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Next Carlisle Manager: In-depth look at five bosses who could succeed Chris Beech

Former Carlisle captain Danny Grainger features in the betting
Former Carlisle captain Danny Grainger features in the betting

With Chris Beech departing after a poor start to the season, Carlisle are looking for a new manager. 

EFL pundit Gabriel Sutton weighs up the options for the Cumbrians….

Next Carlisle Manager Odds

Danny Grainger

Why he should get the job

Grainger is a popular figure at Carlisle for his role as a player in the mid to late-2010s.

The left-back played 165 games for the club, being captain for much of that time, and showed a willingness to lead the club as well as the team.

There would often be practical issues on match-day that the Penrith-born defender would often be willing to help out with, which shows how much he cares about the club.

Plus, Grainger has since thrived at Workington.

Having been relegated from the Northern Premier League in 2018/19 with a meagre 29 points from 40 games, the Reds were on course to win the NPL Division One West in his first season in charge, prior to the lockdown.

Additionally, the Cumbrian outfit were unbeaten in their first nine games the following season, but again the absence of fans forced the non-league scene outside the National League to close.

We have seen in recent years that Mark Molesley at Weymouth, Jason Ainsley at Spennymoor Town, Mark Bradshaw Curzon Ashton and John McGrath at Mickleover have all been able to win multiple promotions as a manager in a short space of time, because of the tight gap in quality between the leagues in the non-league system.

For that reason, it is perfectly plausible that – without the COVID outbreak – Grainger could have led Workington to successive promotions to the National League North, in which case appointing him as Carlisle boss would seem less outlandish.

On top of that, the former defender has an excellent knowledge of the non-league market and that could be crucial to finding hidden gems.

Port Vale’s Ben Garrity, for example, is one of the best box-to-box midfielders in League Two this season, yet he began his senior career playing Sunday League football in Liverpool, then played for Lower Breck in the Liverpool County Premier League in 2016/17 before working his way up the non-league system.

On top of that, Harrogate and Sutton – flying high in the fourth tier - have found gems from the National League this summer in Luke Armstrong and Joe Kizzi respectively, while the bulk of their squads have roots in the lower divisions.

Why he might not

Grainger has never managed as a number one before above step four of non-league football, although he is currently working as an assistant to Paul Sheerin at Falkirk, who are currently 3rd - and three points off top spot - in Scottish League One.

The Sack Race’s rating: 8/10

Appointing a young manager with an excellent record in non-league, who will lift supporters seems like a smart move, but Grainger remains a relative rookie.

He would need an experienced hand to guide him other than Gavin Skelton, who would presumably stay as an assistant: one option would be to re-appoint Greg Abbott as Football Advisor.

If - and only if - Grainger is appointed in conjunction with the arrival of more practiced hands, this could be an excellent appointment.

Gavin Skelton

Why he should get the job

Skelton has an opportunity to prove his credentials during the interim period, with the former assistant likely to take charge against Tranmere this weekend.

If Skelton gets a tune out of his players and finds a system that suits them, there is every chance he will be given the job until the end of the season.

Plus, it could be that the 40-year-old already has some ideas about how he would ail the Cumbrians’ current troubles, whereas somebody coming in cold would need to learn about the squad from scratch.

Why he might not

There is an inherent risk in appointing somebody with limited previous managerial experience, not to mention somebody who has had no major success as a coach.

The Sack Race’s rating: 4/10

Skelton should stay on to provide valuable advice and insight on the current crop to the new head coach, but is unlikely to be considered for the number one job: unless he oversees a drastic improvement in performances and results.

Even then, the board should take stark progress with a pinch of salt and, regardless of results, not make any long-term commitment to Skelton until the end of the season.

Former Colchester manager John McGreal
Former Colchester manager John McGreal

John McGreal

Why he should get the job

McGreal a decent job at Colchester, which arguably gets upgraded to a good job with subsequent context.

The Liverpudlian led the U’s to eighth, 13th and eighth placed finishes in League Two in his first three seasons in charge, finishing just one point off the top seven on two occasions, before his side did reach the Play-Offs in 2019/20: and beat Tottenham en route to an EFL Cup quarter-final with Manchester United that same season.

It is worth noting, too, that the Essex club had finished 10 points adrift of safety in League One in 2015/16, shipping 99 league goals the year before McGreal took charge, and have become a poor League Two side since he left.

