Line of Gold Stars Against Dark Background

Which Manager Has Won the Most Champions League Titles?

As the 2022/23 season draws to a close we have eight fantastic teams left in the UEFA Champions League. Whilst much of the focus is on whether Man City can finally land the biggest prize in domestic football, or whether one of the three Italian teams in the quarters can go all the way, it is also worth noting that managerial history is there for the taking too.

The best teams often have the top managers and so it should come as no surprise that we see some of the game’s elite coaches involved at the business end of the UCL. Indeed, at the time of writing two of the most-fancied sides left in the competition are managed by men looking to further write their names into the history of the Champions League. But just which manager has won the most UCL titles overall?

King Carlo Bids for Fantastic Five

Carlo Ancelotti as Real Madrid Manager
Image: LevanteMedia, Bigstock Photo

One man stands alone at the head of Champions League-winning managers and that man is Carlo Ancelotti. The former Italy midfielder is the most successful manager in the history of the competition, including when it was known as the European Cup. Whether you call him Don Carlo or King Carlo, the man from Reggiolo has won the CL four times … as a manager. In total the one-time Everton boss has six titles to his name, claiming the trophy as a player, back when it was known as the European Cup, in 1989 and 1990 as part of the brilliant AC Milan team of the era.

Aside from the Toffees, Ancelotti has managed many of the biggest teams in European football. Indeed, of the 2022/23 quarter finalists, he has taken charge at Chelsea, who his current side Real Madrid face in the last eight, as well as second-favourites Napoli, Bayern Munich and his former team, AC Milan. So in addition to PSG, Juventus, Parma and Reggiana (where he began his managerial career), the avuncular boss has managed five of the eight teams in this year’s quarters.

That is some record, but his four victories in this competition have been split between two teams, probably the two he is most typically associated with: Milan and Real Madrid. With the Rossoneri, where he won two Serie A titles as a player, he scooped the CL in 2002/03 and 2006/07. His side also famously lost to Liverpool in the 2005 final despite having led 3-0 with just 36 minutes to go.

His titles with Real were split between his two stints in charge, his victory in 2013/14 not enough to keep him in the Madrid hot seat beyond May 2015. Via Bayern Munich, Napoli and Everton he found his way back to the Bernabeu in the summer of 2021 and promptly delivered them La Liga (becoming the first manager to land the top-flight title in Europe’s big five leagues) and the Champions League.

Ancelotti is almost universally liked and that is some achievement for someone so successful. Loved by players and fans, he is calm and composed and rarely, if ever, criticises officials or opponents, or blames bad luck or injuries. He is tactically superb yet also gives players great freedom to express themselves. He is often pragmatic but that has helped him achieve great longevity – he was named Serie A Coach of the Year (for the first time) in 2001.

Carlo may yet add to his four Champions League titles, either this season or in the future. And whilst Real may dispense with his services at the end of the current campaign (possibly even if he brings them yet another CL title), there will be no shortage of offers for his services. Not 64 until June 2023, if Roy Hodgson is anything to go, Ancelotti could be managing at the top level for another decade!

Bob and Zizou Best of the Rest

One, Two, Three, Silver Numbers

Like Ancelotti, Zinedine Zidane is part of the super-elite group of footballers to have won this competition both as a player and a manager. Also like Carlo, former France ace Zidane has won the CL as coach of Real Madrid and, once again like the Italian, he has enjoyed two separate spells as boss of the Madrid giants.

The former World Cup winner claimed the UCL title with Real in 2016, 2017 and 2018, an incredible hat-trick. He then left the club, but whilst a second spell in the Bernabeu dugout brought another Liga title, a season without silverware followed and the powers that be went knocking on Carlo’s door!

The other manager to have won this famous competition three times is Liverpool’s Bob Paisley. The County Durham-born Reds legend spent almost half a century with Liverpool and built on the work of Bill Shankly before him. He won far more than Shankly did too, including the European Cup in 1977, 1978 and 1981, as well as six league titles and the UEFA Cup!

Where do Pep, Mourinho and All the Rest Stand?

There are 17 managers tied for fourth spot in terms of the all-time European Cup/Champions League managerial roll of honour.

Manager 1st Win 2nd Win
Jupp Heynckes 1998 (Real Madrid) 2013 (Bayern Munich)
Pep Guradiola 2009 (Bracelona) 2011 (Barcelona)
Jose Mourinho 2004 (FC Porto) 2010 (Inter Milan)
Alex Ferguson 1999 (Manchester United) 2008 (Manchester United)
Vincente del Bosque 2000 (Real Madrid) 2002 (Real Madrid)
Ottmar Hitzfeld 1997 (Borussia Dortmund) 2001 (Bayern Munich)
Arrigo Sacchi 1989 (AC Milan) 1990 (AC Milan)
Ernst Happel 1970 (Feyenoord) 1983 (Hamburger SV)
Brian Clough 1979 (Nottingham Forest) 1980 (Nottingham Forest)
Dettmar Cramer 1975 (Bayern Munich) 1976 (Bayern Munich)
Stefan Kovacs 1972 (Ajax) 1973 (Ajax)
Nereo Rocco 1963 (AC Milan) 1969 (AC Milan)
Miguel Munoz 1960 (Real Madrid) 1966 (Real Madrid)
Helenio Herrera 1964 (Inter Milan) 1965 (Inter Milan)
Bela Guttmann 1961 (Benfica) 1962 (Benfica)
Luis Carniglia 1958 (Real Madrid) 1959 (Real Madrid)
Jose Villalonga 1956 (Real Madrid) 1957 (Real Madrid)

These men have all lifted the trophy on two occasions and include Real Madrid duo Jose Villalonga and Luis Carniglia, who landed the cup in 1956 and 1957, and 1958 and 1959 respectively. Alex Ferguson is also a dual winner, as is the legendary Brian Clough, whilst Arrigo Sacchi coached Ancelotti at Milan for victories in 1989 and 1990.

Jose Mourinho became the first manager to lift the Champions League (by which we mean post-rebranding from the European Cup) with two different sides when he added the 2010 title with Inter to the one he won in 2004 with Porto. Guardiola, much to his frustration, has been very much a one-club man in terms of this competition though. His two victories as a manager came with Barcelona in 2009 and 2011, whilst he also lifted the trophy as a player with the Catalans in 1992.

He left Barca and took a brief sabbatical before moving to Bayern Munich in the summer of 2013. Domestically his side were dominant and broke a number of records but despite winning the Bundesliga in 2014, 2015 and 2016, he could not take Bayern past the semis in the Champions League.

At Man City we have seen a similar picture so far – domestic supremacy but continental struggles. The Manchester outfit have routinely started the season as favourites to win the Champions League only to fall short. Since 2017/18 they have made the quarters at least but the closest Pep has come to adding a third title was in 2020/21 when City lost the final to Chelsea.

In 2021/22 they somehow conspired to lose in the semis to eventual champions Real, despite dominating both games and being two goals to the good as stoppage time in the second leg approached. Guardiola will hope his side have learnt from that and that, at long last, City can win the biggest prize of all and he can claim his third success in the competition.

At the time of writing City have one foot in the 2023 semis following a 3-0 win over Bayern. Can Pep join Zidane and Paisley on three titles and maybe even go on to match – or surpass – Ancelotti? It would be a minor travesty if he is unable to claim a third title, whilst four certainly seems possible, be that with City or perhaps elsewhere. Time will tell.