when he left to take the Scotland job. He qualified his country for the 1982 World Cup, and was in the process of doing so for the 1986 edition when the game was robbed of one of its greats. With assistant Ferguson at his side, Stein was overseeing a play-off in Cardiff against Wales. Stein collapsed as the final whistle blew at Ninian Park. He had suffered a heart attack.

Ferguson arrived in the tunnel to be informed by a tearful Graeme Souness that "the Big Man" was "gone."

ESPN FC’s Top 20 Greatest Managers was determined by a polling process of over 20 regular columnists, contributors and editors at ESPN FC.

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