2019/20 Championship managerial preview: Title winner, one to watch, first casualty, best appointment

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 29 July 2019, 14:49

The Championship is one of the most enthralling divisions in world football and we are seeing the standard of coaching improve every year.

Norwich City, who won the title after making a net profit in the summer transfer market, set the benchmark.

Head coach Daniel Farke and Sporting Director Stuart Webber showed that with the correct research into recruitment combined with excellent coaching, a coherent playing identity and a hint of patience mixed in, success can be achieved without the obvious ingredient of heavy spending.

Newbies Pep Clotet, Slaven Bilic, Jonathan Woodgate, Mark Warburton, Steve Cooper, Phillipe Cocu and Grant McCann hope to follow in Farke’s famous footsteps in their respective hotseats, at least in the sense that they are expected to gravitate towards young players and in some cases evolve the style of play.

If we remember Norwich’s 2017-18 campaign, though, their football was static and one-dimensional as players struggled to adapt to this new way of playing; so a lot of the aforementioned managers may require boardroom support early on.

The early teething problems our progressive coaches may face could hand an advantage to more old-school bosses.

Neil Warnock’s Cardiff will look to seize on opposition mistakes while Neil Harris’ Millwall will play to a target man once again.

The dynamics of the division could suit teams that focus predominantly on pressing and incisive transitions, so the early signs are positive for Sabri Lamouchi at Nottingham Forest if he’s given time, while Alex Neil and Daniel Stendel could outperform their budgetary rank at Preston and Barnsley respectively.

Here’s our managerial picks for the title-winner, the one to watch, the first one to depart and the best summer appointment.

Title Winner: Marcelo Bielsa, Leeds

Bielsa is one of the most fascinating managers the Championship has ever seen.

In terms of producing innovative tactical ideas, co-ordinating pressing and passing sequences plus researching opponents, prospective signings as well as his own senior and youth team players, there is nobody better in the game.

Bielsa’s genius is highlighted by the fact he elevated a small squad that finished 13th in 2017-18 to serious promotion contenders, with the only notable additions being that of Barry Douglas, Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford.

Why, then, is the Argentine managing in the Championship, rather than in the Champions League, where aspects of his work surely belong?

The common theory is that his approach is too aggressive, too attacking, too cavalier; it works brilliantly in short bursts but can then lead to a burn-out due to the intense demands.

Those who idolize Bielsa, Pep Guardiola for example, have incorporated his ideas but produced a more controlled version of them with perhaps more emphasis on ball retention.

Equally, it could be that Bielsa has previously found it difficult to connect with his players on an emotional level – partly a result of his ability to be so analytical of small details.

Still, Bielsa is an inspiration to so many and when we look at the incredibly high-quality of football Leeds have played under him, it becomes clear that the advantages of having him on board far outweigh any disadvantages.

With Helder Costa arriving to add extra quality, perhaps this will be the year he wins his first title as a manager since 1992.

One To Watch: Nathan Jones, Stoke

Nathan Jones worked wonders at Luton Town.

After the club had stagnated slightly towards the backend of John Still’s regime, Jones re-invigorated and re-energized the Hatters.

The Bedfordshire outfit reached the Play-Offs in the fiery Welshman’s first full season in charge, then scored seven or more home goals in three separate games before Christmas the following season, when they went on to win promotion from League Two.

Jones laid the template for the title win the following campaign, even if he left midway through to take the Stoke job.

Luton fans are unhappy with the manner of his exit, but much of that may be down to how loved he was in his time at Kenilworth Road.

After every victory, most notably the 2-1 win at Wycombe and the 4-1 home win over Crawley in League Two, Jones went over to the fans afterwards and gesticulated to them, showing his raw passion that they fell in love with.

Although the former Brighton Development Squad coach is yet to have the same impact on Stoke in terms of results, he has already got fans onside through his drive and determination to change the mentality of the club.

We can expect the Potters to press with relentless tenacity under his watch and have excellent midfield rotation in the diamond system, with the signs in pre-season being that the manager is starting to get his ideas across.

Stoke have, on paper, something very close to a Premier League squad – led by Jones, they could be one to watch.

First Casualty: Lee Bowyer, Charlton

As far as Roland Duchatelet is concerned, he did not want Lee Bowyer to be Charlton’s manager this season.

It was only when the club reported that Bowyer was to be walking out that there was a backlash from fans that Duchatelet had to respond to by offering the deal.

It is incredible, in many ways, that the contract situation got to that stage.

Not only had the former midfielder shown excellent coaching ability and got his team performing above their budgetary rank in League One, he is also a local lad, had a unique connection with fans and made no secret off his desire to stay.

That, in turn, lifted the mood around the club and, at least temporarily, quelled some of the protests towards Duchatelet.

The fact the Belgian owner put Bowyer’s status as a manager in jeopardy is unbelievable, yet somehow believable in equal measure.

Charlton are unlikely to have the squad to compete at this level with just seven players possessing Championship experience – of which all seven have been part of at least one relegation from that division and two are arguably past their best.

Bowyer has already shown the potential to be an excellent manager and if the job became too much, nobody could blame him if he decided to walk at any point to preserve his career.

Best Summer Appointment: Sabri Lamouchi, Nottingham Forest

We have already touched on why Steve Cooper’s appointment could be perfect timing for Swansea, so here we’ll look at Sabri Lamouchi.

When the 47-year-old was appointed as Nottingham Forest manager, just 19 minutes after Martin O’Neill was sacked, it was perceived as a sign of player power.

Have Forest been pandering to a group of average Championship players? Have they undermined a club legend who has achieved so much in the English game? Have they lost their principles as a club?

Not quite.

Although O’Neill deserves great respect, his methods seem more suited to a slightly different era – there are suggestions that he is sceptical of statistical analysis, that he does not work to a computer, that he overworked his players with heavy emphasis on core cross country running.

It is not as though Lamouchi has gone easy on his players.

The Frenchman, of Tunisian descent, managed Ivory Coast at the 2014 World Cup; that would suggest that he values power, pressing and endeavour as highly as anyone.

In pre-season, the Reds have pressed with relentless tenacity against the likes of Atromitos, Crystal Palace and Real Sociedad.

Lamouchi’s coaching seems to be striking a chord with Lewis Grabban, who probably did not quite find his best form under O’Neill – partly due to injury.

In friendlies, though, he has shown glimpses of the purposeful persistence he showed under Aitor Karanka, especially when he scored 14 goals in a sequence of 13 league games.

Ben Watson, meanwhile, has hugely improved his range of passing, which shows the work Lamouchi is doing from a technical perspective.

Although Forest’s decision to change boss was controversial at the time, it gives them a better chance of winning promotion.

Managers Departed

Last man down

Michael Jolley
Michael Jolley
(Grimsby Town)
15th November
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