Why Ryan Lowe deserves the Derby County job

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 23 November 2020, 13:19

Derby County are on the hunt for a new manager and EFL pundit Gabriel Sutton discusses why he thinks that man should be Ryan Lowe.

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He’s earned his chance

Germany produces some of the world’s best managers – Jurgen Klopp, Thomas Tuchel, Hansi Flick and Julian Nagelsmann – and their policy is to fast-track coaches who are successful at lower domestic levels higher up.

In England, there is a cultural stigma which detracts Championship clubs from poaching good managerial talent from lower down the pyramid.

Gary Rowett, for example, is the last League Two manager to be headhunted in the second tier – back in October 2014 - after his work at Burton and he might not have got the Birmingham job were it not for his prior connection with the club.

Now, Rowett is seen as a solid Championship manager who has done good jobs with Blues and Millwall, having got Derby into the top six too in 2017-18.

When Rowett left Burton, he had achieved two Play-Off finishes but hadn’t taken them up, whereas Ryan Lowe – granted with superior resources – has won promotions with Bury and Plymouth Argyle, leading the latter into Play-Off contention the following season.

Lowe is arguably a more innovative tactician than Rowett, so there is no reason why he could not do even better.

Wayne Rooney would be the glamour appointment for Derby, but Lowe is consistently proven to deliver in a managerial capacity.

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Lowe has two promotions in his last two seasons

Attacking football

Lowe’s Bury side scored 82 goals in their 2018-19 promotion season, the most in the division, while his Argyle outfit the following season scored two or more goals in 54% of their games.

A poacher in his playing days, Lowe has built teams that he, himself, would have loved to perform in and while on paper, his line-ups look wildly attacking, there is an intelligence to his coaching that makes it work.

The 41-year-old’s strategy is to play almost every player a bit deeper on paper than they normally would.

At Bury, for example, we saw full-backs like Will Aimson and Chris Stokes get used as wide centre-backs, wingers like Nicky Adams and Byron Moore get used as wing-backs, technical midfielders like Jordon Rossiter deployed as a number six while attacking midfielders like Danny Mayor and Jay O’Shea were turned into number eights.

Aimson, Moore and Mayor kept similar roles after following Lowe to Argyle, where the mercurial George Cooper thrived as a wing-back whilst Joe Edwards, Antoni Sarcevic, Tyreeq Bakinson and Gary Sawyer succeeded with similar positional conversions.

Lowe’s strategy is to press high with the two up top forcing clearances, meaning extra space for technically accomplished players in deeper areas to switch play and dictate terms.

Back-three

Lowe’s formation of choice is 3-1-4-2 and Derby’s squad is built perfectly for a back-three.

Andre Wisdom does not have quite good quality going forward to be a standard full-back, but on the right of a back-three he still has the impulse to make driving runs, overlapping his corresponding wing-back.

Matt Clarke, meanwhile, is arguably the Championship’s best left-sided centre-back with his ability to maraud forward intelligently and support play in the opposing half in a way that Lowe will love.

The back-three also means extra cover for Curtis Davies, who is an aerial beast but can be uncomfortable when forced into wide areas.

Plus, the likes of Mike te Wierik and Krystian Bielik lack the mobility to play in midfield, but are too good on the ball to be limited by playing centre-back in a back-four, so perfectly suit a defensive trio when fit.

Scouser solidarity

Wayne Rooney spoke in his autobiography about how Steven Gerrard welcomed him into the England setup and how that relationship helped him.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the fact they are from Croxteth and Whiston respectively, seven miles apart in Merseyside, helped them bond.

Lowe is a fellow Liverpudlian who already has a friendship with Gerrard, which is a connection that could be relevant.

If Rooney does not get the manager’s job, he will be an extremely influential player around the club and it is important for the incoming boss to have a good relationship with him and while Lowe’s background is not a defining factor, it won’t do any harm.

He’ll get Bird flying

Lowe loves a midfield metronome in the number six role.

Somebody who will not try too many Hollywood passes, but rather just recycle the ball efficiently, dictate the tempo of the game, show composure when hassled to turn and beat the press whilst tiring the opposition and subtly keeping things ticking over.

