5 EFL managers who will get Premier League jobs
With a host of Premier League managers under pressure, Will Rook takes a look at who could be the next candidates in line to step up from the EFL.
DANNY COWLEY (HUDDERSFIELD)
Is there anything this man can’t do?
Marshalled by brother and assistant manager Nicky, Cowley has left every club he has ever managed in a considerably better position than when he arrived.
Even before his time at Lincoln, the 41-year-old won three promotions with Concord Rangers between 2008 and 2015 before guiding Braintree to third in National League in 2014/15 – their highest-ever finish – all while working as a PE teacher in Essex.
But it was at Sincil Bank where Cowley cemented himself as one of the most exciting young managers in the country.
He took Lincoln from the National League to League One in three seasons, winning two league titles and the EFL Trophy along the way.
The club also became the first ever non-league club to reach the last eight of the FA Cup in 2016/17.
So it’s no surprise that Huddersfield are already out of the relegation zone after Cowley joined them bottom of the league and winless after seven games.
Whether he achieves it with his current club, or earns a move straight there, Cowley will be a Premier League manager before too long.
LEE JOHNSON (BRISTOL CITY)
As one of two picks who have never won a promotion as a manager, Johnson might look out of place on this list.
But the 38-year-old’s innovative attitude means he is worthy of inclusion.
Johnson was one of the first managers to use drones to film training sessions, allowing him to send footage to his players at Bristol City through a custom-built app that is installed on each of their smartphones.
Johnson’s willingness to embrace technology also extends to social media – he is one of the few brave managers in the top four divisions with an active Twitter account.
He has also delivered results at every club he has worked at.
He started his managerial career at Oldham in March 2013, aged just 31, as the youngest manager in the EFL.
There, he took the Latics from the League One relegation zone to the top 10 before he was poached by Barnsley in February 2015.
He left for Bristol City the following February, having taken the Tykes to the EFL Trophy final, which they went on to win under his successor, Paul Heckingbottom.
His major achievement at Bristol City, meanwhile, came in 2017/18, when he took them to the EFL Cup semi-final after beating Manchester United in the quarters.
If that upward trajectory continues, then it is only a matter of time until he is managing in the Premier League.
GARETH AINSWORTH (WYCOMBE)
If Jurgen Klopp introduced heavy metal football to the Premier League, then Ainsworth would definitely bring a bit of rock ‘n’ roll.
The longest-serving manager in England’s top four divisions also moonlights as a lead singer in rock band Road to Eden.
But it’s not just his musical talent that means he’d add something to the top flight.
Ainsworth has overseen a gradual transformation at Wycombe Wanderers since saving them from relegation to the National League on the final day of the 2013/14 season.
Operating on limited resources – he has paid for training equipment out of his own pocket in the past – the former QPR winger guided the Chairboys to the League Two play-off final the following season.
Though they were beaten on penalties by Southend after conceding a 122nd-minute equaliser, the club did manage to achieve automatic promotion three seasons later.
Wycombe easily stayed up last term, finishing 17th in League One, and are now level on points with league leaders Ipswich after 15 games.
Their eye-catching start to the season drew attention when Millwall and Sunderland had recent vacancies to fill.
Ainsworth was given permission to speak to both but decided against leaving and has recently said it would take ‘something special’ to leave Adams Park.
A crack at the big time would probably suffice.
MICHAEL DUFF (CHELTENHAM)
Mentored by Sean Dyche while working as Burnley Under-23 coach, Duff is a Premier League manager of the future.
He has shown as much since leaving the Clarets in September 2018 for his first managerial role at Cheltenham, where he made over 200 first-team appearances between 1996 and 2004.
He said his aim when arriving at the club was to turn them into the League Two version of Burnley.
The Robins have finished 16th or lower in the division in five of the last six seasons, with a year in the National League in 2015/16 sandwiched in between.
Consolidating their place in the EFL, while building a resilient team, seemed a challenging enough target – particularly after failing to win any of his first nine games in charge.
Yet, three months into this season, Cheltenham are in the automatic promotion places and are playing with a real attacking verve – scoring the joint-most league goals in the division with 26.
Should he guide the club to the third tier for only the second time in their history, then there will be no shortage of suitors further up the pyramid.
MICHAEL FLYNN (NEWPORT)
To paraphrase Drake, Flynn started at the bottom.
The 39-year-old took over as caretaker manager at Newport in March 2017 with the club 11 points adrift at the foot of League Two, but led them to safety following a 2-1 victory over Notts County on the final day of the season.
Since then, he has guided the Exiles to the fourth and fifth round of the FA Cup, beating Leeds, Middlesbrough and Leicester in the process.
He also took them to the League Two play-off final last term, where they were beaten 1-0 by Tranmere.
If his performance at Newport isn’t enough to attract attention from higher up, then the company he keeps might be.
Flynn has been in a WhatsApp group with Mikel Arteta, Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg since befriending them while completing their UEFA coaching badges.
He has also been known to drop in on Jurgen Klopp to ask for advice.
League One Lincoln have already come calling after the aforementioned Cowley left for Huddersfield, but Flynn decided to stay put.
Having been born in Newport, come through the club’s youth set-up and played for them on four separate occasions, he is understandably reluctant to leave.
But if he continues to turn heads, then those offers will get even harder to turn down.
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