Five EFL managers with Premier League futures, including Michael Duff and Wayne Rooney

EFL pundit Gab Sutton picks out five managers that may have a bright future in the top flight, kicking off with Preston boss Ryan Lowe.

The Liverpudlian got his first shot at the Championship this season, taking over North End in December, and it could have come even earlier but for external circumstances.

Lowe led Bury to promotion from League Two in 2018/19, but the ownership issues at Gigg Lane meant the Shakers were expelled from the EFL prior to the following campaign.

Rather than move up, therefore, Lowe dropped down to League Two again and led Plymouth Argyle to promotion from that level.

Argyle finished 18th in League One with a lack of experience at the back proving their Achilles heel, but smart additions saw Lowe turn the Devoners into promotion contenders this year, before being poached by North End.

The former striker has made the Lilywhites far more expansive and enterprising, putting them in the mix for a top-half finish.

Ryan Lowe Preston Jan22

Favouring an attacking 3-1-4-2 set-up with emphasis on converting full-backs into wide centre-backs, wingers into wing-backs and creating lots of chances, Lowe is an exciting manager with a big future.

If he takes North End into the Premier League and thrives there, who's to say he couldn't be Liverpool manager one day?

Nathan Jones

Nathan Jones Luton Apr22

If Luton win promotion to the top flight via the Championship play-offs, then they will have gone up three times in five seasons and had the same manager in charge for each of those successes.

Jones laid the template for Luton's rise to the second tier with a 4-4-2 diamond system with a rotating midfield quartet and extremely attacking full-backs, notably Jack Stacey and James Justin in 2018/19 - now at Bournemouth and Leicester, respectively.

The demanding Welshman was not the man to ultimately take them into the Championship, having jumped ship to Stoke that season, leaving Mick Harford to finish the job. However, after his stint in the Potteries didn't work out, he returned to Kenilworth Road during the lockdown period in 2019/20.

Had fans been present, Jones might have got a frosty initial reception for the circumstances in which he left, but by the time supporters returned, he was a hero again, having kept Luton up from a tight spot.

After a top-half finish in 2020/21, the Hatters are now tantalisingly close to tying up a play-off spot, and could be about to secure a dream promotion to the Premier League.

Michael Duff

Michael Duff Cheltenham Jan22

Burnley could be on the hunt for a new permanent manager this summer and they could do worse than look at club legend Michael Duff, who is revered at Turf Moor for his time as a player, much like at this current club, Cheltenham Town.

Duff started his reign in autumn 2018 with an eight-game winless streak, but impeccable home form thereon saw him steer the club to a safe, 15th-placed finish.

What Duff established that season was a 3-5-2 blueprint, a side that plays good football, without being afraid to go longer if required and a very well-drilled defensive trio of Charlie Raglan, Ben Tozer and Will Boyle.

That became the basis of their promotion challenges in the next two seasons. And, while 2019/20 ended in play-off heartache, with the Robins losing to Northampton despite leading by two goals after the away leg, they stormed back to take the title the following season.

Michael Duff Burnley Aug14

A mid-table debut season in League One, on one of the lowest budgets in the division, only adds to the notion that Duff is now hot managerial property.

With a wife and family settled in Cheltenham, it would take a big offer for Duff to move - however tempting Burnley might seem theoretically - and a more likely next step might be a Championship club within commuting distance, like Birmingham or Bristol City.

Neil Critchley

Neil Critchley Blackpool Apr22

Even before Critchley took the Blackpool job, he had a great reputation within the game, having played a part in Trent Alexander-Arnold's rise to become a world-class right-back.

Eager to prove himself in senior football, Critchley inherited a Tangerines side that had looked slow, lethargic and one-dimensional under Simon Grayson in League One, and turned them into the Championship's pressing kings within 18 months.

Pools started 2020/21 slowly due to injuries, but from October onwards they took more points than any other team in the division, so it was fitting when they won the play-offs by beating Oxford and Lincoln.

With three games to play in their debut Championship campaign, Blackpool have long been assured of safety and still have a chance of securing a top-half finish, which would be an astonishing achievement on unquestionably a bottom-three budget.

Critchley has gained his success not only through excellent coaching, through which he has elevated the likes of Josh Bowler and Keshi Anderson to new heights, but also smart recruitment, and signing players who fit a very specific role within the structure of the team.

If Ralph Hassenhuttl were to be poached from Southampton, Critchley would be perfect for the Saints and their high-pressing, quick transitions style.

Under Critchley, Blackpool are a club with a plan, a vision and the audacity to make it work: and while he's in charge, who knows what they can achieve?

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney Derby Apr22

Outsiders with only a surface-level knowledge of the Championship might be confused by the extent of the adoration for Rooney.

The Rams have been relegated under his watch, yet the love and appreciation for the boss has been similar to that for a manager that has just been promoted.

The obvious answer is that Derby were lumbered with a 21-point deduction, forced to sell players for a pittance due to receivership and were forced to play out the season with their very existence under threat.

Despite this, Derby have accrued the 17th-most points in the division, with essentially a squad of under-23s and a cluster of veterans.

The good news is that Chris Kirchner looks set to complete a takeover by June, by which point the club can begin the rebuild in League One.

It looks as though Rooney will stay in place for that challenge, although with Everton potentially dropping into the Championship, he may get offers to test his resolve.

READ MORE: The Championship teams who have been waiting the longest to go head to head with Everton

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