2018-19 Championship Managerial Preview: will Lamps be a hit?

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 31 July 2018, 09:35

Nuno Espirito Santo’s Wolverhampton Wanderers dominated the Championship last season – who will be the managerial stars this time around? And who is under pressure? Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) previews the 2018-19 campaign.

Title Winner: Marcelo Bielsa – Leeds United

Marcelo Bielsa simply doesn’t do quiet, transitional seasons: that’s just not the way he operates.

The Argentine is a perfectionist; he demands nothing but the highest standard of technical quality from his players and will not rest until his team is playing aggressive, fluid, high-tempo football for 90 minutes.

Bielsa isn’t involved in football only to get results, he wants his teams to represent what he believes in and the day that doesn’t happen is the day he loses his passion.

That style of management tends to receive one of two responses.

Firstly, there’s the danger that players don’t respond: his uncompromising style has seen him endure fractious and short-lived spells at Marseille, Lazio and Lille.

Equally, there’s a very strong possibility that players will respond emphatically: he oversaw marked progress while in charge of Chile, then had an excellent 2011-12 campaign with Athletic Bilbao, who reached the Europa League Final, notably playing sumptuous one-touch football to knock out Manchester United en route.

Bielsa hasn’t achieved enough sustained success at the top level to be considered an elite manager, yet he draws massive respect from major figures within the game like Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino.

The reason for that is because he takes risks and the evidence is that will pay off in the Championship, especially with the likes of Barry Douglas and possibly Patrick Bamford joining an already exciting squad.

It is possible that Leeds could self-combust but given that alternative favourites – Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, Stoke, Nottingham Forest and potentially West Brom – are all led by conservative tacticians, they also have the potential to take this division by storm.

Surprise Package: Lee Johnson – Bristol City

Bristol City might not have finished their 2017-18 campaign quite how they wanted to, but it cannot be denied that it was a productive campaign overall.

They not only achieved their highest finish in eight seasons last year, they also reached the semi-finals of the League Cup, beating Manchester United before losing to the eventual winners.

Pep Guardiola, himself, was complimentary of the way they approached that game, a testament to Lee Johnson’s innovative ideas.

Johnson has had a curious managerial career, in that the faith often placed in him is greater than one would imagine the objective value of his results would draw.

He briefly converted Oldham Athletic into a more energetic, forward-thinking side in 2014-15, without achieving anything ground-breaking; they were effectively mid-table when he was poached.

In 2015-16, Barnsley suffered a run of eight successive league defeats under Johnson, leaving them second-bottom in November. The board surprisingly kept faith (partly because he was then on a three-year deal) and the improvement was such that he got poached by Bristol City three months later.

Then, in 2016-17, Bristol City also suffered an eight-game losing streak up until January, but Steve Lansdown stuck with him and results have since improved.

Some would put those two horrible runs as evidence against Johnson’s managerial ability. Perversely though, one could argue they almost count in his favour: in such a cut-throat business, two chairmen have seen enough potential in what he’s doing to persist with the project, even in incredibly testing times.

Johnson remains yet to win promotion – or achieve a top six finish – as a manager, but perhaps this is the year he will repay his backers in full.

First Casualty: Steve Bruce – Aston Villa

It is never nice seeing somebody lose their job and Steve Bruce deserves a lot of respect for his achievements within football, both as a player and as a manager.

However, the ownership changes at Aston Villa won’t necessarily count in his favour, even if they help stabilize things financially.

The club waited a Thierry Henry speculation-packed week after Nassef Sawiris became chairman to announce Bruce was staying; and it is revealing that they had to make that announcement when his contract wasn’t up.

The Geordie’s deal runs out in October and he hasn’t signed a new one, which only fuels the uncertainty.

There is also a divide among fans towards Bruce: while some acknowledge he has overseen an element of progress and helped lift the spirit around the place, others aren’t so sure.

They question whether the agricultural tactics he employed to twice lead Birmingham and Hull to promotion from this division remain relevant in a modernizing Championship.

Handbrake-off displays, like the 5-0 win over Bristol City just after Christmas, almost count against Bruce, given that he so rarely gives his players the kind of tactical freedom he gave them that day.

Bruce is a good man but if his side perform as poorly in the first three games as they did in the previous campaign, it might not be long before he leaves.

Key appointment: Frank Lampard - Derby County

Frank Lampard has won it all a player – he’s scored Premier League title-winning goals, he scored in a Champions League final, he’s won the Champions League, he’s scored an FA Cup Final winning goal, he’s won the League Cup twice, he’s scored 274 club career goals, 29 international goals, he’s won all sorts of individual awards and much, much more.

The question is, can he actually manage?

The start of Lampard’s journey from being an elite footballer to, as he hopes at least, an elite manager, will be one of the most fascinating storylines of the 2018-19 Championship season.

On the face of it, there is no logical reason to believe that ‘Lamps’ will be a great manager – John Barnes, Gary Neville, Teddy Sheringham and Gianfranco Zola have all given it a go off the back of glittering playing careers without much success.

And yet, there is something about the Chelsea legend that inspires belief.

He talks with real authority, whilst also showing a sense of humour – when asked: “is it too late to come out of retirement?” in an interview with a fan, he responded:

“Well I’ve just mentioned fast-paced football so at 40, I could be detrimental to the team! … You’re gonna know we’re struggling if I’m putting my boots on!”

Although that might seem like a very simple thing, in some ways it’s important that he’s able to be self-deprecating. The main problem top footballers tend to have in lower league management is that they aren’t able to understand players with more limited skillsets and, therefore, those players can struggle to relate; it looks unlikely that Lampard will have that problem.

With the exciting additions of Mason Mount, Harry Wilson and Jack Marriott adding youthful talent to an experienced squad, perhaps Lampard can kick-off the next chapter of his career with a bang


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David Wagner
(Huddersfield Town)
14th January
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