2018/19 Football League Season: The 5 Managers To Watch

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 16 July 2018, 11:13

The 2018 World Cup is now over, but have no fear the brand spanking new 2018/19 Football League season explodes into action in less than three weeks.

72 managers spread across three divisions all head into the upcoming campaign with different levels of hope and expectation, five of which we take a look at below, courtesy of @_FootbalLab.

Michael Jolley – Grimsby Town

After a 2-1 defeat at Wycombe in early April, Grimsby’s form stood at a measly five points from 19 games, of which Michael Jolley had taken charge of five.

He had been unable to inspire an immediate turnaround in form and with a late-season relegation-battle looking increasingly likely, faced a defining interview with a local reporter.

In that chat, Jolley faced an initial 10 negative questions; even though his side had produced an excellent first half performance and had led for an hour against top three opposition.

The 41-year-old, relatively inexperienced in senior management, could easily have let the pressure get to him, but he always sounded in control. His presence appears to have filtered through to the players, who then won four of their final five games to secure survival.

After a summer of positive recruitment, which includes the capture of League One calibre midfielders in John Welsh and Jake Hessenthaler, the Mariners could be completely transformed this season. While it will take more than one man’s words for that to happen, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that Jolley looks set to establish himself as one of the brightest young managers in the EFL.

Chris Powell – Southend United

Everybody who has met Chris Powell will say he is an absolute gentleman. His passion for the game, his friendly manner and willingness to engage with supporters has seen him dubbed ‘the nicest man in football’.

There’s more to him than that, of course: he led Charlton Athletic to ninth in the Championship in 2012-13, just a year after picking up the League One title, to secure legendary status at The Valley.

His tenure in South London was thereon disrupted by ownership issues; Roland Duchatelet assumed control in January and took away Powell’s authority in recruitment, so it was hardly surprising that the relationship lasted just two months.

The former defender would, himself, admit that since leaving SE7, his career hasn’t been plain sailing.

The long ball football he imposed in a 14-month stint at Huddersfield was a little underwhelming; and the Nigel Pearson regime he was part of at Derby proved ill-fated.

Since then, Powell has taken some time out of management. He has been networking, scouting for Tottenham and running the London Marathon; given that he ran 26 miles in the scorching sunshine, we’ll let the 48-year-old off for saying he’ll never do it again!

He now joins the equally-draining race for promotion with Southend United and the signs are that he is very much up to the job. He has freshened up an aging squad by introducing youngsters such as box-to-box midfielder Dru Yearwood, who could be a real asset once back from injury. The recruitment has been impressive, too, with anchor man Timothee Dieng and forward Tom Hopper among several exciting additions.

After the January change of manager, Southend picked up 32 points from 18 games; enough to finish fourth over a whole season. Keep that form up this year and maybe nice guys can win after all.

John Coleman – Accrington Stanley

“I’m very disappointed. I feel sorry for the fans who’ve travelled… I’ve got to look at myself in the mirror and think what could I have done differently this week… We’ve finished this season on an unbelievable low now and I feel physically sick.”

A selection of the comments from Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman after a 3-0 loss at Swindon. A damaging defeat? No, it came just a week after his side capped the most successful season in their history by being crowned League Two champions.

It’s worth comparing those comments to what other title-winning managers said after a below-par performance that didn’t directly impact their season. Pep Guardiola had to be prompted to talk about the game after a 0-0 draw with Huddersfield:

“We prefer to win of course but credit to Huddersfield, how they have done… Today was so hot and warm… a lot of things to do, a lot of people in the training ground and it’s normal, a little bit down it’s normal."

Nuno Espirito Santo, after Wolves’ 3-0 loss at Sunderland:

"It was to do with the intensity. The players tried hard but sometimes you have to be really fair to them, a lot of players have played 50 games this season so let's be fair to each other.

"Today we wanted to achieve a victory but it was not possible. Today wasn't the best image but doesn't take away from anything we did this season."

Although these three managers don’t differ wildly in their explanations for the performance – Coleman said he gave his players too much time off – they do differ in their attitude towards it.

This isn’t about criticizing Pep or Nuno, who we have rightly praised many times, but to show how easy it would have been for Coleman to gloss over that display at the County Ground. Instead, he was angry with himself and disappointed in his players, which perhaps underlines his belief in them; and it's that belief that enabled Stanley to achieve what they did.

If all season, he had treated his players as plucky underdogs who were doing well to compete, over time the players would have felt like underdogs and therefore not be held to account after defeats.

The fact he judged his players as potential promotion winners became almost a self-fulfilling prophecy. They were being held to higher standards and therefore couldn’t afford to let them drop, which might have been a massive factor in the team’s run of 16 wins in 19 in the second half of the season that steered them to glory.

While everybody outside Accrington will understandably presume that finishing 20th would be a great debut third-tier season for the Reds, therefore, we can safely say that Coley will not be content for them to merely survive.

Garry Monk – Birmingham City

Or should we say, Garry Monk and Pep Clotet?

The duo did fine work together at Leeds United, who looked a serious promotion prospect for much of 2016-17 and accrued an impressive 75 points.

The dream team though split up the following summer. Monk was appointed Middlesbrough boss while Clotet took on the reigns at Oxford, only for both men to be dismissed from their respective jobs mid-season.

Monk’s critics on Teesside suggest that he failed to impose a clear playing identity on the most expensively-assembled second-tier squad of all-time, while Clotet was unable to instil discipline at the Kassam.

The two men are seemingly inter-dependent: both have qualities but rely on those of the other for them to shine through.

Clotet, born in Barcelona, wants his players to feel comfortable on the ball and to an extent, that is reflected in his personable style of man management.

Monk, by contrast, is very tunnel-visioned: he watches matches with striking intensity, creating the impression of a ruthless man with a strong idea of what he wants from his players.

Since the management team changed, Birmingham have been transformed from relegation-fodder to an outfit ready-made for the top half.

There is some ambiguity about the financial situation at Blues, but with the right goalkeeper, a midfield revamp and a game plan to bring the best out of Jota, then Monk and Clotet could prove that it takes two.

Alex Neil – Preston

Alex Neil had a wonderful start to his managerial career: not only did he guide Hamilton Academicals into the SPL in 2013-14, he had them competing at the top with Celtic the following season.

That kind of work was remarkable for a rookie and in January 2015, Norwich City spotted his potential and acted. The question was whether, having worked with a young and eager squad north of the border, he could manage an old squad, being just 33 then himself.

The answer was an emphatic yes: Neil had an instant impact on the Canaries, who were outside the top six when he took over, leading them to 17 wins from a possible 25 and promotion via the play-offs.

Then came the sticky period. Norwich were relegated from the Premier League and the club initially underestimated the size of the re-building job, as calls for Neil to leave were eventually granted when it became clear they would miss out on promotion.

This therefore, has been a defining period for Neil and his managerial career. It’s one thing to impress as a manager while one’s stock is high, but re-building a reputation slightly after a rough patch is in some ways even more commendable.

And that is exactly what Neil has done at Preston. While predecessor Simon Grayson deserves credit for leaving him a steady ship, Neil’s demanding man management and high-octane tactics arguably suit this young squad even more.

After finishing seventh, their highest position in nearly a decade, the Lilywhites have not lost any key players, so a top six berth in 2018-19 looks well within their reach.

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