Five English Football League managers to keep an eye on this season

Jack Kitson by Jack Kitson / 05 August 2016, 14:40

The English Football League (EFL) springs into action this weekend as the 72 teams from the Championship, League One and League Two kick-off their respective campaigns.

That means 72 managers head into the new season with their own individual hopes, dreams and aspirations.

The Sack Race has in turn plucked out five of these gaffers who we think are well worth keeping an eye on during the season ahead.

In the spotlight we have a man who makes his eagerly anticipated return to the managerial arena, someone who has rapidly become one of the most engaging gaffers in the game, a brace of young bosses looking to build on promotion winning campaigns, and let’s not forget the EFL’s longest-serving manager....

Nigel Pearson

  • Club: Derby County
  • Championship title odds: 13/1 (UniBet)
  • Promotion odds: 4/1 (UniBet)
  • Top-5 odds: 6/5 (Paddy Power)
  • Managerial Achievements: Championship & League One winner (Leicester).

The Championship focus may be rooted on hot favourites Newcastle and their manager Rafa Benitez, but we like the look of Derby County and their new boss Nigel Pearson this season.

Pearson took his time in returning to the managerial arena after losing his job at Leicester City last summer. The 52-year-old, who laid the foundations for the Foxes’ remarkable Premier league title success, was linked with a catalogue of clubs, but in the end remained in the East Midlands - signing a three-year deal with Derby.

Pearson is one of the most experienced Championship bosses around, and in his last spell in the division he led Leicester to the title, accumulating a whopping 102 points in the process.

The ostrich-loving boss may often hit the headlines for the wrong reasons, but when it comes down to it he’s a quality manager, and a real fighter, who often doesn’t get the applause he deserves.

After recharging his batteries Pearson will be hungry for the challenge ahead as he bids to become the man who successfully leads Derby up to the Premier League after an eight-year absence.

Derby have finished in the top-8 in each of their last three seasons, but have agonisingly fallen short in the play-offs on two occasions. The Rams set off as favourites in each of the last two campaigns, but the pressure ultimately got to them, but this time around they definitely catch the eye at 14/1 to win the league, 4/1 to get promoted, and 6/5 to finish in the top-6.

Carlos Carvalhal

  • Club: Sheffield Wednesday
  • Championship title odds: 17/1 (UniBet)
  • Promotion odds: 5/1 (UniBet)
  • Top-6 odds: 6/4 (Bet365)
  • Managerial Achievements: Portuguese League Cup (Setubal)

Questions were raised last summer when Carlos Carvalhal become Sheffield Wednesday’s first foreign manager - understandable given that he’d taken charge of 14 clubs in 14 years - but any doubts were quickly extinguished.

The affable former Besiktas boss enjoyed a cracking debut campaign, reaching the play-off final and the quarter-finals of the League Cup - the latter of which saw him scoop the EFL Manager of the Tournament award.

Carvalhal’s engaging personality and attack-minded philosophy has made him an instant hit with fans, while this summer he’s made some decent acquisitions in striker Steven Fletcher and midfielder Almen Abdi.

Wednesday’s impressive 2015/16 campaign means there will inevitably be high expectations this term, but I think both Carvalhal and Sheff Wed will not only handle this pressure, but thrive.

If they can replicate last season’s strong home form - they only lost twice at Hillsborough and scored 47 goals - they will put themselves in great stead to challenge for promotion.

With this in mind the Owls look a decent bet at 6/4 (Bet365) to register another top-6 finish, while they can be backed at 5/1 (UniBet) to return to the top-flight for the first time since 2000.

Darrell Clarke

  • Club: Bristol Rovers
  • League One title odds: 25/1 (Sky Bet)
  • Promotion odds: 8/1 (Bet Victor)
  • Top-6 odds: 10/3 Betfred
  • Managerial Achievements: Four promotions (Salisbury x2, Bristol Rovers x2)

Darrell Clarke has taken to management like a duck to water. The super talented 38-year-old has rapidly become one of the most highly-rated young English managers working in the game today.