Rossiter, on loan from Rangers, did that job superbly in the second half of Bury’s promotion campaign and this year, Nottingham Forest loanee Tyrese Fornah is thriving at the base.

Max Bird is perfect for that role.

The 20-year-old is yet to develop an extensive passing range, but more than makes up for that by being equally adept on either foot.

If a midfielder has a defence-splitting pass in them but is chronically one-footed, they might start well but then struggle to adapt once opposing teams start showing them onto their weaker foot.

The beauty of Bird is that he can keep opponents guessing because of his ability to shape to pass with his right foot, but then turn and use his left to drastically change the direction of play.

Because Bird does not quite have the long range passing in his locker at the moment, it means that when he does acquire that skillset, he will have greater instincts about how and when to use it which will make him a better player in the long run.

Casting new role for Lawrence

Tom Lawrence needs re-inventing.

The Wrexham-born wide man was on the books at Manchester United for 12 years and would have had the natural ability to be playing Champions League football for the Red Devils had stars aligned for him.

The problem Lawrence has is that he remains overly reliant on individualistic moments, including mesmeric runs in from the left channel and glorious, right-footed efforts at goal.

Sometimes that allows him to steal the headlines, but other times he runs directly into traffic – a problem not helped this season by Kamil Jozwiak gravitating towards similar areas.

Lowe would re-invent Lawrence as one of two number eights and hand him a similar left-sided midfield role to the one Mayor had at Bury and now has at Argyle.

Whenever Lawrence picks up the ball high up on the left touchline, opposing rear-guards are already comprehensively structured and know exactly what to expect from him.

If Lawrence’s starting position, though, is deeper and more central, he will not only see more of the ball, but will also pose more of a threat in transition, because it will take less time to get the ball to him and opponents can be caught off-guard.

Not only that, but a new role will also see the game open up for Lawrence, who will view more of the field, thus improving his vision and ability to see options in possession beyond dribbling and shooting.

Refining Buchanan

Lee Buchanan has replaced Craig Forsyth as Derby’s left-back/left wing-back due to his superior energy levels, which was likely the correct call from Phillip Cocu.

While Buchanan has been able to get up the field much quicker than Forsyth, though, his game intelligence and quality of delivery remains limited.

When Callum McFadzean arrived at Bury from Guiseley, he was also very raw but Lowe played a huge part in expanding his game.

When Mayor drifted out into a wider area, McFadzean made inverted runs to catch opponents by surprise. 

With some quality coaching, there is no reason why Buchanan’s game would not go up another level.

Inspiring Whittaker and Hector-Ingram

Derby are unquestionably missing hold-up striker Chris Martin, who is now thriving at Bristol City.

There is reason to think, though, that in a front-two with Martyn Waghorn, Morgan Whittaker or Jamal Hector-Ingram could play a part in the pressing game Lowe likes.

Speedy Stoke signing Dom Telford was very raw when he first joined Bury, which is reflected in the fact that Darrell Clarke used him as a substitute 18 times in the league at Bristol Rovers in 2017-18 yet started him just the once.

Lowe, though, did a lot of work developing Telford, whose hassling and harrying was crucial to his side’s work off the ball - and the speedy Stoke signing finished the season as first-choice strike partner for top goalscorer Nicky Maynard.

The following season, Plymouth Argyle were short of a clinical goalscorer and Lowe found the solution, surprisingly, by recalling Luke Jephcott from his loan at seventh-tier Truro.

Jephcott has since scored 14 goals in 32 appearances for Argyle, he played a huge part in their promotion from League Two and is now in fine form in the division above, earning him recognition from Wales Under-21s.

Whittaker has represented England at each youth level from Under-16s to Under-20s, while Hector-Ingram scored a whopping 22 goals in a truncated Under-23s campaign and there is every reason to think Lowe would play a massive part in their development.

Youth development

Whether or not Mel Morris’ plans for a squad made up 50% of academy graduates is genuine, there is no doubt he has been looking to scale back and develop youth.

Lowe can advance the technical development of existing stars in Jason Knight and Louis Sibley, whilst also helping right-back Festy Ebosele, aerial centre-back Eiran Cashin, versatile defender Archie Brown and others along the conveyor belt.

Lowe is more than deserving of a chance at Championship level and Derby would be the perfect place for him to start.

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