‘I took on Wenger and Bielsa after starting mad journey in Essex Senior League’

No manager in England has a track record quite like Danny Cowley's. His 15 seasons in management have encompassed eight of the top nine levels in the pyramid – from the Essex Senior League with Concord Rangers right up to the Championship with Huddersfield.

He has managed in an FA Cup quarter-final as well as the Isthmian League Cup. He has mucked in while at non-league clubs by washing kits and putting out cones, and shared a touchline with greats like Arsene Wenger and Marcelo Bielsa.

Currently out of work after being sacked by Portsmouth in January, Cowley and his brother Nicky, his assistant throughout the journey, are preparing for their next job by watching matches, identifying players and updating their own database so they can hit the ground running when that 'right club' comes along. Cowley could already be back in work by now.

READ MORE: ‘Ginger-haired lad’ Kevin De Bruyne trained at Arsenal aged 12 but failed to impress

“We’ve had four offers since we’ve been out, just not quite the right ones for us at the moment,” he tells Daily Star Sport.

“We’ve been lucky enough to manage in eight of the top nine divisions, managing almost 1,000 games, and we wouldn’t change anything. If you want to keep getting better, you want to keep challenging yourself [by managing at the highest possible level].

“But more than that, from experience, it’s about working with like-minded people. If I go back to the success that we had at Concord Rangers and Lincoln City in particular, we had so many like-minded people there.”

The time out has also given the 44-year-old time to reflect since first entering the full-time game with Lincoln, then of the National League, in 2016 and spend extra time with his wife Kate, a former international heptathlete, and their two sports-mad children.

Cowley remains best known for his incredible success at Lincoln. Danny and Nicky gave up their jobs as school teachers at FitzWimarc School in Essex to take charge at Sincil Bank, having defied the odds by leading part-time Braintree to third in the National League.

The Imps were in the doldrums having spent five years out of the Football League, although they had just received fresh investment from South African businessman Clive Nates, now the club’s chairman. It proved to be the right job at the right time.

By the time the Cowleys left, three-and-a-half years later, Lincoln had won two league titles, the Checkatrade Trophy at Wembley and enjoyed a history-making FA Cup run, becoming the first non-league team in more than 100 years to reach the last eight.

That quarter-final against a full-strength Arsenal side, who won 5-0, was followed by a memorable hour in the company of Wenger in the Frenchman’s office at the Emirates. It was a meeting of minds Cowley remembers fondly.

“We’ve been really lucky to manage against some incredible managers, who have forgotten more than I know,” he says. “Whenever we do we always try and find some time to pick their brains. I remember spending a good hour with Arsene Wenger and Steve Bould [Wenger’s assistant at the time].

“It was incredible really because they’d been beaten heavily in midweek [by Bayern Munich in the Champions League]. He had taken a lot of criticism from the Arsenal supporters and particularly the media.

“Regardless of all that pressure, he was still able to find time and he spoke so passionately with so much love for the game. It was a fantastic experience.

“He was managing in the Premier League of course and we were in the National League. We spoke about training schedules, selection, and communication between players. Our lives were actually similar in terms of the decisions we had to make. It was great to listen his to methods and pick his brains.”

What's the best FA Cup run of all time? Have your say in the comments section

Their success with Lincoln inevitably led to interest from high up and, early in the 2019/20 season, the Cowleys were lured to Huddersfield, still reeling from a chastening season in the Premier League which saw them pick up just 16 points.

“We had fantastic success at a brilliantly-run club [Lincoln]. When we left there it was probably the right time for both parties,” he reflects. “We had the opportunity to go to the Championship. Lincoln were just into League One and looking to establish themselves at that level.”

Their remit at Huddersfield was simple: Stop the Terriers from suffering a second straight relegation. It was mission accomplished but the Cowleys were surprisingly sacked anyway.

“We took a team that had just come out of the Premier League and the club had really suffered,” he recalls. “That was the first time we’d been involved in a relegation battle. We inherited a team with one point after nine games.

