Despite the Championship campaign so far being as chaotic as ever, the one constant with this crazy competition is the cohort of coaches proving themselves to be the cream of the crop.
Leading the pack at the time of writing is Norwich and Brentford, but with the likes of Swansea, Watford and surprisingly Reading creating a formidable chasing pack, it’s going to be a spectacle for the neutrals to see how the race for automatic promotion unravels.
Making my decisions for this article tougher is the fact two of the four current playoff sides have sacked managers this season, showing just how contextual success can be. It’s rare enough to see all three relegated sides in the promotion hunt, and even rarer for this to coincide with managerial switches.
Arguably the manager is more important than ever in a pandemic affected season, guiding a squad full of personalities that’ve never experienced anything like this. With this is mind, it’s a fitting time for me to run you through my ‘Top 5 Championship Managers’
Mark Robins (Coventry City)
With a playing career that began under arguably the greatest manager of all time at Manchester United, perhaps it was inevitable Robins would rise through the leagues with Coventry.
After a largely uninspiring and mediocre start to his managerial career, it looked as if Robins would struggle to replicate his success on the pitch with his work on the side-lines. However, in his second spell with the Sky Blues, he has silenced those doubters, thriving in adversity.
Under his management, he has successfully guided them to two promotions in three seasons, despite the club’s financial ruin and perpetual uncertainty over where his side would play their home games. With a 38-mile trip to each home game for Coventry, it is mightily impressive that Robins has his side sitting just outside the relegation zone after such a rapid rise. They say there is a strength built in those overcoming adversity, and Robins proves this in a managerial sense.
Chris Hughton (Nottingham Forest)
With two Championship promotions in tow, Hughton will hope to replicate his success at a Nottingham Forest side that has longed to return to their former glory days.
Hughton has the epitome of Championship pedigree, beginning his managerial career at a recently relegated Newcastle after numerous spells as caretaker boss. He orchestrated a swift return to the Premier League for the Magpies, a criminally underrated achievement with the struggles many sides have finding their feet in the second tier. An unfair sacking took him to Birmingham, where he thrived in an unorthodox, gruelling schedule that included both Championship and Europa League campaigns. A couple seasons at Norwich followed, before overseeing a Brighton rebuild that saw the Seagulls take flight to the Premier League.
Now he finds himself in Nottingham, once again attempting to rebuild a Forest side licking their wounds from a decade of being so close, yet so far from the promise lands of the Prem’. After Lamouchi started the season with four straight losses, Hughton has slowly but surely moved them up the table and I can certainly see history repeating itself with a Forest promotion charge next season.
Thomas Frank (Brentford)
After building a reputation in his native Denmark, Frank took the perceived step down to assist Dean Smith at Brentford, before replacing him when Villa came calling for Smith.
Despite a tough start to life as Brentford boss, he eventually got the Bees buzzing and now boasts the best winning percentage after 100 games of any Brentford manager ever. A late charge for promotion for his side last season could’ve made it impossible for me to include him on this list, but after sustaining that form this season, I can’t leave him off it.
Admittedly, Frank is aided by Brentford’s innovative ‘Moneyball’ like recruitment strategy, but they often become victims of their own success as the Premier League picks apart their squad annually. Dealing with this sort of squad turnover can be tough, especially when their two best players, Benrahma and Watkins, moved on for pastures new this summer. Regardless, Frank has thrived, and consequently becomes a shoe in for discussions regarding the second tier’s best boss.
Daniel Farke (Norwich City)
I know it seems rather vanilla to place the top two’s managers in a list compiling the league’s best, but it’s no coincidence this pair share the automatic promotions spots.
Like Frank, he endured a tough start to life in England, but good things come to those who wait, and Norwich and Brentford are proof of this. After 14th in his rookie year in the Championship, he lost two key players in Maddison and Murphy in the summer. This didn’t deter Daniel though, as through a mix of developing products of a youth system that’s been heavily invested into in recent times alongside some shrewd transfer activity, he led his side to the Championship title.
The Canaries remained patient, unwilling to mortgage their financial future for a chance at survival, instead preparing for their probable relegation back to the Championship. The notoriously yo-yo like side have reaped the rewards this year, being one of the league’s finest sides as I had to find out on Saturday as a Stoke fan. I fully expect him to repeat his successes of the season before last with Norwich, hence confirming his position on this list.
Neil Warnock (Middlesbrough)
Any discussion of the best managers in the football league as a whole should include this man.
While the football his sides play isn’t the most modern, it’s proven to get results, and ultimately that is all that matters. A man that packed in his playing career at 30 to commit to coaching, he has amassed an incredible 40 years and counting of managerial experience. Incredibly, he has a record breaking 8 promotions, such an important string to have to your bow in a league that has proved to have so many promotion hopefuls year on year.
We are most likely witnessing history that’ll struggle to be replicated with Warnock. While he’s not the most likeable character, he’s a dogged competitor that can motivate any group. Even with his reputation, he’s never scared to dive into a difficult job, most recently joining a Middlesbrough side outside the relegation zone on goal difference. He already has them competing once again for the playoffs, testament to his managerial ability.
With that, you have my top five Championship managers. It was so tough to just choose five, but who would you pick? I can’t see Aitor Karanka making your lists, but let me know if you think I’ve missed anyone off.
Drop a comment below, or tweet us @FanHub_Football and let me know what you think!