No one can argue against either of these world class managers being mentioned in this light. The difference they have made and did make to the their respective teams is clear to see but there is an argument that one man currently plying his trade in the English fourth-tier has had an even greater impact on the team he inherited in 2017.
Mike Flynn had been a player at no less than eight different clubs in a career spanning nearly 20 years. He was brought back to the place where he started it all, Newport County, to firstly act as an ambassador and then as a coach under John Sheridan.
Following the Exiles awful start to the 2016-17 campaign, he was appointed manager with County 11-points adrift of safety at the bottom of League Two.
The journey begins
With Flynn appointed it was still unlikely that Newport would stay up. Being given the job in March, the Welshman had inherited a side low on confidence following a run of just five wins in the opening 35 games of the campaign.
Flynn quickly turned things around, winning his first two matches against Crewe and Morecambe. These two wins would act not only as a platform to build from but also gave the team some much needed belief and Flynn got the team thinking positively, completely changing the mentality of the squad.
It was not all plain sailing and the players didn’t suddenly become unbeatable. The next three games saw the Exiles pick up just one point and left them with a mountain to climb heading into the last seven games of the season.
Three consecutive 1-0 wins started the great escape dream and despite a 6-1 defeat at Plymouth in the next game, another 1-0 win, this time against Accrington, gave them real hope of survival. The penultimate fixture saw them lose 2-1 at Carlisle meaning they had to win their final game of the season to stay up.
Typical of the campaign, Newport faced Notts County at home and were level heading into the last minute. Relegation rivals Hartlepool were winning meaing the Exiles were heading out of the Football League. With time almost up Mark O’Brien, an Irish defender who will go down in Newport legend, came forward and volleyed home the winner to confirm the Exiles would stay up.
With survival confirmed, Flynn was offered a two-year contract and he began building a brighter future.
From dead and buried to perennial giant killers
The spirit that Mike Flynn put into his team was one of the key reasons he was able to get far more out of his players than the budget at his disposal would suggest was possible.
He built a togetherness amongst the squad that meant everyone was pulling in the same direction and the results on the pitch were proof of just that. He also showed that he had an eye for a player. It was common knowledge that Newport had severe financial restrictions with regards to spending yet Flynn snapped up players who would become a staple within the squad over the coming seasons.
Robbie Wilmott, Matt Dolan and Josh Sheehan all arrived that summer to give County a formidable midfield while fire power in attack was added with the additions of Padraig Amond and Frank Nouble.
With these players on board, County had a very solid season in the league which arguably could have been even better if it was not for an outstanding FA Cup run. The League Two minnows beat Leeds United in round three before taking Tottenham Hotspur to a replay in round four – the furthest the Exiles had been in the competition since 1978/79.
Finishing 11th was seen as an excellent achievement and marked the progress the club had made since Flynn had been in charge.
So close, yet so far
With his first full season under his belt, Flynn had made Newport an attractive prospect for young loan players, hungry for a chance at first-team football. The 2018/19 campaign saw Regan Poole, Harry McKirdy and Antoine Semenyo join on loan while Jamille Matt arrived after a season of struggle with Grimsby.
The tall striker proved to be a class signing for County and showed just how good a coach Flynn was turning out to be. He transformed the former Blackpool striker into a key goal-scorer and it was his partnership with the clinical Amond that took Newport on another FA Cup adventure and into the play-offs.
In the league, a late goal at Morecambe on the final day of the season saw County secure a play-off spot after an incredible run of 10 games without defeat. They despatched Mansfield in a compelling play-off semi-final on penalties before losing to Tranmere at Wembley by a single goal.
Despite the defeat, it had been an incredible season for the Exiles and one which rightly saw Flynn’s name linked with a number of jobs higher up the pyramid.
No manager, with the exception perhaps of Danny Cowley at Lincoln, has had such a profound impact at a club in such a short space of time as Mike Flynn has at Newport and certainly not on the budget he has had to work with.
The Welshman has got County looking strong again this season and it would surprise no one to see them finish in the top seven again. The fact that Newport have gone from a side predicted to struggle to one that is now almost expected to challenge, just shows the work that Mike Flynn has done at Rodney Parade. Whether he leaves the club this season or not, he is a man destined to manage a lot higher than League Two and it is surely a matter of time before he gets his chance.
Until then, Newport remain lucky to have a man who may one day be compared to the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Sir Alex Ferguson for his achievements at the top end of football after becoming a legend in Division Four.
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