Seven top young coaches to watch in European football

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Though most elite clubs usually set out to find an up-and-coming head coach or manager whenever there’s a vacancy, the majority end up going for someone well into their 40s or 50s.

The tendency to go for experience is certainly prevalent at the top clubs across Europe: Carlo Ancelotti (64) is in his second stint at Real Madrid, while Max Allegri (56, Juventus), Stefano Pioli (57, AC Milan) and Jose Mourinho (60, Roma) all have plenty of nous. Elsewhere, even names such as Mauricio Pochettino (51, Chelsea), Diego Simeone (53, Atletico Madrid) and Erik ten Hag (53, Man United), who are still considered on the rise, are 50-plus.

– Stream on ESPN+: LaLiga, Bundesliga, more (U.S.)

Excluding the English Premier League, ESPN takes a look at seven head coaches who are 45 or younger in European football who have already been backed to lead a top club, and those who might be first in line for the next opportunity.

Candidates such as Xavi (43, Barcelona), Julian Nagelsmann (36, Germany), Roberto De Zerbi (44, Brighton) and Ruben Amorim (38, Sporting CP) were featured in this piece in either 2020 or 2022 and are for that reason not included.

Just a year into his first tenure as a head coach at Bayer Leverkusen, the elegant ex-defensive midfielder with 114 caps for Spain is already earning a reputation as a managerial great in the making. It’s perhaps somewhat premature, but nonetheless he is being touted as a future boss of his former clubs Liverpool and Real Madrid.

Regardless of the flattering accolades, Alonso has undoubtedly revitalised a faltering Leverkusen side. Upon taking over last October, the Spaniard led the German club from second-bottom in the Bundesliga to a respectable sixth-place finish, reaching the semifinals of the Europa League into the bargain. One year on, Alonso’s side sit at the top of the league, having won all games bar a 2-2 away draw at Bayern Munich.

The 41-year-old’s introduction of a 3-4-3 system has made Leverkusen more balanced, in part due to the added room for the wing-backs to express their attacking potential and the extra centre-back mitigating for defensive vulnerabilities when losing the ball in midfield. But it’s not just about tactics — there’s no denying that Alonso’s man-management skills and leadership are of a high order too.

Having already turned down an offer to take charge of Tottenham in the summer, the main challenge for Slot is to manage his career rather than making a name for himself.

An advocate of high-pressing football that depends on energy, quick regaining of possession and ruthlessly efficient transitions, the Dutchman — who is loved by his players for his engaging style and clear communication — has taken inspiration from established masters of the art such as Pep Guardiola and Jürgen Klopp.

Despite his sky-high reputation, Slot is relatively new to the profession. In December 2020, his first stint in the job at AZ ended abruptly after a year-and-a-half as his preliminary negotiations with Feyenoord were not taken lightly in Alkmaar. Yet he still left AZ with a club-record average points tally of 2.11 per game.

Having picked up the reins at Feyenoord six months later, Slot — predominantly in his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation — led the club to the Conference League final and brought the Eredivisie title to Rotterdam in the following season, capturing two Rinus Michels Awards for Coach of the Year in the process.

Despite his surname — Hoeness is the son of ex-Bayern Munich centre-forward Dieter and nephew of Uli, the perennial power figure of the same club — the Stuttgart manager is making a promising career in his own right.

Tor-Kristian Karlsen is a Norwegian football scout and executive and is the former chief executive and sporting director at AS Monaco. He will write regularly for ESPN on the business of soccer and the process of scouting.

Upon quitting a relatively modest stint as a player, Hoeness went into coaching at the age of 29 and learned his trade in the progressive academies of Bayern and RB Leipzig. In the summer of 2020 he was handed the opportunity to take charge of Hoffenheim’s first team and, though his two seasons there ended in slightly underwhelming mid-table finishes, Hoeness still showed signs of being a thought-provoking, flexible coach. He alternates between a variety of systems and tactical approaches.

His most celebrated achievement to date, however, is steering Stuttgart to Bundesliga safety at the tail end of last season. With just eight games to go and five points off the relegation playoff spot, Stuttgart managed to secure safety by overcoming Hamburg (to an aggregate score of 6-1) in the two decisive playoff encounters. This campaign, Stuttgart — helped by goal-scoring sensation Serhou Guirassy’s 13 goals — are the surprise team of the Bundesliga, sitting in second place just a point behind Bayer Leverkusen.

