Best Young Managers In The Football League

The English Football League is a hotbed for young, promising managers plying their trade, trying to work their way up the pyramid. Premier League bosses such as Sean Dyche, Eddie Howe and Chris Hughton all started their prestigious managerial careers in the lower leagues of English football. Don’t be surprised if some gaffers on this list become regulars in the Premier League shortly.

Joey Barton – Fleetwood Town

Many people scoffed at Fleetwood for hiring Joey Barton in the summer, believing that because of his chaotic playing career, he would never be a good manager. However, he has done reasonably well with Fleetwood, with the Trawlermen sitting comfortably in 12th place. He has had a mixed bag of results thus far but is showing that he’s not completely out of his depth like many would have expected. As a player, Barton was passionate, if not overtly passionate, and wore his heart on his sleeve. It’s no surprise to see his teams to reflect this warrior-like style when going into battle. Despite his notorious reputation, Barton is making good progress during his debut season as a manager.

Fleetwood fan @dominic2905 has said that, “Whilst Barton suffered a bit from new manager syndrome in the first few months at the club, not knowing his best 11 and not knowing how to get the best out of his players, he has since steadied the ship with great wins over local rivals Blackpool, as well as large wins over both Scunthorpe and Coventry in the league. Fleetwood currently sit 12th, not bad considering this time last season we were deep into a relegation scrap.”

Garry Monk – Birmingham

Unlike other managers on this list, Monk has had to drop down the leagues of English football instead of rising up them. Monk was thrown in at the deep end at Swansea, having to steer them clear of relegation in his first season as manager, but his time in South Wales eventually came to an end when he was sacked in 2015. Many people thought he was unfairly dismissed and he was quickly offered a job at Leeds United. However, his stints at Elland Road and later Middlesbrough didn’t end well. Monk was given a different type of task during his fourth managerial position: a relegation rescue at Birmingham City. He kept the Blues up on the last day of the season and has guided them to 11th place in the Championship. Many bluenoses will now be looking up at promotion rather than worrying about relegation..

Birmingham City fan @callumtxylor said that “Garry Monk has comfortably exceeded expectations since being appointed last season. Not only did he do what seemed impossible the whole season in keeping us up, but he has so far got Birmingham into a comfortable mid-table position in spite of a depleted squad with no finances to bring in reinforcements. He has been the manager all Blues fans have been waiting for after Rowett and has instilled the belief and optimism around the club from fans and players alike.”

Darrell Clarke – Unemployed

Clarke is another manager who was thrown into the deep end, but he has grabbed the opportunity with both hands. In his first managerial spell, Clarke took Salisbury from the Southern League Premier Division to the Conference Premier League. His efforts were rewarded with a move to League 2 side Bristol Rovers, which was a huge risk for the Gas to take. He endured a difficult first campaign with Rovers, getting relegated on the last day of the season. However, Clarke bounced back quickly, and Bristol Rovers returned to the Football League the following season. Remarkably, he managed successive promotions, being the mastermind behind Bristol Rovers’ revival.

He has been linked with prestigious jobs such as Leeds United and Norwich City, but defused any speculation, remaining loyal to the club he has helped revitalise. Last season, Rovers finished in a respectable 13th position, but this season, they’ve struggled; Against the majority of the fanbase’s wishes, Clarke was dismissed from his job on December 13, as the owners decided the threat of relegation was enough to make them part ways. Nonetheless, despite his dismissal, Clarke was loved at the club, and there’s no doubt he’ll find a job soon. He is a specialist at bouncing back and will return to management even stronger despite this setback.

Rovers fan @matt_journo said that “Clarke was thrown into the deep end by Rovers and given the unenviable task of keeping Rovers up in League Two. After they were relegated many people thought the rebuilding job was too big for Clarke but he proved them wrong.

Frank Lampard – Derby County

Many assumed that Lampard only got the Derby job due to his impressive playing career and might not be the wisest choice but Super Frank has silenced the doubters in his first couple of months at Pride Park. The Rams have flirted with promotion in the past but this season it feels like Lampard  has a genuine chance of helping them return to the promised land. Despite losing their top scorer in the summer, Derby look better than ever and Lampard’s summer signings have helped them hugely. Lampard has played fast, attacking football during his time at Pride Park and his incredibly playing career is probably a big reason for that. They are 6th in the table and will be determined to stay in the top 6 come May. Derby County and Frank Lampard may well be in for a very exciting season. Derby fan Jack Copestake (@JackOcopestake) has said that “Frank is doing a fantastic job so far, in not just picking up results, but winning through playing a fluid and energetic style of football. His signings are all having a healthy impact but his real test will come around the January period where the ‘Derby dip’ often occurs.”

Daniel Farke – Norwich City

The German was a peculiar appointment for Norwich but one that has been well worth it. Farke endure a modest playing career, travelling around the lower leagues of German football,his managerial career is already looking a lot more promising. He took SV Lippstadt 08 from the 6th to 4th division in Germany and was awarded with the Borussia Dortmund II job. After two years, he took a huge jump and went to the Championship to manage Norwich City. It took a season for him to gel the squad and for him to adapt to a new country as The Canaries finished in an underwhelming 14th place. Following the signings of Emiliano Buendia, Teemu Pukki, Moritz Leitner and the development of Todd Cantwell and Max Aarons, Farke’s Norwich have climbed to 2nd in the Championship.. It’s encouraging for Canary fans that Farke’s transfers are doing well and he can develop young players. Canaries supporter,@cjsouthwell1902, has said that “Daniel Farke endured a tough opening season for Norwich. One which was characterised by adaptation, transition and individuality. Farke’s methodology was always going to take time, but this was more than about being patient. He’s improved players individually but now he’s improving the side collectively. He’s beginning to make nay-sayers, believers.”

