Ranked! The 12 best managers in the Football League this season
6. Micky Mellon (Tranmere)
Cowley has made Lincoln champions elect and Bury’s Ryan Lowe is League Two Manager of the Season, because obviously it must be announced in March, but Mellon deserves enormous credit for his work with Tranmere. The Scot previously took Fleetwood from the Conference North to the League Two play-off places before a bafflingly premature sacking, and now his Tranmere side are pushing inexplicably hard for back-to-back promotions.
Although he has runaway Golden Boot leader James Norwood to thank for many a narrow win, Mellon masterminded seven consecutive wins with only two goals conceded – a run ended by Oldham last week.
5. Nathan Jones (Luton and Stoke)
Before we’re inundated with sceptical emojis from Stoke fans bored after four consecutive 0-0 draws and one 1-0 win, Jones’s inclusion is based on the half of 2018/19 that he spent taking promoted Luton into League One’s top two. Even after Jones’s departure, the Hatters are reaping the rewards of his excellent work, with caretaker boss Mick Harford admitting" “We just carried on and didn’t change much.”
The Welshman has struggled to make his 4-4-2 diamond work at Stoke, who have scored seven goals in his first 13 league matches, although he has at least improved the defence. He’ll do far better next season with his own squad.
4. Lee Johnson (Bristol City)
Yes, those regular barren runs are a concern: two points from five games in early autumn; four straight defeats in late autumn; another five winless games before last weekend. But then you have those months of invincibility, which have taken Bristol City to exciting heights.
There’s never been a streakier manager, which is odd considering Johnson isn’t some momentum-riding shouter, but a canny tactician – see how he adapted City’s setup to win away at Sheffield United, then Middlesbrough three days later. However you look at it, they’re sixth, having lost their best defender and their best attacker last summer.
3. Marcelo Bielsa (Leeds)
Any of our top three could be No.1, so let’s be positive. Bielsa hit Leeds like a whirlwind and transformed the club almost overnight, yet they’ve maintained his incredibly high standards, treating the end of the season like the end of every match: refusing to yield.
Two weekends ago, Bielsa’s men trailed Millwall twice but Pablo Hernandez snatched a win just as promotion rivals Sheffield United were doing the opposite against Bristol City – a one-minute, six-point swing. Last weekend, the Whites couldn't prevent defeat at Birmingham, however, while the Blades scythed down Preston. A thrilling battle for second.
NEW ISSUE! A year with Marcelo Bielsa!
2. Chris Wilder (Sheffield United)
‘Making miracles on scant resources’ screams ‘wheeler-dealer’, but while Wilder does love a bargain and his starting XI cost in the region of £7m, his strength is in improving players. It’s to his credit, and probably his chagrin, that John Fleck, George Baldock, Enda Stevens et al are blithely assumed to have always been Championship stars in waiting.
Wilder wrings the maximum from players whose peak had seemingly either passed or never materialised, while being flexible, tactically innovative and managing a squad, injuries and expectations.
1. Daniel Farke (Norwich)
Stuart Webber’s recruitment has been superb, but it takes great coaching to turn talents into title contenders. Farke’s most common starting XI includes three youth products, a signing from the Danish league and another from the Dutch league, as well as a Spanish second-division player, a pair from Germany’s second tier and one, incredibly, from the fourth.
The development of under-21 defenders Max Aarons, Jamal Lewis and Ben Godfrey has been thrilling to watch, while Farke’s experimentation has created a pressing system that works to perfection. Norwich’s refusal to bow to short-term thinking after his difficult first season, in the face of major cost-cutting as their parachute payments ended, should be an example to clubs who choose panic over patience.
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