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Five EFL managers that could have Premier League futures

Neil Critchley certainly has a bright future ahead of him
Neil Critchley certainly has a bright future ahead of him

EFL pundit Gab Sutton picks out five Football League managers who should be attracting interest from Premier League clubs, either right now or in the near future...

Neil Critchley

Why he will get a Premier League job

Neil Critchley has a clear style of play.

A lot of Premier League sides are looking to play out from the back, which means that there is value to be had from employing an extreme, high-pressing style and looking to play hopeful balls in behind to release a quick runner at most opportunities. 

That is what Neil Critchley does and, having worked wonders as Liverpool Under-23s boss, taking credit for the development of stars like Trent Alexander-Arnold, he has produced similarly impressive work in senior football.

Critchley took Blackpool up from League One in effectively his first season in charge and now has the West Lancashire outfit a mere point off the Play-Off places.

The 43-year-old will have big ambitions in management and may feel his own career can progress at a faster rate than that of Blackpool, who are now a very well-run club under Simon Sadler but may need two or three seasons before they can start to build a team with the quality to challenge for another promotion.

Next Aston Villa Manager Odds

Why he might not

He’s a relatively low-profile figure.

What normally entices Premier League clubs to give an English manager their first shot in the top flight is their reputation in senior football.

Graham Potter, for example, had worked wonders in the Europa League with Östersunds FK, Frank Lampard was a Chelsea legend, while Paul Clement had an elite coaching career.

It may count against Critchley that, as well as never having managed in the Premier League previously, he has never coached established Premier League players as part of a management team either.

That is not to say that this means the Blackpool boss couldn’t succeed if he made the jump by any means at all, but merely that he may be perceived differently to other contenders.

Suited club: Southampton (if Hassenhuttl went to Villa)

After Dean Smith was sacked by Aston Villa, Ralph Hasenhüttl is 14/1 to be poached from Southampton.

The “Klopp of the Alps” is by no means a favourite, finding himself behind the likes of Steven Gerrard and Paulo Fonseca in the list, and may not even want the job altogether: but it’s plausible that his work with the Saints will attract interest from clubs with greater financial resources.

If Hasenhüttl were to leave, Critchley would be the perfect man to pick up that legacy.

Swansea manager Russell Martin
Swansea manager Russell Martin

Russ Martin

Why he will get a Premier League job

Russell Martin is an extremely highly-rated coach.

The former defender is a very engaging person, which is perfect for motivating the modern footballer as well as galvanizing a fanbase.

On top of that, Martin’s MK Dons and Swansea sides played some of the best football in their respective divisions, with possession stats through the roof.

The 35-year-old only arrived in South Wales in the week leading up to the season and, by September, his side were producing neat, one-touch build-up play and controlling games in a far more assured manner than we saw under his predecessor.

Why he might not

Russ Martin is a ‘potential’ manager.

As much as he had done a brilliant job at MK Dons, they finished 13th in his only full season in charge, with the head coach leaving just before the 2021-22 campaign, when it looked likely they would kick on and challenge for promotion.

Similarly, one can see the building blocks in place at Swansea, who have scored some well-worked goals this season, but still they are only 12th.

If we look at managers like Chris Wilder, for example, they have gone from working in League One to the Premier League by achieving tangible success.

For all the enormous promise Martin has shown, for all the rave reviews of the style of football he has implemented, for all the praise of his man management capabilities, he has not really done anything – yet.

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Suited club: Norwich

The only club that might consider Russ Martin is Norwich City.

Even then, there is a doubt, because the Canaries may feel more compelled to look abroad, having enjoyed so much success with the appointment of Daniel Farke from Dortmund II.

However, it is very easy to imagine a world, in the next five years, in which Martin does become Norwich head coach, because he would tick so many boxes.

The former Scotland international is already a legendary figure at Carrow Road, where he plied his trade for eight years and was part of three separate promotions, and connected with so many supporters in that time.

On top of that, his tactical philosophy – as well as that of expert assistant Luke Williams – fits the ethos of the club that Farke cultivated.

Now? Maybe not. One day? Quite possibly. 

Nathan Jones is in his second spell at Luton
Nathan Jones is in his second spell at Luton

Nathan Jones

Why he will get a Premier League job

We have seen managers like Farke dominate the Championship, but then fall short in the Premier League. Why?

There are numerous possible explanations, one of which being the lack of direction, organisation and passion on the sidelines.

Farke’s approach of trusting that Plan A will work for 90 minutes was successful in the Championship, but meant when things went wrong in the Premier League more often due to the increased calibre of opposition, he was unable to give his players the tools they needed to adapt.

Nathan Jones, though, may be more successful in that regard.

The fiery Welshman demands that his side plays good football and have periods of control in their games, but that they also respond quickly to losing the ball and when they do not, the players tend to know about it.

This animated touchline demeanour means that players will be shaken out of their slumber, either in-game and, at least, after a bad performance: a Jones side never produces two no-shows back-to-back.

That is why the former defender has led Luton, over two spells, from underachieving in League Two to thriving in the top half of the Championship within five years, without needing major investment: that, surely, makes him an attractive proposition?

