Benitez exited Chelsea after a tumultuous period and moved to Napoli in the close season following Walter Mazzarri’s departure from The Little Donkeys. His first job was to cope with the departure of Edinson Cavani for a reported $96 million to Paris Saint-Germain – a record sale for the Italians. Luckily for Benitez, he was able to strengthen the squad - Gonzalo Higuian, Raul Albiol and Dries Mertens all came in for fees. Overall, it was a mixed season for the Spaniard, following a last-16 departure from the Europa League; he won the Coppa Italia and added Champions League football next season.
Getty ImagesMarco Luzzani
Rudi Garcia, Roma
In spite of losing some crucial players in the offseason – namely Marquinhos and Erik Lamela -- first-year French coach Rudi Garcia, who had led Lille to a French double a few years earlier, convinced the skeptical Roma fans. They won their 10 first league games in a row. Thereafter, they drew four consecutively, giving up the lead to Juventus and never reclaiming it. But they didn’t lose a league game until January – rather painfully, to Juve – and have lost just three overall. They gave the Old Lady a real run for her third title in a row, showed off some dazzling soccer in the process and have already broken the club record for most points in a Serie A season – they have 85 with two games to spare; the old record was 82. They will finish second this year. And with a new stadium in the works, Roma could once again be a real player in Italian soccer.
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Antonio Conte, Juventus
When Conte took charge three years ago he was tasked with guiding Juve back to the top of Italian and European soccer. It is safe to say he has emphatically succeeded in Italy but fallen plenty short in restoring The Old Lady as a force to be reckoned with on the European scene. All that said, Conte, led his team of stalwarts and youth to a third-straight Scudetto this term. While their Champions League performance left a lot to be desired, crashing out at the group stage and going on to lose in the Europa League semifinals. It remains to be seen whether the Monaco target will be with Juve past the end of the season after saying he is unsure where his future lies.
Getty ImagesGiuseppe Bellini
Pep Guardiola, Bayern Munich
It’s no enviable task to step away from one of the greatest teams in modern times and then take over one of the other greatest teams in modern times. But after leaving Barcelona after the 2011-12 season, Guardiola took a sabbatical before taking the Bayern Munich job for the 2013-14 season. And, somehow, he made the defending European champions better. Their soccer flowed as it never had before, as he combined his trademark tiki-taka with the club’s established wing play and elite athleticism. Bayern won the league title in March, earlier than any other team ever before, and are in the DFB Pokal final. A bad week tripped them up against Real Madrid in the Champions League semifinals – and Pep should certainly be held accountable for that – but this was nevertheless another banner year for FC Hollywood.
AFP/Getty ImagesCHRISTOF STACHE
Ernesto Valverde, Athletic Bilbao
After failing to ensure Champions League game time for Valencia last season, Ernesto Valverde, returned to Bilbao for his second spell at the helm of the Basque outfit. Eight years after leaving the club that gave him his best years as a player – scoring 44 goals in 170 appearances – he secured Champions League soccer for The Lions following a 16-year absence. Probably the most impressive aspect of his success is the clubs policy of only promoting and recruiting from the Basque region of Spain – a stance that has seen players such Ander Iturraspe flourish.
Getty ImagesJuan Manuel Serrano Arce
Carlo Ancelotti, Real Madrid
After three consecutive semifinals eliminations, the Italian’s cool, measured management has finally brought the royals to their first Champions League final since 2002. At last, they can claim La Decima, their tenth European title, should they prevail against Atlético Madrid in Lisbon on May 24. In the meantime, they have already won the Copa Del Rey and will take the La Liga title race down to the final weekend. And all the while, a rare calm has descended over the Bernabeu, where drama has been practically non-existent – a stark contrast with the three preceding high-intensity José Mourinho years.
Real Madrid via Getty ImagesAngel Martinez
As the first manager since the 1950s to make it to a fifth season in charge of Benfica, it’s plain that the fiery Jesus has done something right in his first job with a big club in his 25-year career. He won his second league title this year, after three consecutive second-place finishes; has Benfica in the Portuguese cup final, after losing it last year; and could won his fourth league cup. More impressive still, Benfica are back in the Europa League final, after losing last year’s one to Chelsea on an injury-time goal. A Portuguese side isn’t supposed to be able to compete at such a consistently high level continentally anymore. Yet under Jesus, Benfica are somehow managing.
Getty ImagesValerio Pennicino
Diego Simeone, Atletico Madrid
The bruising midfielder has become the brilliant manager. In just his second full season as Atlético Madrid manager, the Argentinean, who defended the club colors for five seasons as a no-nonsense enforcer, has turned the perpetually unfortunate club into winners. Barca and Real tower over them domestically – in terms of talent, popularity and resources – and in Europe there are many richer and more famous sides. But Simeone’s defense is so tight and his attack so clinical that Los Colchoneros compete regardless. And how. They are in the Champions League final against Real and lead La Liga through 36 of 38 playing rounds. Since they haven’t won La Liga since 1996 and haven’t been to the final of the top European cup since 1974, that is an achievement indeed.