“When you take over a club in Huddersfield’s position, you’re putting a lot of fires out, it’s crisis management. We felt like we’d built foundations and given the club stability and we were hoping to push on from there but it wasn’t possible. In that nine months at Huddersfield, Nicky I learnt so much. It was a brilliant experience.

“We went from Lincoln, where we were a lean and mean squad to a 28-30 man squad, players of all different cultures. We learned about managing players from different countries and different walks of life.

“I don’t think it was footballing reasons why we left Huddersfield, we just saw things differently with the owner [Phil Hodgkinson] at that time. That sometimes happens in football.”

Those valuable nine months and included another meeting with a giant of management, Bielsa, during the Argentine's reign at Leeds. The Argentine famously conducted interviews in Spanish via an interpreter, but Cowley got a sample of Bielsa’s English.

“He speaks better English than you’d give him credit for,” reveals Cowley. “It’s interesting when you speak with foreign coaches. Sometimes, because their English is slightly more limited than ours, they’re actually able to communicate in a more efficient and concise way. They’ve got some good terms that we sometimes look to steal!

“His game ideas and how he likes his team to play, particularly offensively, were incredible. His style and methods are so different. Explaining his training sessions was like explaining a science experiment. It was really interesting to see how he worked.

“If you look at the impact he’s had on players, like Kalvin Phillips, and the way he’s developed them, it’s fantastic and we took lots from that experience.”

Then came a spell at Portsmouth, one of the numerous fallen giants who find themselves in League One. A promising first full season at Fratton Park saw Pompey just miss out on the play-offs and a strong start to this season suggested they could go one better. But a poor run of form results, not helped by injuries to key players, resulted in the sack by the club's American owner, Michael Eisner.

“Portsmouth are probably the biggest club, in terms of supporter base, that we’ve managed,” says Cowley. “Like all these big clubs that find themselves in the lower leagues, it was about trying to rebuild the connection between what happened on the pitch with the supporters.

“I feel for the Portsmouth supporters because they’ve been in the lower leagues for a number of years and they’re naturally frustrated by that. The majority of fans lived the Premier League years, the FA Cup win [in 2008] and those brilliant times.

“I genuinely believe Michael Eisner is trying to run the club in the right way. But building that way takes time and the biggest challenge is building the right narrative to allow that success, because I think it will come with time.

“The supporters are incredibly passionate and, if they can get them on side, they can have a huge impact on the club’s success moving forward. I hope they’re able to achieve that.”

Those experiences are a far cry from the Cowleys’ humble beginnings in management with part-time Concord, where they won three promotions in eight years, and then Braintree.

“When you’re at Concord Rangers and Braintree, you don’t have the same support network around you so you have to be manager, head coach, sports scientist, kit manager, analyst, all these jobs rolled into one,” he reminisces fondly.

“That was great for us for because, having lived those roles, you have a better understanding of them and then have more clarity on what you want. So when we went to Lincoln, Huddersfield and Portsmouth, we were able to work well with people in those roles and know what we wanted from them.”

Cowley is now fully focused on the future and his next job in management. By his own admission, his stock has fallen since his time at Lincoln. However, he believes he has enough credit in the bank to land a job in the EFL.

“When we left Lincoln, our stock was high,” he says. “As we sit here today, having had the Huddersfield experience and the Portsmouth experience, our stock is probably not so high. But we genuinely believe we are better managers for those experiences.”


  • Three new names inducted into Premier League Hall of Fame
  • 'I managed Arsenal but used to smoke on the bench and sold cigarettes as a youngster'
  • Six greatest title comebacks of all-time as Arsenal need miracle to win Premier League
  • Paul Scholes has savage reply to Martin Keown comment dubbed 'season's cringiest moment'
  • 'Declan Rice and Moises Caicedo can come to Arsenal despite crazy transfer prices'

Source: Read Full Article