Bob Paisley: English football’s most successful manager

Adam Brown

For most fans when considering who the most successful ever manager in English football history is, Sir Alex Ferguson will spring to mind first. That’s fair enough – he won 38 trophies in his time as manager of Manchester United, including 13 Premier League titles. However, Liverpool have had someone better – Bob Paisley.

While the Liverpool legend isn’t remembered as one of the Reds greatest players, as a manager, his record is yet to be matched by any manager in English football. The closest modern examples to the period of dominance which Bob Paisley led Liverpool through are the years of Barcelona under Pep Guardiola – and that’s just coming close, not matching it.

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In 1954 after Paisley had finished his playing career with Liverpool where he won the league title, the man from County Durham was appointed as the Merseyside club’s reserve team manager. After success, Paisley’s contribution was noticed by the great Bill Shankly. This meant that in 1959, after 20 years at the club, the Liverpool legend worked as the assistant to the man who would also embed his name into Liverpool history forever.

Shankly’s tenure was highly successful. Securing the signings of the likes of Ian St. John, Ray Clemence, Steve Heighway, Kevin Keegan and many others of the long list of Liverpool greats, it wasn’t long before results started to show on the pitch. The Reds secured promotion to the first division, and soon won a trio of league titles, as well as success in the UEFA and FA cup. When retiring after such a successful career, it was Paisley who would be promoted to first team manager.

Effectively, Shankly had done the opposite of Sir Alex Ferguson when passing the torch. The manager who received an Order of the British Empire had set Bob Paisley up for success – the core of a team which could compete globally.

In contrast, David Moyes was left with a mediocre squad who wouldn’t play for him – the current Sunderland manager can’t even get Lee Cattermole to play well, we have no idea what Fergie was thinking when appointing the then Everton boss. Perhaps he just wanted to get out at the right time and knew his team weren’t able to compete anymore.


Following the retirement of the hall of fame manager in 1974, Paisley had inherited the foundations of one of the countries most successful sides. Recognising the potential of his players, the manager who had been at the club for 35 years took Liverpool through their most dominant period.

The amount of trophies won through the Liverpool legend’s nine-year tenure is ridiculous. 20 in nine seasons. Significantly, from 1976-1983, the Reds enjoyed a period where they would win either the first division title or European Cup (now known as the Champions League) every year. Seven years where Liverpool fans would enjoy the victory of one of the two most sought after trophies in football? That is a record that is unlikely to ever be matched.

In comparison with Sir Alex Ferguson, whilst hauling in 38 trophies for the Red Devils over a 27-year career, the longest streak reached was three seasons.


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Of course, football doesn’t work exactly like maths – so whilst possible, it may be over-reaching slightly to suggest that Bob Paisley would have won 60 trophies in the same 27-year period as Alex Ferguson.

What is correct though, is that England’s most successful manager averaged over two trophies (2.1) per season over his time as Liverpool manager. Reds fans could look forward to watching their team every week – they knew they were going to win at least a couple of trophies that year, so a bit like the Real Madrid of today.

When measuring the amount of matches it took per trophy, Bob Paisley OBE managed an impressive cup win every 26 matches. What is even more impressive is that no manager in English football has ever matched that total; Jose Mourinho averaged a trophy every 34 matches with Chelsea whilst Sir Alex Ferguson averaged a trophy every 48 matches over his entire career.

Both are respectable totals, but not close to the Liverpool man’s. He certainly deserved a knighthood on the same merit as Manchester United’s best ever manager.


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Whilst Pep Guardiola’s trophy record is impressive from his time at Barcelona and Bayern Munich – he’s failed to prove the skeptics wrong this season in regards to whether the Spanish manager can win trophies without a team of stars. Manchester City are of course a great team, but the difficulty in winning a trophy in England is much higher than in Spain or Germany – regardless of squad strength.

So while some may argue that Pep deserves to be credited as the best manager to have managed in England based on his previous jobs, he’s still got a lot more to prove before he even reaches the levels of Ferguson, Mourinho and even Arsene Wenger.

With the former Barcelona and Munich manager unproven, the figures suggest that it is Bob Paisley who is English football’s best ever manager.

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