Is It The End Of The Road For Premier League Clubs Hiring EFL Managers?

Former Luton Town manager Nathan Jones was sacked by Southampton
11:00, 17 Feb 2023

Nathan Jones’ sacking from Southampton was not unexpected. The dismal 95 days he spent in charge of the south coast club led to his dismissal, and while the Saints look for their next boss, it also points towards a worrying trend. 

Jones was one of the Football League’s hottest properties. He had shone with Luton Town, taking them from League Two to the Championship play-offs and his stock was at a high, having returned to Kenilworth Road and reinvigorated the Hatters. He had tried and failed to succeed elsewhere at Stoke City, but it didn’t put Southampton off as they took a punt on one of the finest young coaches in English football.

He won just one Premier League match in his time at St Mary’s. Even his brief cup success couldn’t stop the tide of negativity that came down from the stands. Eventually, the board were forced to act but it marks the end of another manager hired from the EFL in the top flight.


As the Premier League’s financial might increases compared to the other leagues around Europe, clubs who may usually have looked to the Championship for their next boss are now able to attract huge names. Aston Villa have now got four-time Europa League winner Unai Emery in charge while Wolverhampton Wanderers have appointed former Spain and Real Madrid boss Julen Lopetegui - two appointments that were seemingly unthinkable a few years ago.

Wolves have hit the jackpot with Lopetegui, but things could have been different had they not been turned down by Mick Beale - the Rangers manager who was on top of the Championship with Queens Park Rangers in October. He was clearly a young head coach who was attracting attention from bigger clubs, and even though he said no to Wolves he couldn’t resist the lure of the Glasgow giants. 

His appointment would have been a rarity in the modern game though. Premier League clubs, even those struggling at the bottom of the table are now able to appoint some of the finest coaches from the continent. Leeds United’s latest managerial hunt has seen them consider the man currently fifth in La Liga, Andoni Iraola, and Feyenoord manager Arne Slot. 

Given the extraordinary level of managers they can now attract and the recent record of managers such as Jones and Frank Lampard in the top flight you can understand why Premier League clubs may overlook those second-tier managers. But perhaps they shouldn’t. 

Graham Potter is a recent success story from the Championship. Swansea City took a punt on him after his stunning work at Ostersund and he was only in South Wales for a season before Brighton and Hove Albion came calling. It was seen by many critics as naive to replace the steady hand of Chris Hughton with an untested Potter, but over four seasons he took the Seagulls from relegation contenders to the top half. 

He is one of only a handful of Championship managers who are given the chance to make the step up. The rest have to fight their way to promotion to be given an opportunity to prove themselves in the top flight. This season, along with the big-money managers, we are seeing more success stories than ever as head coaches from the second tier make an impression on the biggest league on the planet. 

Thomas Frank’s Brentford are currently on a 10-game unbeaten run and consistently embarrass teams which outspend them multiple times over. The Bees sit above Liverpool and Chelsea as things stands, but Frank had to work through two-and-a-half second-tier campaigns, and two play-off finals before getting Brentford, and himself, into the Premier League. 

Marco Silva had experience in the Premier League with Hull City, Watford and Everton, but dropped down to the Championship to rebuild his reputation with Fulham. Having won the league title at the first attempt, now his side are seventh in the Premier League, well in contention to disrupt the European places. 

Steve Cooper, Potter’s successor at Swansea, was the standout manager in the second tier in South Wales, yet when he left the club after the play-off final defeat to Frank’s Brentford, no Premier League club picked him up. Instead, he was forced to bide his time before taking over at Nottingham Forest, who sat in the relegation zone at the time. A stunning turnaround and play-off success followed, and now, despite early pressure, he is showing his quality in the Premier League. 

Clearly, the correlation between top Championship managers and promotion makes it hard for Premier League clubs to poach the cream of the crop. Currently Vincent Kompany and Paul Heckingbottom look nailed on to secure promotion to the top flight with Burnley and Sheffield United respectively. They’ll earn their chance to compete next year, but that doesn’t mean other top-tier clubs should ignore the division completely. 

In his first job, Michael Carrick is flying at Middlesbrough and has them in contention, Slaven Bilic has coped with an injury crisis at Watford to get them in the play-offs and Mark Robins continues to shine at Coventry City. All three of them could be managing in the second tier again next season and, despite Jones’ failure, Premier League clubs can still find success close to home. 

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