12) Ronnie Moore (Hartlepool)
There are few better at working with scant resources in the lower divisions than Moore, and the point was proved after he took over at Hartlepool last December. Pools were propping up the league by a distance – six points, precisely – and looked certain to be relegated, but a superb late-season run saw them pull clear and it was ironic that Moore’s previous club, Tranmere Rovers, were one of the sides to go down instead.
Moore had twice managed Tranmere, taking them to the brink of the League One play-offs before his second stint ended in an ignominious sacking for breaching betting regulations. He made his name at Rotherham, winning two successive promotions at the turn of the decade to take the Millers into the Championship. Nobody has ever seen what Moore could do with a few million pounds to spend, but on a shoestring results are all but guaranteed.
11) Gareth Ainsworth (Wycombe)
The Wycombe Wanderers manager is a talented musician and as comfortable gigging with his band, Road to Eden, as he is patrolling the Chairboys’ touchline. But he does the latter rather well, a point proved when his team came within seconds of winning the League Two play-off final in May, only to be pegged back by Southend at the end of extra-time.
That came just a year after they had avoided relegation to the Conference on goal difference, and the transformation forged by Ainsworth on a small budget was enough to earn him the league’s manager of the year award. Ainsworth wears his heart on his sleeve and watching him on the sidelines can be exhausting in itself, but he has a football mind that is destined for bigger things.
10) Steve Cotterill (Bristol City)
The Bristol City manager isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but presided over a majestic promotion from League One last season – and it wasn’t the first notable achievement to adorn his CV.
Cotterill made his name when taking little Cheltenham from non-league to the third tier and had a variety of jobs after that, including a short spell at Notts County that secured their progression from League Two in 2010. It hasn’t always worked out – a stint at Nottingham Forest ended underwhelmingly when the Al-Hasawi family took over – but in 18 months at Ashton Gate both club and manager appear to have found the right fit.
Cotterill is a fierce motivator who preaches an aggressive, attacking brand of football and will expect his team to compete strongly in next season’s Championship.
9) Paul Tisdale (Exeter)
Tisdale has been Exeter City’s manager for nine years now, yet it doesn’t feel as if he’s missed the boat to more illustrious surroundings. Still just 42, Tisdale is English football’s second-longest-serving manager (behind Arsene Wenger) and has used his time well.
The well-dressed custodian took them out of the Conference in 2008 and, remarkably, straight to League One the following year. Relegation followed in 2012 and Tisdale has since been trying to take Exeter, one of the league’s smallest clubs, back up again. His methodical approach, studious demeanour and brand of smart, passing football set him apart from many of his peers and – with Exeter perhaps having been taken as far as they can be – it would be fascinating to see him work a couple of rungs higher up.