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Aug 8, 2013

Five managers who could join the greats

From ESPNFC's list of the 20 greatest managers of all time, six -- Jose Mourinho, Vicente del Bosque, Pep Guardiola, Fabio Capello, Giovanni Trapattoni and Marcello Lippi -- are currently managing.

But there's a promising new generation coming up behind them. In part inspired by the successes of Mourinho and Guardiola at such a young age, clubs are increasingly turning to bright, young stars who often seem to be more like academics than football coaches. Here are five such managers who could, one day, be regarded as greats.

Jurgen Klopp, 46, Borussia Dortmund

Dortmund won the hearts of many neutrals on the way to the Champions League final last season. Their incredibly high-tempo attacking football played a part, as did the incredible atmosphere at the Westfalenstadion, but particularly crucial was the attitude of Klopp.

A religious, eccentric and incredibly studious coach, there's an element of The Nutty Professor about Klopp. Like most top-level coaches, he mixes excellent man management and motivational skills with a clever tactical eye. He forms close relationships with players -- when Shinji Kagawa left for Manchester United, the duo cried together for 20 minutes, while the news that Mario Götze was set to leave the club hit him "like a heart attack."

His training approach is occasionally unconventional -- he told the Guardian that in his days at Mainz, he took the squad on a preseason trip to a Swedish lake where they had no electricity for five days and were forced to fish for their food. He is "sometimes the players' friend, sometimes their teacher," in his own words.

Dortmund's 4-2-3-1 system is difficult to explain to a neutral -- on one hand they're superb on the counterattack, and on the other, they press high up in order to regain possession as quickly as possible. Everything is conducted at an incredible speed, partly because Klopp has worked with extremely young, fit and motivated players. People used to talk about German "efficiency" disparagingly, but Dortmund have made it sexy; particularly attractive is Klopp's commitment to remaining at Dortmund despite rumours linking him with various European giants. He insists his current job is "the most interesting football project in the world."

A huge devotee of Arrigo Sacchi due to his emphasis upon compact organization, Klopp admires Barcelona not for their ball retention but because they celebrate every goal like they've never scored before, underlining their team spirit and determination. Dortmund have come close to replicating that spirit.

Antonio Conte, 43, Juventus

There was no guarantee Conte would be a success at Juventus -- despite impressing in Serie B with Bari and Siena, Conte had a difficult experience during a short-lived spell with Atalanta in Serie A.

"This club, dear lads, is coming off two consecutive seventh-place finishes," Conte announced on his first day at Juventus in 2011. "It's crazy, shocking. I am not here for this, so it's time to stop being crap."

Thanks to Conte, the transformation occurred almost overnight. The former Juve captain has performed magnificently in his two seasons with the Old Lady, winning back-to-back titles, including the first unbeaten campaign, a truly historic achievement. Last season was less assured, partly because Juventus were competing in Europe, too -- but an enlarged squad meant Conte successfully juggled the two competitions as Juve retained their title.

Initially boasting that he'd play an attack-minded 4-2-4 system, Conte eventually switched to 4-3-3 and then, later, a regular 3-5-2 formation having initially only used it to mirror certain opponents. In both his starting selections and his use of the bench, Conte has emerged as an excellent tactician, reacting cleverly and instantly to opponents' moves.

"I was expecting a good coach but not that good," said Andrea Pirlo, who joined Juventus at the same time as Conte. "I thought he was a coach with a lot of grit and charisma; instead, I discovered that tactically and technically he has a lot to teach many of his colleagues … he makes us play matches with 11 against zero, urging us to repeat the same moves for 45 minutes until we get it right. That's why we win 11 against 11."

However, Conte is also famed for his fiery motivational team talks, including a 12-minute speech toward the end of Juventus' unbeaten campaign. "People are flooding us with praise right now, but that sends shivers through me," he begun. "Why? Because I have fear, I have fear, I have fear that someone here will start to relax."

With two league titles from two seasons, Conte's next step is conquering Europe. Schooled by a rampant Bayern side last season, there's no doubt that Juventus will learn their lessons and return stronger in 2013-14.

Andre Villas-Boas, 35, Tottenham

We've become so accustomed to the sight of Villas-Boas in the dugout -- or, more frequently, squatting in front of it -- that it's easy to forget he's only 35. The Portuguese manager is younger than Antonio Di Natale, Raul and Thierry Henry.

