10 young lower league managers who could rise to the top of the game: From Joey Barton and Richie Wellens to David Artell

Graham Ruthven by Graham Ruthven / 02 March 2020, 09:43

There is no managerial proving ground like the English lower leagues. 

Many coaches have been chewed up and spat out in League One and League Two, but those who survive receive an education to last an entire career. 

So who are the next crop of youth managers rising up from the bottom? 

Here are 10 young managers currently working in the third and fourth tiers who could have a big future in the game...

Joey Barton (Fleetwood Town)

Until recently Joey Barton might not have featured on this list. 

The former Manchester City and Newcastle United midfielder was facing questions as Fleetwood Town boss in the run up to the busy winter period, but a run of five wins from six games has taken the Highbury Stadium side into the play-off equation. 

Barton still has his critics, but he has shown this season that he might be cut out for management. Promotion to the Championship would be quite the achievement.

Richie Wellens (Swindon Town)

Swindon Town currently sit at the peak of the League Two table, earning Richie Wellens a reputation as one of the best young managers working in the English lower leagues at this moment. 

An approach from Blackpool prompted Swindon into offering Wellens a new contract, with the 39-year-old putting pen to paper last week on a deal that will keep him at the Robins until 2023. 

This represents an investment not just in the future of the club, but in the future of an extremely promising young manager.


Joey Barton's Fleetwood Town are in cracking form

David Artell (Crewe Alexandra)

Hot on the tail of Wellens’ Swindon Town are David Artell’s Crewe Alexandra with just one point between the two teams at the top of the League Two table. 

The Railwaymen could have gone top with a win over Morecambe at the weekend, but poor finishing cost them as they could only claim a point. 

Nonetheless, there’s reason to believe this is just the start for Artell who is starting to mellow as a touchline figure as he gains more and more experience.

Ryan Lowe (Plymouth Argyle)

Plymouth recently unveiled a plan to become a sustainable Championship club by 2025. 

In Ryan Lowe they might just have the right man to take them there, although with Plymouth currently in League Two there’s certainly a lot of work to be done. 

Lowe was caught up in the mess that saw Bury lose their EFL status, but did enough at Gigg Lane to catch the eye. 

His development has continued at Plymouth and there are signs that good times are coming once again to Home Park, although Argyle’s recent form could do with improving.

Michael Duff (Cheltenham)

Saturday’s 2-0 win at promotion rivals Colchester United saw Cheltenham maintain their recent good run of form, sending Michael Duff’s team to within one point of the automatic promotion places in the League Two table. 

Cheltenham have now won five games on the spin and Duff, who worked under Sean Dyche at Burnley for a spell, is attracting some attention. 

His bond with Cheltenham is a strong one, though, and if the 42-year-old is to coach in League One soon it seems likely it will be in charge of the Robins.

Michael Flynn (Newport)

Last season saw Michael Flynn lead Newport County to the League Two play-off final. 

This season, however, has been much tougher for the 39-year-old who admitted after the 5-0 hammering at the hands of Oldham at the weekend that he faces a fight to keep hold of his job. 

With Newport slumped in 16th place it might well be the case that Flynn leaves the club before too long, but his achievements until now still mean he warrants a mention in this list.

Russell Martin (MK Dons)

The former Norwich City defender and Scotland international Russell Martin was appointed MK Dons manager in November and charged with keeping the club in League One. 

The 34-year-old has made a good start on delivering on that objective, with MK Dons now up to 18th place in the table. The progress Martin has made at the club was demonstrated with the point claimed against title chasers Rotherham United at the weekend.

Matt Taylor (Exeter City)

Like a number of names on this list, Matt Taylor has been headhunted this season. 

Indeed, the Exeter City boss was approached by an unnamed club back in September, but decided to stay put as he is of the belief that he can achieve his ambitions at St James Park. 

Exeter are still in the promotion hunt near the top of League Two, sitting just two points off pace-setters Swindon Town in third place. League One beckons, as does vindication for Taylor’s decision to stay.

Karl Robinson (Oxford United)

In terms of experience, Karl Robinson has more than most on this list. 

Indeed, Robinson has been in senior management since 2010, getting his start at MK Dons before taking charge at Charlton Athletic. Now he’s at Oxford United and is still only 39. 

Oxford are one of the form sides in League One right now having taken 13 points from their last six games. This form led Blackpool to make an official approach to speak to Robinson over their current managerial vacancy. Whether it’s with Oxford or another club it seems likely that Robinson will be a Championship manager again before too long.

Brian Barry-Murphy (Rochdale)

Renowned for his advocacy of slick passing moves and possession football, Brian Barry-Murphy has earned himself a reputation as the Pep Guardiola of League One. 

Rochdale don’t have a big budget and so the young coach has had to call upon the club’s youth academy. This has resulted in the emergence of players like Luke Matheson, Rhys Norrington-Davies and Aaron Morley. Barry-Murphy looks to have a big future in the game, just like many of the players he has

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Nigel Clough
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18th May
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