It's FA Cup quarter-final weekend, with eight managers doing their best to guide their teams one significant step closer to a Wembley showpiece final. Despite the more seductive charms of the Premier League and Champions League, the world's oldest knockout competition still exerts a pull on the heartstrings of football fans around the world.
Yet, in the rich history of the FA Cup, which has witnessed well over 60,000 matches, played by more than 3,000 clubs, spanning 138 years and 128 individual tournaments, the role of the managers has been somewhat overlooked. The Cup is comprehensively recorded in terms of teams, players, results, venues, attendances and even referees, but surprisingly few lists honour the managers.
So who are the all-time tactical kings of the FA Cup? Who have masterminded their teams to most success in the competition? And how would you measure that? The most obvious yardstick is the number of triumphs in the final itself - but what about total number of victories in FA Cup ties? That would reflect success in the final, as well as consistent progress towards the latter stages of the competition, season by season. It would also reflect longevity, which itself a fair indicator of a manager's ability.
Measured by the total number of wins in the competition, two current bosses stand out among the top five, revealed below. But at number five, there's a somewhat surprising name...
5th - 45 wins - GRAHAM TAYLOR (Lincoln City, Watford x2, Aston Villa x2, Wolves) - Final Appearances 1; Final Triumphs 0
The one-time England boss racked up 45 FA Cup wins in a club management career that spanned 31 years. The high-point of his FA Cup record was steering Watford, the club with whom he is most closely associated, to the 1984 final, where they lost 2-0 to Everton. Although managers like Bill Nicholson and Keith Burkinshaw at Tottenham Hotspur actually won the trophy more than once, Taylor's record reflects consistent progress through the rounds: in his first spell at Watford, he took the Hornets to at least the fifth round in seven seasons out of eight between 1980 and 1987.
4th - 46 wins - ARSENE WENGER (Arsenal) - Final Appearances 5; Final Triumphs 4
The Frenchman is targeting another FA Cup triumph this season - Arsenal host Burnley on Sunday for the right to meet Hull City in the quarter-final - and has steered the Gunners to the fifth round or better in 10 of his 13 seasons in charge.He wasn't the first non-British manager to lift the Cup - that was Ruud Gullit with Chelsea in 1997 - but he is certainly the most successful, with final triumphs in 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2005. Wenger was also involved in the first final to feature two managers from outside the British Isles, losing to compatriot Gerard Houllier’s Liverpool in 2001. Wenger has the distinction of being the first overseas manager to lift the cup and win the League in the same season (1998), a feat he repeated in 2002, and the first to retain the trophy - in 2003 when Arsenal beat Southampton, having defeated Chelsea in the final 12 months earlier.
3rd - 49 wins - BILL SHANKLY (Carlisle United, Grimsby Town, Workington, Huddersfield Town, Liverpool) - Final Appearances 3; Final Triumphs 2
No fewer than 40 of the legendary Shankly's 49 FA Cup wins were achieved while in charge of Liverpool, with whom he will forever be associated. He is the manager who really put the Reds on the map, creating the Anfield Boot Room dynasty, and among his list of achievements was guiding Liverpool to their first-ever winning FA Cup final in 1965, when the Reds defeated Leeds United 2-1. He was a losing finalist against Arsenal in 1971, but ended his managerial career on a high as Liverpool thumped Newcastle United 3-0 in the 1974 final, Shankly's last game in charge.
2nd - 61 wins - MATT BUSBY (Manchester United) - Final Appearances 4; Final Triumphs 2
Another Scottish legend, Busby had won and lost FA Cup finals in the 1930s as a Manchester City player, but it was as manager of the other Manchester club, from 1945, that his legend was created. He steered United to five League titles and European Cup glory, but also boasted an outstanding record in the FA Cup. His ageing team beat Blackpool 4-2 to win the trophy in 1948 and, 15 years later, he was a winner again as the Red Devils beat Leicester City 3-1. But perhaps Busby's greatest moments in the competition were in defeat. In 1957 his Babes, the League champions, were narrowly beaten by Aston Villa at Wembley after losing goalkeeper Ray Wood to injury in the sixth minute. And a year later, having defied death in the Munich air disaster that claimed the lives of eight of his players, the seriously injured Busby was back at Wembley alongside his able lieutenant Jimmy Murphy as a hastily put together team succumbed 2-0 to Bolton Wanderers.
1st - 71 wins - ALEX FERGUSON (Manchester United) - Final Appearances: 8; Final Triumphs 5
The undisputed Daddy of FA Cup managers is United's other knighted gaffer, Sir Alex, who could well add to his remarkable tally of 71 wins in the competition when his Red Devils take on Fulham today. Fergie has enjoyed unprecedented success in the Cup, as he has in the Premier League, winning the trophy in 1990, 1994,.1996, 1999 and 2004, and being the beaten finalist in 1995, 2005 and 2007. He is targeting glory again this season as United go after an unheard of quintuple. Yet his most significant victory, according to popular mythology, was in the third round in 1990. Had Mark Robins not scored in a 1-0 win against Nottingham Forest, it is widely assumed that Ferguson would have been sacked after four largely undistinguished years at the Old Trafford helm. They went on to win the Cup that year, and the rest really is history.
Graham Lister, Goal.com