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Best Young Football Managers

Newport County Manager Michael Flynn applauds the fans. Nick Potts/PA Wire.

Is your club on the lookout for a new manager?

Chances are that you’re already a little concerned the usual suspects are being called up for an interview.

However, with budgets being tightened all over the country, this could be the opportune moment for a forward-thinking board to hand an up-and-coming manager a chance to prove their worth on a higher stage.

For that reason, we’ve put our own list together of five of the most exciting young EFL managers around right now…



AGE: 45

BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE: Achieving League Two promotion with Oxford in 2016 – a feat he’s also looking to pull off at League One level with Lincoln.

Michael Appleton during the FA Cup First Round match between Ipswich Town and Lincoln City. (Photo by Richard Calver / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

THE LOWDOWN: Appleton has had such a nomadic coaching career, it’s easy to overlook the fact he’s still only in his mid-forties. His CV had been a mixed bag, but he’s one of the more experienced young EFL managers around.

After several misjudged career moves – including an ill-fated spell alongide Claude Puel in the Premier League with Leicester just as his reputation was taking off – the 45-year-old looks to have found an ideal fit with Lincoln City.

Few pundits expect the quietly ambitious Imps to be automatic promotion contenders given their relative lack of experience at this level, but Appleton’s steady hand on the tiller ensures they are ideally placed heading into the second half of the 2020/21 season.

With one promotion to his name courtesy of his impressive three-year-spell with Oxford, Appleton also now knows the art of closing out the deal. That could prove essential in a campaign that will likely end up as a war of attrition as the fixtures pile up.



AGE: 40

BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE: Becoming the FA Cup giant-killer-in-chief, thwarting Leicester, Spurs and Leeds at Rodney Parade.

THE LOWDOWN: Heavily linked with some high-profile Championship roles after a blistering start to his management career, it looked like Flynn might have missed his chance to move up a level as Newport were forced to settle for a mid-table finish in 2019/20.

However, this campaign has demonstrated the Welshman has the spark needed to freshen up a side, with the Exiles once again looking sure-fire promotion contenders in League Two.

It’s easy to see why Flynn would appeal to external admirers.

He’s shown he can excel both in firefighting – guiding Newport to a miracle escape in 2017 – and in building a promotion-chasing side, while also forging a well-deserved reputation as an FA Cup specialist – never a bad thing for a club’s balance sheets.

He probably now needs a promotion rubber-stamped on his CV to make that next step up, but, ‘in the round’, he’s shown more than enough to secure another decent EFL posting however his Newport career ultimately plays out. 



AGE: 40

BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE: Steering Crewe to promotion when the season was settled on PPG in 2019/20.

David Artell Manager of Crewe Alexandra during the League 2 match between Crewe Alexandra and Morecambe. (Photo by Alan Hayward/MI News/NurPhoto)

THE LOWDOWN: Arguably one of the more understated personalities in this list, the thoughtful David Artell has been calmly performing wonders at the Alexandra Stadium without necessarily receiving the plaudits handed out to some of his more outspoken peers.

The 40-year-old was plucked from the relative comfort zone of handling Crewe’s legendary academy when he was handed the job in 2017. After flirting with promotion for most of 2019/20, the Railwaymen were the beneficiaries of being in the right place at the right time when the music stopped in March, sitting at the top of the table when the season was unexpectedly left hanging in the balance.

Agonisingly for Artell, he was denied a league winner’s medal by the intricacies of PPG as Swindon were handed the title despite sitting in second on goal difference when the league was halted.

However, he’s arguably had the last laugh, with Crewe currently the best performing side of all of last year’s promoted teams in League One.

After 200 games in the Crewe hotseat, and with success built on bringing their young stars into the first team, the big question now is whether Artell can translate his winning formula to an unfamiliar set of players should he opt to leave Gresty Road.



AGE: 46

BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE: Making Carlisle look potential champions in waiting in League Two.

Carlisle United’s manager Chris Beech after the Sky Bet League Two match at the Banks’s Stadium, Walsall.

THE LOWDOWN: It’s fair to say the reaction was mixed when Carlisle Utd announced Chris Beech as the permanent successor to Steven Pressley in November 2019.

A largely forgettable caretaker spell at Rochdale aside, there was little to suggest the former EFL journeyman had the management credentials to turn an underperforming side into viable promotion candidates.

However, Beech was part of a highly successful coaching team at Spotland as the long-term No. 2 to Keith Hill, with a promotion on his CV from his time with the Lancashire club.

He finally looks to have seized his chance as the main man, with his early success built on Carlisle’s consistency at Brunton Park (eight wins in their first 10 home games of the 2020/21 campaign).



AGE: 42

BIGGEST ACHIEVEMENT TO DATE: Transforming Cheltenham from mid-table fodder to rock-solid play-off candidates.

Michael Duff (right) during his time with Burnley.

The LOWDOWN: Want a sure-fire route to success in the lower leagues? It seems you just need to appoint someone called Michael.

The third ‘Mike’ on our list has a vast wealth of experience at all levels of the game after a fairy-tale rise from the Southern League Premier all the way to the Premier League during a 20-year career with Cheltenham and Burnley.

Appointing a former club legend is often a no brainer for a chairman looking to appease a disgruntled fanbase.

However, Duff’s return to Whaddon Road couldn’t have been further from a simple quick-fix popularity stunt to get the fans back on side.

The former Northern Irish international is seen as one of the most tactically astute coaching brains in the fourth tier, with his switch to a 3-5-2 system helping Cheltenham power to the play-offs last season after finishing 16th in 2018/19.

Despite an improbable choke in those play-offs, Duff’s side have continued to progress nicely in 2020/21, with the club firmly in the automatic promotion fight.

Loyalty was a defining trait of his playing career after over 300 appearances for each of his two league clubs. That means it may take something special to lure him away from Gloucestershire but expect clubs to start circling if Cheltenham close out promotion in this campaign.

Images: PA Images


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