Three EFL managers set for blockbuster breakout seasons
We saw a number of Football League managers enjoy blockbuster breakthrough seasons in 2020/21.
There was our EFL Manager of the Season, Valerien Ismael, who propelled Barnsley from the relegation zone to the brink of the Premier League. In his first full season in senior management Neil Critchley elevated Blackpool into the Championship, and Mark Bonner led boyhood club Cambridge to automatic promotion up to the third-tier.
With the new EFL season now just days away, we’ve picked out three managers from the three divisions who have the potential to conjure up something truly special.
League Two: Rob Edwards (Forest Green Rovers)
We’ve become accustomed to seeing League Two clubs provided a platform for young coaches to thrive. Mark Bonner led Cambridge to promotion last season, Richie Wellens lifted the title with Swindon in 2019/20, while Ryan Lowe bagged back-to-back promotions with both Bury and Plymouth.
Who could be next to sparkle on the talented young manager conveyor belt?
Step forward Rob Edwards, the Forest Green Rovers head coach.
It will be the first time in five years that Rovers kick-off a season with a new manager at the helm, and the fact that the club secured the appointment early doors (May) means that the 38-year-old has had time to adjust to his new surroundings as he looks to stamp his blueprint upon the club.
“I want to bring an exciting, attacking brand of football that’s good to watch but obviously we’ve got to try and win games,” he said upon his appointment.
Edwards also spoke about the intensity he wants his side to operate at, taking risks, controlling the ball in the opposition's half, and the employment of a high-press. While the early signs show he could be set to adopt a fluid 3-4-1-2 formation.
The highly-rated young coach attracted attention following his dual role as England U16s boss and U20s Assistant for the FA, and was previously an in-possession and out-of-possession specialist coach in the national set-up.
Edwards coached Wolves U18s, was first team coach with their seniors, then spearheaded the U23s to promotion from PL2 Division 2 for the first time in their history. He also spent an invaluable year as manager of Telford United.
Forest Green will provide Edwards with an ideal environment to hone his managerial skillset, develop young players, and push for promotion at a club that’s reached the play-offs in two of the last three seasons.
Chairman Dale Vince has spoken of the “sports science and analytics” elements that Edwards and his assistant Richie Kyle bring to the table, whereas Football Director Richard Hughes spoke positively about Edwards’ “great coaching pedigree” and “progressive views for the future of the game.”
Exciting times ahead for both club and manager.
- League Two title odds: 14/1
- Promotion Odds: 10/3
League One: Leam Richardson (Wigan)
Leam Richardson did an absolutely incredible job in incredibly turbulent circumstances last term.
For large parts of the season it looked like the troubled Latics would be relegated down to League Two. They were reeling from the 12-point deduction which resulted in their demotion from the Championship, they were in administration, under a transfer embargo, players were pinched, the training ground was sold, Paul Cook left, then John Sheridan ditched the club in November after just 15 games.
It was caretaker Richardson who was left to pick up the pieces. He kept Wigan in the league thanks to his mindset, courage, grit, and work ethic.
Now the club’s permanent manager, the ambitious 41-year-old is a dark horse to orchestrate a play-off charge.
An almost inescapable feeling of gloom dominated the club last summer but this has since been replaced by splashes of optimism thanks to Richardson’s managerial magic wand, cracking new signings, and the takeover of Phoenix 21 which hopefully brings stability.
Among the new recruits is goal-machine Charlie Wyke, on a free transfer from Sunderland, who was runner-up in the League One goalscoring charts last season with 26 goals. “I’ve been speaking to the club for a few weeks and from the day I met the manager, I knew this was the club I wanted to play for,” revealed the striker.
Richardson’s achievements went somewhat under the managerial radar last season, but now in far more favourable circumstances he has the chance to elevate his already heroic status at Wigan to glorious new heights, and in the process gain the widespread external plaudits he deserves.
League One title odds: 12/1
Promotion odds: 4/1
Championship: Russell Martin (Swansea)
When we originally penned this piece, Russell Martin featured as manager of MK Dons; a club he substantially improved since his appointment in November 2019, to the point that we were backing the 35-year-old to inspire a play-off push this season.
Then, boom. Managerless Swansea set their sights on Martin, made an approach, then unveiled him as their new boss over the weekend. MK Dons have understandably been left deflated at the turn of events - here's a look at the contenders for the vacancy - whereas the Swans will feel they’ve found the ideal candidate to follow in the footsteps of Graham Potter and Steve Cooper.
Martin caught the eye after transforming a relegation-threatened Dons side into a progressive, entertaining outfit with a concrete identity and buckets of potential.
He’ll now look to make his mark in the Championship, which is an obvious step up for a manager still in the early stages of his career. Both pressure and expectations will increase, yet Martin has the belief, confidence in his methods, and determination to be a success at the Liberty Stadium.
Despite leading the Swans to consecutive play-off finishes - and the final last season - Cooper’s side often lacked panache and his in-game management was questioned at times. New face Martin will bid to ramp up the entertainment factor and inject a bit of flair.
“I am looking forward to giving them a team that excites them, that they enjoy. I want to watch our team from the side of the pitch and enjoy it, otherwise what’s the point?
“I don’t want to be involved in anything that I don’t enjoy, and that includes watching our own team.
“I want to give the fans a team they can be proud of and identify with. A team that looks the same everywhere we go, be it at the Liberty Stadium or away from home. It will be a team that gives them everything they have got.”
Challenges undoubtedly lie ahead for Martin given that Swansea’s parachute payments have stopped while Andre Ayew, Marc Guehi and Freddie Woodman have all left the club. Captain Matt Grimes could also be set to depart.
Martin will need to strengthen his squad and his style may take time to implement given that he’s had less than a week to prepare for the opening fixture.
Swansea may not be expected to compete with the big guns and hot promotion favourites, but after announcing himself at MK Dons last season Martin looks like an ideal fit at the Liberty Stadium. He’s said all the right things, now he’ll be determined to prove that he can deliver.
Championship title odds: 25/1
Promotion Odds: 7/1