Why he might not

While Jones has worked wonders at Luton, he struggled at Stoke.

Of course, there were lots of mitigating factors: one of them is that, in 2019-20 especially, his side were extremely unlucky not to pick up more points.

The other, meanwhile, is that his intense management style did not work so well with the egos in the Potters dressing room.

It may be that the troubled stint in Staffordshire impacts how Jones is perceived by bigger clubs, although in reality there is reason to think he has grown from that period of his career and learnt a lot.

Suited club: Brighton (if Potter left)

Graham Potter is 14/1 in some markets for the Manchester United job, which is not yet vacant, and 10/1 for Aston Villa.

The former Swansea boss is considered one of management’s next big things and so there is every chance of him being poached from Brighton, either by an elite club or a club with elite aspirations.

Jones, though, would be an excellent replacement, having coaxed the very best out of a Luton squad with a broad, collective history of playing in the lower divisions, making them credible Championship Play-Off challengers.

Marco Silva returned to management with Fulham
Marco Silva returned to management with Fulham

Marco Silva

Why he will get a Premier League job

Having done a fabulous job at Olympiakos, Silva was poached in 2016-17 by woe-ridden Hull City and, under the Portuguese head coach’s management, the East Yorkshire club came very close to surviving in the Premier League.

The Lisbon-born boss was subsequently headhunted by Watford, who were flying as high as 4th in October, before a public pursuit of the Everton job impacted form and he was subsequently sacked three months later.

The Toffees did, then, appoint Silva and after an eighth-placed finish in his first season, poor form in the following campaign saw him lose his job.

It seems, however, as though too much weight is being put on one difficult half-season at Goodison Park, and not enough on the work he did for periods at Hull and Watford.

A man arguably written off prematurely, though, has been out with a point to prove and now has Fulham well on course for automatic promotion from the Championship: so can he restore his reputation as an exciting, young managerial prospect? Maybe.

Why he might not

Firstly, it is likely that Silva will aspire to winning not just promotion with Fulham, but the title.

It may be that the 43-year-old will want to etch a full, successful season with the Cottagers onto his CV before moving elsewhere, and it would not be a huge surprise to see him organise a move after securing top spot – if, of course, that is achieved.

That, though, could see Silva miss the boat on a Premier League job that becomes available mid-season, like the one at Aston Villa.

Suited club: Aston Villa

Silva has not done enough to earn a job at a “big six” club, he certainly will not be returning to Everton and while Wolves might make sense – with 10 Portuguese players in their first-team squad – Bruno Lage is doing a good job at Molineux.

Aston Villa, though, are after a new boss after Smith’s dismissal and Silva could be of interest: again, though, it is a question of whether Villa would be willing to wait for him until the summer, or whether he would be willing to give up the opportunity to win the Championship title.

Valerien Ismael traded Barnsley for West Brom in the summer
Valerien Ismael traded Barnsley for West Brom in the summer

Valerien Ismael

Why he will get a Premier League job

Valerien Ismael's proven to succeed against the odds.

Ismael took over Barnsley, a club that generally has expectations of struggling in the Championship anyway, when they were 21st with a mere three points from their opening six games of 2020-21.

From there, the Frenchman led the Reds to a remarkable fifth-placed finish, prior to a Play-Off Semi-Final defeat to Swansea.

Ismael inherited a high-pressing template that had already been established at Oakwell and took it to a whole new, frenetic level, with a youthful Tarn side swarming over opponents like bees.

We have seen in the FA Cup that this style of football can cause problems for possession-heavy teams, even a Chelsea side with elite quality, and there is an attraction to Ismael’s template for success as a plucky underdog.

Why he might not

One of the reasons Barnsley opted to replace Ismael with Markus Schopp, who sought unsuccessfully to evolve the style and introduce more football on the deck, was because they did not think the previous identity could produce saleable assets.

On paper, you would think a young, high-intensity, high-energy side achieving unlikely heights would lead to an avalanche of offers for their top talents like Callum Styles, but of the first team regulars, only experienced captain Alex Mowatt left, following Ismael to West Brom.

The men making decisions at Premier League clubs are successful business people and there may be genuine concerns about Ismael’s ability, despite working habitually with young players, to develop saleable assets.

On top of this, he may feel a sense of loyalty to West Brom, where the 46-year-old has an opportunity to win promotion this season.

Suited club: Crystal Palace (if Vieira leaves)

Arsenal are in excellent form at the moment, but there is a chance that a heavy defeat to Liverpool and then a shock loss to an Eddie Howe-inspired Newcastle would leave fans once again calling for Mikel Arteta’s exit.

In truth, it might take a few more bad results for a patient board to dismiss the Spaniard, but in the eventuality that Arteta does depart, legendary figure Patrick Vieira will be the first name on everyone’s lips due to his excellent work at Crystal Palace.

Vieira’s work, as well as a general effort from the club over the last 18 months to offload older players and reduce the average age of the squad, means that Palace now have a group better suited to an extreme, high-pressing style.

That could set things up nicely for Ismael, if he chooses to revisit Selhurst Park and the club he played 13 games for in 1998.

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