The top 12 managers in the Football League
8) Graham Alexander (Fleetwood)
Alexander’s playing career was notable for his penalty-taking prowess and his managerial skills are hitting the spot, too. Tenth place in League One for Fleetwood at the first time of asking was a fine achievement for a club whose average attendance was 134 just 11 years previously, and Alexander’s work since taking over in December 2012 has accelerated what was already a formidably upward trajectory.
The Championship is the next target for the 43-year-old, whose well-organised team had the division’s fourth-best defensive record last season, and the odds are that he will make it there sooner rather than later – whether with the Lancashire side or not.
7) Karl Robinson (MK Dons)
It seems remarkable that, at 34, Karl Robinson is five years into his spell at MK Dons – and it’s a credit to his ambitious side that it has stayed loyal to him, too. There is good reason: Robinson is a razor-sharp character who has stamped a clear style on what is still a new club.
Under Robinson, MK Dons have played fluent, incisive football and even though a couple of early play-off campaigns under his watch were followed by finishes outside the promotion shake-up there has always been the feeling that they are building. That was borne out last season, when an exciting young team was promoted to the Championship at last, and few would bet against club and manager’s stock increasing in the second tier.
6) David Flitcroft (Bury)
Bury were, in Flitcroft’s words, “all over the show” when he took over in December 2013. The Shakers boss had been harshly sacked by Barnsley just months after saving them from relegation from the Championship and had to rebuild his career with a club that looked like dropping out of the Football League. He steered them into mid-table and then, in his first full season, took them to automatic promotion – showing a tactical flexibility that is not always evident further down the leagues.
Flitcroft isn’t afraid to change his team’s shape during a game and has often started with a back three. He isn’t afraid to speak his mind either, criticising the club’s fans for their impatience after a win over Northampton in March. As Bury prepare for League One, Flitcroft is well on the way to proving Barnsley wrong.
5) Aitor Karanka (Middlesbrough)
Karanka, who’d been Jose Mourinho’s assistant at Real Madrid, was a celebrated arrival to the Championship in November 2013 but there was still little way of knowing how a man unaccustomed to its rigours would fare.
As it turned out, doubts were unnecessary: Middlesbrough couldn’t mount a play-off challenge in his first season but the shift in their style was clear and, by the start of 2014/15, the Spaniard had created a tightly drilled unit that pressed ferociously and played some technically outstanding football.
Defeat in the play-off final was hard to take, and there was also the moment when he ill-advisedly sent goalkeeper Dimitrios Konstantopoulos up for a corner towards the end of a vital game at Fulham and saw his team throw the game away, but nobody is perfect. The Spaniard has, in the space of 18 months, wrought an astonishing turnaround and bright times lie ahead for both parties.