Nathan Jones might claim to have done one of the best jobs in Europe as Luton Town manager, but his brief tenure as Southampton boss could have a career-limiting impact on more than just his own aspirations.
The Welshman’s hire on the south coast was the first a Premier League club had made from the EFL for more than three years – and Jones’s inability to get to grips with the top flight could mean chairmen are more reticent to dip into the second tier again.
It has to be said that the job Jones had done at Luton across two spells was impressive, so it’s understandable why he was on the radar of bigger clubs, regardless of a haphazard spell at Stoke in between.
Yet it was the assertion of Southampton director of football, Rasmus Ankersen, that there wasn’t much difference between the Premier League and Championship that could me most damaging. While Jones’s bizarre interviews and lack of hubris are more reflective of his own character, it’s the fact the methods he used to great effect in the Championship didn’t cut it a league above that could be the lasting legacy felt by other second-tier bosses.
Premier League clubs not looking to the EFL for their latest hire is nothing new, it’s just Jones had the chance to punch through that skylight at Southampton and has failed in such high-profile fashion.
The previous two managers to be poached from the second tier were Frank Lampard and Graham Potter in the summer of 2019, as they took jobs at Chelsea and Brighton respectively. Both have had relative successes since they got their breaks, although it’s easy to argue the pair were already on a trajectory to that level before the season they each spent in the Championship – Lampard due to his reputation as a player and Potter for his European exploits with Swedish side Ostersunds ahead of his arrival at Swansea.
Even at that stage, there was a tendency to overlook managers from the Championship. The likes of Eddie Howe and Sean Dyche had only earned their positions as established Premier League managers after winning promotion to the Premier League themselves – in Dyche’s case, twice – and keeping their clubs there for a prolonged period.
Perhaps that’s no surprise given the money being ploughed into the Premier League, with decorated European managers such as Julen Lopetegui and Unai Emery now within realistic reach of mid-budget clubs in the division. After earning plaudits for the work he did at Sheffield United, Chris Wilder’s struggle to get another top-flight job is proof of how competitive the market is.
There is a case that stretches further back than Jones to show that managers from the EFL don’t always enjoy too much success when given the chance at a higher level, although that might be a reflection of the jobs they are able to get.
In the seven years prior to Lampard and Potter’s ascension to the Premier League in 2019, only seven managers who had managed in the EFL in the year previous got an upwards move, and three of those – Steve McClaren, Neil Warnock and Paul Lambert – had previous managerial experience at English football’s top table.
Of those seven, Lambert’s Stoke and Carlos Carvalhal’s Swansea were relegated, while McClaren was in charge for much of Newcastle’s doomed 2015-16 campaign. Warnock lasted only four months at Crystal Palace and left with the Eagles in the bottom three, while Paul Clement and Paolo Di Canio lasted less than a year after the initial successes of staving off relegation with Swansea and Sunderland respectively.
That leaves only one manager in the past decade to have made a decent fist of a move from the Championship to the Premier League: Gus Poyet. The Uruguayan kept Sunderland up after being seven points adrift in April and also led the Black Cats to the League Cup final in his first season, staying in the job for more than 17 months before being given the heave ho the following March.
It’s a litany of struggles that make it understandable why clubs look abroad rather than downwards for their next boss. Just as managers with experience in the German leagues have become in vogue in recent years, the track record of most managers from the Championship suggest it’s not such fertile ground when it comes to discovering the next big thing.
It’s a reputation that might be unfair, but after Jones flew the flag for EFL managers with all the poise of a paper cup, it’s a trend that doesn’t look like changing any time soon.