Friday, August 7, 2009

The Next Generation Of Premiership Managers: Championship Preview

The Championship season proper kicks off tomorrow. This season, the league looks like it will be it's most competitive year ever. No less than 12 from the 24 clubs in the league are chasing those elusive three spots of paradise that will lead their fans into the promised land of Premiership football.

One thing that may have escaped some, is that 16 of the 24 managers in the Championship will be under the age of 40 when the action kicks off.

And although you may think you know very little about the Championship, the names of the managers involved are known to all.

Roy Keane (Ipswich), Darren Ferguson (Peterborough), Nigel Clough (Derby Co.), Chris Coleman (Coventry City), Simon Davey (Barnsley), Ian Holloway (Blackpool), Billy Davies (Nottingham Forest), Brendan Rodgers (Reading), Jim Magilton (Q.P.R.), Nigel Adkins (Scunthorpe), Brian Laws (Sheffield Wed), Paulo Sousa (Swansea), Malky Mackay (Watford), and Roberto Di Matteo (West Brom) are amongst the best young managers in the game today, and all can be found just below the Premiership.

Strangely enough, the highest profile team in the league, Newcastle, have no manager at all.

As usual, all eyes will be on the three clubs who came down from the Premiership in May, Newcastle United, West Bromwich Albion, and Middlesbrough.

The three clubs are all huge, and Newcastle easily dwarf any rival in the league. But there are sizeable predators waiting to pounce on any mistakes that these three favorites may make.

As we speak, Newcastle are still in a mess. They still have no manager in place, Mike Ashley has dropped his asking price for the club dramatically, and they just sold their best defender to Spurs. And if that wasn't enough, Leyton Orient hammered them 6-1 last week.

They will start the season as favourites, mainly due to the fact that their dressing room is like a who's who where the Championship is concerned, and they will still have more money to spend than almost anyone.

Saying that, they must get a manager in place as soon as possible, they can be extremely fragile, and need new faces immediately, and there is only three weeks left in the current window.

Middlesbrough may find life in the Championship tougher than expected. Gareth Southgate is living on borrowed time and he needs to hit the ground running to stem the freefall that the club found themselves in last year.

His is the highest profile managerial light to find themselves under pressure right from the start.

Despite this, Newcastle and Middlesbrough will start as favourites for automatic promotion.

In the chase, they should be joined by Reading, Ipswich, West Brom, Sheffield United, and Cardiff.

Brendan Rodgers took over from Steve Coppell at Reading after the ex-United players shock resignation after they failed to reach the playoffs. Rodgers made his name at Chelsea, where he was regarded as one of the best young coaches in the game, and Jose Mourinho saw his potential and made him reserve manager at Stamford Bridge.

His first job in football was at Watford where he transformed the long ball playing sinking ship into one of the Championship's ball playing teams. But with the Hornets low on cash, Reading took advantage and signed the highly rated Rodgers for £1m.

His first job at the Madjeski was to sell Kevin Doyle and Marcus Hahnnemann to newly promoted Wolves, but Shane Long has impressed as his fellow Irishmans replacement.

With Rodgers at the helm, Reading should easily make the playoffs.

Roy Keane's resignation from Sunderland came like a bolt out of the blue, but his taking over at Ipswich trumped even that. At Wearside, Keane was in charge of every aspect of the club, until Ellis Short took over as Chairman.

Now at Ipswich, multi-millionaire owner Marcus Evans has promised the same to tempt Keane to East Anglia. There is no doubting that everything is ready for a Premiership assault at Ipswich and that they were under performing for Jim Magilton.

Keane comes in like a breath of fresh air, for the moment anyway. He knows exactly how to get out of this league. Hard work and determination, and players who won't let you down. The recent signing of Tamas Priskin, looks an inspired one.

With Keane's no nonsense work ethic, Owen Garvan's classy play from midfield and Marcus Evans' money, put your money on Ipswich to be promoted.

Sheffield United possess one of the best Championship managers in the league. Kevin Blackwell has a wealth of experience, and is in the middle of a re-building process at the Blades.

Danny Webber and Ugo Ehiogu have been released, while the two Kyle's, Naughton and Walker have been sold to Spurs, albeit with Walker returning on loan for a year, with the promise that Blackwell can have his choice of any of Spurs up and coming young players.

Blackwell has made a habit of bringing the best from meagre resources, so expect United to be in or around the playoff mix.

At West Brom, Roberto Di Matteo is struggling to hold onto his best player and captain, Johnathan Greening as Fulham loom ever closer.

The young Italian manager had worked wonders at the MK Dons before Tony Mowbray left the Baggies for Celtic.

In truth, the transition to suceed Mowbray should not be too difficult. He too, has a philosophy for playing football, even though he was criticised in many Premiership circles for sticking with his ideals.

Di Matteo, will bring the expected exuberance that all young managers bring to the game, but he also has a steeliness about his that belies his exterior. He has one of the best squads in the league, Chris Brunt, Robert Koren, and the up and coming Graham Dorran's should all excel at Championship level while the manager finds his feet.

Perhaps, one of the most eagerly awaited fixtures in the Championship calender takes place on the opening day as Clough takes on Ferguson.

In a nod to yesteryear's battles between two of the greats, Brian Clough's son, Nigel takes on Alex Ferguson's son, Darren as Derby entertain newly promoted Peterborough.

Derby with Clough at the helm are currently undergoing a massive re-structuring at the club, from top to bottom. Derby chairman, Andy Appleby, has pin pointed promotion to the Premiership over the coming seasons as Derby look to ensconce themselves in the upper half of the EPL.

One of the biggest clubs in the country, Derby went after one of the best young managers in the country to fulfill this aim. Derby may not achieve this feat this season, but they will over the coming five years.

New players, Dean Moxey and Lee Croft have been brought in to guide the young stars at the club as Clough builds for the future. They have managed to hold onto Kris Commons, Giles Barnes, and Miles Addison, so Derby have huge potential going forward.

For Darren Ferguson, this is his third season in a new league with Peterborough after guiding them to two successive promotions.

Ferguson's success at Peterborough has been based around bringing in lower league players with experience. In other words, players who are consistent and who rarely let him down.

During his time at Posh, his stock has risen. He comes across as a young Fergie, cool under pressure, good with his own players, and ruthless when the need arises.

A future Liverpool manager? Probably not, but we'll definitely see him in the EPL.

Ian Holloway will have to call upon every trick he has up his sleeve if Blackpool are to avoid relegation. They will start as one of the favourites to go down and the outspoken manager will have to coax another season of over-achieving if they are to stay up.

As Cardiff move into a new stadium, fit for the Premiership, the longest serving manager in the Championship will hope to guide his team to the playoffs at least.

Dave Jones, might start the season under pressure from his home fans but he will have to hold on to his best players, Ross McCormack and Joe Ledley and get a good start if he is to challenge promotion again.

Last year Cardiff were third with four games to go and looked to be coasting towards automatic promotion. But a 6-0 defeat to Preston saw them lose all four games and finish outside the playoffs.

The Bluebirds have one of the best managers in the league, and if he can exorcise all those bad thoughts about last years implosion, Cardiff could be right up there.

Elsewhere, the old man of the league, Neil Warnock will most probably start with his youngest team ever, as Crystal Palace look to progress towards the playoffs.

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