On top of this, McGreal is one of the few names on the list who has significant managerial experience, and a reasonable track record as a number one.

Why he might not

While at Colchester, McGreal was wedded to a 4-2-3-1 formation, be that by choice or instruction.

In any case, the former Ipswich centre-back faced criticism for not having an effective Plan B, when opposing sides nullified that formation.

In many respects, that is similar to Beech. Granted, the former Rochdale assistant has suffered from the loss of numerous key players following Carlisle’s excellent form in the first half of the 2020/21 campaign, but the way the 47-year-old has adapted to those challenges has been poor.

When the Cumbrians had the athletic Josh Kayode in attack, the direct, high-pressing style worked because the Rotherham loanee won lots of headers.

Granted, Beech might have hoped the recruitment team would have been able to recruit somebody similar to Kayode to minimize the sense of transition, but he too must take responsibility for not changing the style of play to accommodate the personnel.

Is McGreal a manager who could adapt when given a longer tactical leash, rather than a set 4-2-3-1 formation across the club? Or is he a manager only capable of encouraging one way of playing? That is what the Carlisle board have to judge.

The Sack Race’s rating: 7/10

Grainger would be the preferred appointment if the board are prepared to appoint an advisor.

However, it is highly plausible that Nigel Clibbens and co. would be reluctant to do so for fear of it overlapping with Holdsworth’s position – even though in practice the current Director of Football does not have the experience or credibility to guide a young coach.

In that scenario, the superior option would be to plump for somebody who has four years of experience managing in the EFL and would not need a Managerial Consultant of any description.

On top of that, appointing Grainger would bring Carlisle a higher ceiling and a lower floor, whereas McGreal represents a safer option and would drastically increase the club’s chances of staying in the EFL this season.

League Two Odds

Zigor Aranalde

Why he should get the job

Like Grainger, Aranalde is a popular former left-back, having been part of the side that won the League Two title in 2005/06 and helped Carlisle enjoy some memorable seasons after that in League One, over 109 games.

Like Grainger, Aranalde has his merits apart from his playing legacy, having coached at a high level with Watford under Javi Gracia, while various scouting roles imply a shrewd judgment of ability and potential, as well as some useful contacts.

Watford have five players in their Under-23s squad who are currently out on loan in League One, including defender Mattie Pollock and goalkeeper Kasper Dahlberg, who are thriving at Cheltenham and Doncaster respectively.

If Aranalde can use his contacts to land third-tier quality players in the fourth-tier, that could significantly lift the Cumbrians.

Why he might not

His knowledge of the current Carlisle squad as well as the general lower league scene could be limited.

The Sack Race’s rating: 6/10

There are lots of pluses to appointing Aranalde, but the lack of lower league knowledge and recent experience could be significant drawbacks.

Clint Hill

Why he should get the job

Nobody can accurately predict how the qualities somebody might possess as a player or as a coach will translate into management. 

And yet, it is hard to discount the values that Clint Hill has brought to every club he has represented throughout his career: hard work, honesty, leadership and commitment.

When Hill’s father was ill and in intensive care, he flew to Spain to visit him while contracted to Carlisle, but then flew back in time to play in the 0-0 draw at Stevenage and won man-of-the-match.

No matter the club, Hill is remarkably dedicated to the cause and there is no doubt that those values could be enormous in his role as a manager.

On top of that, the 42-year-old already has some experience as an assistant, at Fleetwood, Bristol Rovers and Hartlepool, meaning his knowledge of the relevant divisions should be top drawer.

Why he might not

Since Holdsworth was appointed Director of Football in 2018, Carlisle have offered 23 post-season extensions and of those, just eight have been agreed – of which three subsequently did not play a league game.

Those figures imply that the club does not do enough to make it’s top players feel valued, or to make the fans feel like United are striving for better things: despite the statement summers of 2016 and 2020.

Firstly, Hill might not feel able to work effectively with the current Carlisle board, if he does not deem some members to share his values.

Secondly, the next Cumbrians boss must be patient and diplomatic, because even if they have frustrations with the board, they will have to balance those with the need to maintain healthy working relationships.

Meanwhile, he's only just joined Dave Challinor's management team at Hartlepool so it would be a surprise if he suddenly changed jobs.

The Sack Race’s rating: 6/10

There is no doubting Hill would be extremely driven to bring success for Carlisle, but the fact he has never been a number one before counts against him. 

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