What next for Liam Manning?
After a single season employed in the EFL, Liam Manning has announced himself as one of the brightest managerial sparks in the game.
The 36-year-old fits the profile of a young and hungry coach whose impact at MK Dons appears to have caught the eye of managerless clubs further up the league ladder in the Championship, meaning the in-demand boss could soon have a big decision to make.
“Short-term future is I’m going to have a beer in a minute,” Manning said after MK Dons’ promotion push came to an end on Sunday.
“I’m going to reflect on the season. I want to be the best I can. I want to learn and improve.”
Below, we take a look at his options this summer, while you can see the results of our poll right here.
Stay at MK Dons
First and foremost, Manning is contracted to MK Dons.
Appointed back in mid-August following Russell Martin’s untimely departure to Swansea, Manning has since built on his predecessor’s work; piecing together a young and exciting team who play attack-minded, possession-based football.
Without the benefit of a pre-season, Manning conjured up a spirited League One title charge but despite pummelling Plymouth 5-0 away on the final day of the season, results elsewhere meant MK Dons finished 3rd and had to settle for a place in the play-offs.
His side have since agonisingly lost 2-1 on aggregate to Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe. They won the return fixture 1-0 and had 29 shots to Wycombe’s two during the game, but unfortunately couldn’t find that elusive second to level the tie.
Fans will have enjoyed what they saw this season and be proud of the style, effort, and upwards trajectory that this team are on. Sticking to his set of principles and methodologies is important for Manning, who recently said: "We don't change, we approach every game with the same attitude, the same discipline, the same behaviours that we need to try to perform and win."
After the Russell-to-Swansea saga last summer, MK Dons will hope there’s not another repeat involving Manning. While he’ll no doubt have ambitions to manage in the Championship, Manning will surely be confident of leading another promotion charge next season, especially with a full pre-season behind him this time around.
Should Manning be interested in an immediate jump up into the Championship, then there’s a vacancy currently up for grabs at QPR following the exit of Mark Warburton.
And it’s a job in which Manning has been hotly linked with and - at the time of writing - remains the bookmakers’ favourite for at 5/2.
QPR have opted to go in a different direction after parting ways with Warburton and it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if Manning was on the club’s radar. He’s a hungry, young manager who plays an eye-catching brand of football, and has just completed an impressive debut season in EFL management.
While he'd look to keep the spine of the QPR team together, given his player-development record a move for Manning could also signal a shift towards building a young, talented and energetic team for the future. The step up to the Championship is a big one but it would be intriguing to see the job Manning could do at this level.
*NOTE: The Watford job has since been taken by Rob Edwards*
We now know the not-so-secret news that Watford will be looking for a summer replacement for Roy Hodgson, who will leave at the end of the season once his short-term contract expires.
After the back-to-back failures of seasoned campaigners Hodgson and his predecessor Claudio Ranieri, Watford are believed to be targeting an upcoming British boss to lead their charge back to the Premier League next season; someone who can invigorate the fanbase after an unenjoyable top-flight campaign.
So far we’ve seen QPR assistant John Eustace hotly linked, Neil Critchley has caught the eye at Blackpool, as have title winners Leam Richardson (Wigan, League One) and Rob Edwards (Forest Green Rovers, League Two). Manning is also a name that will have popped up on Watford’s radar.
A best-priced 20/1 (BetVictor) for the Hornets hot-seat, Manning is currently located outside the early cluster of favourites in the next Watford manager odds, but now MK Dons’ season has officially ended we could well see a shift in the betting.
It will be a summer of change in many ways at Watford, who are likely to face a fight to keep the likes of Ismaïla Sarr and Emmanuel Dennis. Yet, it also offers an incoming manager the opportunity to implement his own style, orchestrate a more youth-focused approach, and utilise the academy.
Should the notoriously trigger-happy Pozzos be willing to adopt a more patient and long-term attitude to managers then someone of Manning’s potential could thrive.
Another interesting move to ponder is Blackburn Rovers.
There's still a little bit of confusion as to what is going on in regards to the future of Tony Mowbray who has said he's leaving, yet there's still not been anything official from the club.
However, it seems more than likely that a new manager will be in place at some point this summer. The question is, who?
Two-time Championship title-winner Daniel Farke and Blackburn-born/fan Gareth Ainsworth have both been linked, as have Neil Lennon and Phillip Cocu, but there's been nothing concrete so far, reflected in the betting which is wide open.
With Farke believed to favour a move to the Bundesliga and Ainsworth currently fighting it out for promotion, you can currently find some big prices in the next Blackburn Rovers manager odds, including Manning at 25/1.
Like QPR, Blackburn endured an untimely slump which meant they missed out on the play-offs this season. However, they've made real progress and there's definitely potential for another promotion push next season. It's therefore crucial they get their next appointment spot on.
Manning is an excellent coach. He's not been afraid to seek new challenges to further his knowledge and gain valuable experience. From spells at West Ham and Ipswich to moving to America where he worked as an Academy Director at New York City Academy, and Belgium for a spell in charge of Lommel SK which caught the attention of MK Dons.
As mentioned in relation to QPR and Watford too, Manning has a reputation for developing young players. This could be a real bonus for Blackburn players such as John Buckley, Tyrhys Dolan, and Scott Wharton, while it could only benefit an already impressive Academy which features as one of only two Championship clubs in the U23s top table.
We've seen the success of many young, talented coaches in the EFL in recent years, however the step up to the Championship is sizeable. It's an extremely competitive and chaotic division jam-packed with a combination of exciting coaches and experienced heads.
While it would be great to see Manning get an opportunity in the second-tier, continuing his development in the third-tier is arguably the most logical decision right now. He's only 36 and has his whole future ahead of him. Things can change quickly of course and reputations can be tarnished in the blink-of-an-eye, but in a short period of time Manning has already built something very special at MK Dons who will surely be bang in the mix at the top of the table next season, giving Manning another opportunity to stamp that promotion on his CV.