Clarke’s record since stepping into the managerial arena six years ago is simply outstanding: four promotions in five full seasons with Salisbury and Bristol Rovers - two apiece.

It was under Clarke when Rovers sunk out of the EFL for the first time in 94 years (2013/14), however he only took charge of the club in March of that season so can hardly be blamed.

Clarke and Rovers responded in style, bouncing back at the first time of asking, before winning promotion on their return to League Two - meaning they play League One football this season for the first time since 2010/11.

Few are expecting a hat-trick of consecutive promotions, but if Rovers - who are owned by billionaire Jordanian Wael Al-Qadi - can carry the momentum into the new season, then you simply never know.

It’s worth mentioning that the ante-post favourite - once again Sheff Utd in 2016/17 - has only won the division once in the last 20 years.

The Gas have managed to cling onto star striker Matt Taylor and are definitely worth a glimpse at 8/1 to leap into the Championship.

Staying up is definitely the priority, but Rovers may actually face more problems attempting to keep Clarke to stay - he turned down Leeds in the summer - should the Championship vultures swoop.

Michael Appleton

  • Club: Oxford United
  • League One title odds: 16/1 (Bet365)
  • Promotion odds: 5/1 (Paddy Power)
  • Top-6 odds: 2/1 (Bet365)
  • Managerial Achievements: Promotion (Oxford)

Michael Appleton endured a whirlwind start to his managerial career, taking charge of three clubs in the space of just 16 months.

At cash-strapped Portsmouth Appleton suffered relegation out of the Premier League. At Blackpool he took charge of just a dozen games - becoming the shortest-serving boss in the club’s history - before jumping ship to Blackburn Rovers where he lasted just three games more, suffering the sack by letter.

Appleton unsurprisingly had more than a year out of the managerial arena before returning with Oxford United two years ago. And now it’s safe to say his fortunes have changed.

The 40-year-old led the Yellows up to League One last season, while the club also made an appearance at Wembley where they finished runners-up to third-tier side Barnsley in the Football League Trophy.

Last term Oxford beat both Championship and League One clubs in the various cup competitions, and after booking their place in the third-tier they have every right to be confident going into the new campaign.

Momentum can be an invaluable ingredient in football and there is every chance Oxford could mount a realistic push for promotion, as they bid to play second-tier football for the first time since the late 1990s.

A bright start will see Appleton’s stock rise further, and similarly to Darrell Clarke at Bristol Rovers, Oxford may have trouble keeping hold of their boss should a “bigger club” come calling.

Paul Tisdale

  • Club: Exeter City
  • League Two title odds: 40/1 (Sky Bet)
  • Promotion odds: 8/1 (Coral)
  • Top-7 odds: 7/2 (Bet365)
  • Managerial Achievements: Two promotions (Exeter City)

Paul Tisdale is the longest-serving manager in the EFL, amassing in excess of 500 games for Exeter City over a 10-year period - hitting the decade landmark back in June.

This is some feat, especially considering he’s had multiple opportunities to leave St James' Park. However, the most stylish manager in English football - a title he still holds even since the arrival of Pep Guardiola - has always remained loyal to the Grecians.

During his time in charge Tisdale has led the club up from the Conference into League One, although they’ve been trapped in League Two since 2012.

After hitting the 10-year mark this could well be a defining season in the EFL’s longest partnership. Exeter haven’t been given much of a chance in the betting - 40/1 to win the league & 8/1 to get promoted - but at these prices they can't be ignored.

Exeter have enjoyed a fruitful pre-season, winning all seven of their games, and conceding just twice in the process.

Under Tisdale the Grecians are more often then not solid without being spectacular, however in order to mount a promotion challenge the Devon outfit will not only need to find their shooting boots in attack, but find a way of converting draws into wins at home - they had a whopping 11 stalemates in front of their own fans last term.

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