The young Italian did not choose the traditional route to becoming a head coach at one of the most ambitious sides in a European “Top Five” league. From being the assistant coach — and part goalkeeping coach — of Roberto De Zerbi at Frosinone and Sassuolo, Farioli jumped at the chance to take charge of Turkish outfit Karagümrük three years ago.

In a fairly unfamiliar setting, Farioli did well enough to earn a move to Alanyaspor before he was rather surprisingly appointed by Nice this summer. His respectable results with mid-table Turkish sides speak volumes of his ability to adapt to unfamiliar settings and the early signs from France indicate that he’s capable of carrying on his career development there too.

Despite a difficult run of opening fixtures, Nice are still undefeated in Ligue 1, having beaten both PSG and Monaco away. Fagioli has openly admitted his gratitude to De Zerbi for pursuing a career in coaching and it’s no surprise that there are common principles shared with the Brighton manager. Under the 34-year-old, Nice play on the front foot, with early ball recoveries and plenty of players allowed into attacking areas.

Born in Belgium to English parents, Still created headlines worldwide when he was promoted to head coach at Reims following the departure of Óscar García in October last year at the age of just 30 years old.

He had worked his way up in football as a video analyst, with just one eight-game spell as an interim head coach in the Belgian second division at the age of 24. Nonetheless, Reims set off on a spectacular 17-game unbeaten Ligue 1 run (in which the French club had to pay a €25,000 fine per game due to Still’s lack of the required coaching diploma.) A year on, his side are prospering in a respectable sixth position.

From a tactical viewpoint, Reims are functional and solid — Still tends to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation — rather than experimental and adventurous, which could have been expected from an inexperienced and youthful head coach. In spite of all the media attention, Still remains humble, repeatedly uttering his gratitude for being given the head coach responsibility at such a young age, and is focusing on developing himself tactically and building strong relationships with his players.

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FRIDAY, OCT. 20 (all times ET)
• Dortmund vs. Werder Bremen (2 p.m.)
• Rotherham vs. Ipswich Town (3 p.m.)
• Osasuna vs. Granada (3 p.m.)

SATURDAY, OCT. 21 (all times ET)
• Wolfsburg vs. Leverkusen (9 a.m.)
• Norwich City vs. Leeds United (10 a.m.)
• Sevilla vs. Real Madrid (12 p.m.)
• Mainz vs. Bayern Munich (12 p.m.)
• PSV vs. Fortuna Sittard (1 p.m.)
• Feyenoord vs. Vitesse (3 p.m.)
• Celta Vigo vs. Atletico Madrid (3 p.m.)

The Brazil-born former midfielder is still best remembered for his illustrious playing days where he accumulated 30 senior caps for Italy, but he’s carving out a promising, yet relatively low-key, coaching career. That said, it’s fair to assume that Motta is being closely monitored by top clubs across Europe, in no small part due to his personal characteristics as a straight talker and hard worker who carries himself with an aura of authority.

Aside from his first job at Genoa in 2019, which lasted just two months, he’s achieved some success — firstly keeping low-spending Spezia up against most predictions at the end of the 2021-2022 Serie A season. Then, upon failing to agree a new contract with Spezia, he subsequently led Bologna to ninth last season, their highest Serie A finish for over a decade.

Unsurprisingly, Motta has managed to instill some of his own characteristics from his playing days. In a 4-2-3-1 system, Bologna play aggressively and are well-organised and hard to break down — with only six goals conceded from the first eight fixtures — despite being the third youngest squad in the league.

In an age where football managers are expected to take centre stage in the media, deliver catchy one-liners and embellish their reputations as if their lives depended on it, Arrasate represents something of an antidote. The understated Basque rarely sets news conferences alight or engages in “mind games” with his colleagues, preferring to go about his business quietly, focusing on his work at the training ground rather than creating headlines.

Having taken over Osasuna in 2018, Arrasate immediately gained promotion back to the top tier and since then the Pamplona outfit have never finished below 11th. Last season’s seventh place represents the club’s best result in 11 years, plus Arrasate led them to the Copa del Rey final.

Perhaps more importantly, though, during his five-year tenure the respected 45-year-old has managed to build a proper Osasuna DNA: a high-pressing, aggressive side that is arguably the most direct in LaLiga.

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Seven top young coaches to watch in European football

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