Lee Johnson – Bristol City

Johnson is another manager who came straight into management after retiring from playing at the age of just 31, making him the youngest ever manager in the Football League. His first job went incredibly well, guiding Oldham away from relegation and eventually leading them to the top half of the table. A move to Barnsley followed and then Bristol CIty came calling; asking Johnson to steer them clear of relegation which he did easily, finishing 12 points off the drop zone. Since his debut season in the South-West he has had a mixed run of form at Ashton Gate but Bristol City’s run to the Semi Finals of The Carabao Cup has undoubtedly been the highlight of his career. They beat Manchester United on a memorable night and he received heaps of praise from Pep Guardiola after their game against Manchester CIty. Bristol City’s form has started to improve again with Johnson leading The Robins to 7th place. Whilst not all of City’s fanbase has been impressed with Lee Johnson, he is certainly leading them in the right direction. City fan, @jamescoxSJ, has said “Lee Johnson came into Bristol City when we were struggling at the bottom, and has made us into a solid mid-table club.I would say he has had a positive effect on the football club.”

Grant McCann – Doncaster Rovers

Grant McCann is doing a great job at Doncaster Rovers, guiding Donny towards the playoffs.The former Northern Irish international was given his first opportunity in football management after patiently waiting in the shadows, as a coach, for a few years. Peterborough United, his former club as a player, gave him his big break and he quickly became a fan favourite in the east of England. He was doing fairly well and had picked up a “Manager of the Month” award thanks to his good work. Shockingly, McCann was sacked whilst being just 6 points outside the League 1 playoffs. He had a right to feel hard done by but McCann had build up a great account of himself during his time at the London Road Stadium. Belfast born McCann was given another chance in League 1, this time at Doncaster Rovers. He’s got off to a promising start at Donny, sitting 7th in the table and McCann will desperately want to prove his former employers wrong. He  has had plaudits wherever he has been and I expect this to continue throughout his career. It’s clear that he’s loved by Doncaster fans and it seems inevitable that he’ll make the step up to the Championship soon, with or without them. The future is bright for the Northern Irishman.

Danny Cowley – Lincoln City

Danny Cowley has been a revelation in the lower leagues of English football recently and his dramatic progression hasn’t gone unnoticed. Cowley has risen up from the Essex Senior Football League to League 2 in the space of just 11 years. He took minnows Concord Rangers up to the National South and reached the 1st round proper of the FA Cup before leaving for Braintree Town. In his single season in Essex he helped Town finish 3rd in the National League, narrowly missing out on promotion. Yet again,he moved on, this time to Lincoln City. Cowley’s first season at Lincoln really introduced himself to English football; not only did Lincoln win the National League, they also became the first non-league club to reach the FA Cup Quarter Final, beating Brighton and Burnley on the way. The step up to the Football League hasn’t phased the 40 year old as The Imps won the EFl Trophy and are currently 1st in League 2. Cowley has progressed through the English football pyramid with relative ease and I don’t think he’s going to stop any time soon.

Neil Harris – Millwall

Despite struggling this season, Harris has still had a pretty successful managerial career since hanging his boots up in 2013. A legendary player for the Lions, Harris has cemented himself even further into Millwall folk law during his time in charge at The Den. The Club’s record goal scorer took over The Lions when they had just been relegated to League One but took them back up via the playoffs in his 2nd season. Harris also took Millwall on an inspirational FA Cup run, beating Bournemouth, Leicester and Watford in the process.He kept on upsetting the odds during the club’s first season back in the Championship, guiding them to an impressive 8th place finish, just 3 points outside the playoffs. Harris hugely overperformed with an average Millwall team and his direct, “long-ball” style of play was very  effective. The squad paled in comparison when compared to others in the league but they still managed to finish above the likes of Norwich, Leeds and Nottingham Forest. Despite his successes, The Lions have struggled this time round and they may be suffering second season syndrome, Harris has to ensure that he’s not a one trick pony and this tricky period will be the most testing of his young managerial career. Millwall fan, Jake Sanders (@JakeSanders92) says that “It’s fair to say it hasn’t been the ideal start for Neil Harris in his fourth season as permanent Millwall boss. But, looking at the bigger picture and giving all he has done for the club, they’re in a far healthier position than when he took the reigns in March 2015”

Graham Potter – Swansea

Potter has taken a alternative route to prominence compared to your average manager. He started his managerial career taking charge of university sides such as Leeds and Hull and was then offered the Osterunds job after a friend’s recommendation. What happened next was truly remarkable, within 7 years Potter took Osterunds from an unknown Swedish 4th division club to the Europa League. His team beat Galatasaray, PAOK, Athletic Bilbao and Arsenal during their debut season in the Europa League. This feat didn’t go unnoticed and he attracted the interests of many clubs in England, eventually joining relegated Swansea. So far he has been OK in South Wales, The Swans currently sit 9th in the league but I’m sure many of their fans have higher aspirations. Potter has some very unusual coaching methods which focus on team building exercises and improving morale within his squad. This has included making the players take part in a theatre production to take them out their comfort zone.The former fullback’s unusual methods have clearly worked but its so far unclear if he can replicate his success in England. I think he needs time to adjust himself to a higher standard of football, it would be great to see Wilifred Bony on stage too.


Given the lack of opportunities in the Premier League, the majority of these managers will struggle to ever make it there but should be inspired by the likes of Eddie Howe and Chris Hughton. Who knows, one of these managers could make it from the Championship to The Champions League.

By: Thomas Owen

Photo: Getty