Gary O’Neil enjoys Wolves’ thumping win at Chelsea (Picture: Wolves via Getty Images)
The cult of celebrity is such that we often expect the next great football manager to be the last great player. In reality, the most promising managerial careers of recent years have been forged by men with more modest player careers, such as Eddie Howe and Graham Potter.
And yet, perhaps even their time as the coming men of the technical area has already passed. Former Chelsea boss Potter continues to bide his time and wait for the right opportunity to climb back onto the merry-go-round.
With his old club still struggling ten months after his sacking, Potter’s reputation looks less tarnished by the week but the landscape is changing the longer his sabbatical continues.
It wasn’t much more than a year ago he was seen as the brightest English manager out there but as the 48-year-old’s watching brief lengthens, younger men have stepped up to stake a claim.
Take Rob Edwards. In the same month Potter was being hired by Chelsea the 41-year-old was sacked by Watford, but he returned to management with rivals Luton less than two months later and oversaw a miracle as the Hatters reached the top flight, on a shoestring, for the first time in 31 years.
Rob Edwards’ Luton team scored four goals twice in a week (Picture: Getty Images)
A fantastic story that was completely unexpected, Luton’s inevitable failure to compete in the Premier League could hardly be held against their manager. But compete they have, moving out of the relegation zone – aided by Everton’s points deduction – and scoring more goals after 22 games than nine of their peers, including Manchester United.
On a still modest budget with a hastily assembled squad Edwards has worked wonders, conjuring greatness from journeymen and, in Ross Barkley, retuning a Rolls-Royce – the sum parts being a vibrant, positive team with real hope of staying up against all the odds.
Last Saturday, Luton scored four goals – for the second time in a week – at Newcastle, managed by Howe, once the poster boy of English management but increasingly resembling Steve Bruce’s weather-beaten younger brother as the travails of the Magpies’ tricky season catch up with him.
Howe served notice of his own promise at Bournemouth but it is a man sacked by the Cherries only last year who is rivalling Edwards as the unsung manager of the year.
After leaving Bournemouth Gary O’Neil answered the call when Julen Lopetegui bailed on cash-strapped Wolves. Joining a ridiculous four days before the first game of the season it would have been no surprise, and no shame, if he’d been moved on four days after it but, instead, Wolves were very unlucky to lose at Manchester United and have not really looked back.
With Profit and Sustainability Rules making transfer wheeler-dealing impossible, the 40-year-old had no choice but to work with the players he inherited, so O’Neil’s achievement has been one of pure coaching, making the best of what you have.
And his best has been plenty good enough, with Sunday’s 4-2 win at Chelsea moving Wolves above a billionaire’s hedge fund investment and just a point behind Newcastle. They are also five points better off than the club who sacked him last summer.
Frank Lampard has struggled as a Premier League manager (Picture: Reuters)
Like Howe and Potter, O’Neil and Edwards share fairly modest playing records. The Wolves manager made more than 200 appearances in the top flight for the likes of Portsmouth, Middlesbrough, West Ham and Norwich but it was not the kind of resume which guarantees you a shot at Premier League management. As a 20-year-old, Edwards made eight top-flight appearances for Aston Villa and, almost a decade later, two more for Blackpool.
While famous names like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard were fast-tracked into the dug-out and largely failed, these modest men had to earn every chance they have had. Perhaps it is no surprise they have done so much with them.
Chelsea news, exclusives and analysis