In various ways, his journey to the top is remarkable. There was his initial breakthrough -- realising he was staying in the same apartment block as Porto manager Bobby Robson, he posted a letter through the Englishman's door, explaining why striker Domingos Pacienca should be playing more regularly. The two became close, and Robson subsequently became a key man in Villas-Boas' development. He was an international coach by the age of 21 with the British Virgin Islands, then worked under Jose Mourinho at Porto, Chelsea and Inter.

By 33, he had won the Europa League -- amazingly, defeating Pacienca and Braga in the final -- and guided Porto to an unbeaten campaign in Portugal. Those achievements, more so than his record in England, indicate what Villas-Boas is capable of -- Porto played quick, ruthless attack-minded football with a high defensive line, and their structured movement was an incredible sight to witness firsthand.

Methodical to the point of obsession, Villas-Boas demands that his players follow precise instructions but also insists upon good football -- after Porto's Europa League triumph, he apologised that they didn't put on a better show. Linked with Barcelona before Gerardo Martino's appointment, Villas-Boas will enjoy success again.

He has always insisted he wants a short career of around a decade, however -- and dreams of competing in the Dakar Rally by the time he's 50. Restricting himself to such a brief managerial career is the major barrier to his position amongst the list of all-time greats one day.

Pavel Vrba, 49, Viktoria Plzen

An outside choice, granted, but in an era when the big clubs stay big and the small clubs stay small -- unless huge cash injections are involved -- Vbra's performance at Viktoria Plzen over the past five years has been magnificent.

Vrba initially made his name by winning the Slovakian league with MSK Zilina in 2006-07 and then transitioned to the Czech Republic. Viktoria were traditionally a yo-yo club, experiencing both promotion and relegation three times in seven seasons between 1998 and 2005, but after becoming established as a midtable side, the 2008 appointment of Vrba took them to another level. He won the Czech Cup in his first full year and has since triumphed in the league twice, being named the Czech Coach of the Year in the each of the past three seasons.

Equally impressive has been Viktoria's record in Europe -- Champions League qualification in 2011-12 was a huge achievement, and after dropping down to the Europa League, they were only eliminated at the hands of Schalke in extra time. Last year, they thrashed Napoli 5-0 on aggregate before narrowly being defeated by Fenerbahce in the round of 16.

Vrba has the right characteristics to be considered for a job in a major European nation -- he's media-friendly, emphasises the importance of a long-term vision featuring youthful players and attack-minded, passing football. It's no surprise that he looks to La Liga for inspiration, although, arguably, Italy coach Cesare Prandelli would be a better comparison.

Described by Czech legend Pavel Nedved as a "fantastic coach," Vrba's job with Viktoria has seen the club record impressive UEFA coefficient scores in the past two seasons -- looking at 2011-12 and 2012-13 alone, they're ranked above Ajax, Liverpool and Roma. Vrba might be a relative unknown, but he has all the attributes to become a genuinely top-class coach.

Didier Deschamps, 44, France

He might be only 44, but it's been nine years since Deschamps led a talented Monaco side to the European Cup final, in which they were defeated by Mourinho's Porto.

Since then, Deschamps' career has progressed slowly. He coached former club Juventus during their sole title-winning season in Serie B but resigned at the end of the campaign, spurning the chance to compete in Serie A. At Marseille, he triumphed in Ligue 1 during 2009-10 and won three consecutive Coupe de la Ligues until 2012, when he resigned to replace former international teammate Laurent Blanc as coach of the Les Bleus.

His current position is why Deschamps stands a chance of being regarded as an all-time great. Should he stay in the job until 2016, he'll have a fantastic opportunity to lead France to the European Championship on home soil -- Deschamps, of course, was France's captain for both their World Cup success in 1998 in Paris and European Championship victory in 2000. Even then, he was a leader and slightly removed from the squad -- he viewed his job as "to be Aime Jacquet's link to the players."

France doesn't have the same talents as it did back then -– there's no Zinedine Zidane, no Henry, no Lillian Thuram. Nevertheless, there's still raw talent, and in three years, a spine of Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema could be considered amongst the world's best. To win major international tournaments, on home soil, as both captain and coach, would be a unique achievement.

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