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Michael Duff’s Big Decision: Cheltenham, Barnsley, or Blackpool?

Michael Duff has worked wonders at Cheltenham Town
Michael Duff has worked wonders at Cheltenham Town

Michael Duff has a big decision to make this summer as his future dominates discussion in the managerial arena.

The highly-rated manager has won widespread admirers for the impressive work he’s done at current club Cheltenham. A side that were 18th in League Two when they gave Duff his first taste of management in September 2018. On a small budget, he’s since rewarded the club’s faith in him with a League Two title win, followed up with 15th in League One last term - their highest ever finish.

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In recent weeks the talismanic Robins boss has featured in multiple manager markets, two of which are Barnsley and Blackpool, both of whom have set their sights on the 44-year-old.

“It is common knowledge that Barnsley have requested permission to speak to Michael as part of their new manager recruitment process and we have now received an approach from a Championship club as well,” Cheltenham revealed in a statement on Monday night. 

“Michael has been given permission to speak to both clubs but we remain hopeful that he will stay to continue his work at the Completely-Suzuki Stadium.”

Duff - the eighth longest-serving manager in the Football League - has a year to run on his current contract at Cheltenham, who are obviously desperate for their in-demand incumbent to stay and have subsequently offered him a new deal.

Climbing up the league ladder is the goal for any ambitious boss. We’ve already seen various managers switch jobs so far this summer: From Neil Critchley trading the top job at Blackpool for a role as Steven Gerrard’s assistant at ambitious Aston Villa, to Watford luring Rob Edwards from League Two victors Forest Green Rovers, who subsequently attracted Ian Burchnall from National League side Notts County.

Duff, a brilliant coach, must now decide whether he wants to continue on his upward trajectory at Cheltenham where he is obviously adored, or move to another club in League One - Barnsley - who will be expected to challenge for promotion after their relegation from the Championship, or instead jump right up into the second-tier with Blackpool who finished 16th under the excellent Critchley last term.

At the time of writing, the latest developments have seen Duff emerge as the new bookies’ favourite for the Blackpool job (6/4 with both William Hill and BetVictor), while he’s a best-priced 3/1 (BetVictor) to replace Poya Asbaghi at Barnsley. Just because he's in talks with both clubs doesn't mean he'll automatically get either job, however in truth it does seem more likely that he'll leave rather than stay.

No club wants to see a successful and transformative manager depart, but it’s difficult to begrudge Duff should he venture elsewhere. Both jobs would provide the Northern Irishman with a higher salary, bigger budget, and in Blackpool’s case an instant elevation into the Championship. 

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