What do we know about Blackpool's managerial candidate Michael Duff? Cheltenham Town expert provides fascinating insight

Blackpool intend to speak to Cheltenham Town boss Michael Duff about their head coach vacancy - but what do we know about him?

Tuesday, 7th June 2022, 11:20 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th June 2022, 11:43 am

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Reports suggest the club will be speaking to Duff as early as today.

However, the League One side also revealed they have tabled a new contract to their boss, who has enjoyed success during his four-year stint in the hotseat - making him the 10th longest-serving manager in the English game.

Duff won the League Two title during the 2020/21 season and comfortably kept the Robins in the third tier last season, finishing in 15th - achieving the club’s highest ever finish in their history.

As a player, Duff made more than 300 appearances for Cheltenham and scored the goal that earned them promotion to the Football League in 1999.

Blackpool intend to speak to Duff about their vacancy

He spent the rest of his playing career in English football's top two divisions with Burnley before retiring in 2016.

To find out more about his coaching credentials, The Gazette spoke to Gloucestershire Live’s Cheltenham reporter Jon Palmer - and here’s what he had to say.

What sort of coach is Duff? And how would you sum up his style of football?

When he first came in he had been Burnley’s Under-23s coach and when he first arrived he actually tried to play quite direct.

He saw Cheltenham were struggling in League Two and he used a 4-4-2 - so he was very much of the Burnley first-team mould, battling against the odds to stay in the league with quite direct, quite percentage-based football.

It didn’t work for him at all, so he ditched it after it took him 10 games to get his first league win.

That coincided with a switch to 3-5-2, which he used for the first time in an EFL Trophy game, so he almost stumbled upon it really.

They beat Arsenal’s Under-21s 6-2 and Ben Tozer, who had been out of the frame and couldn’t get in the team, once he came in he played in the middle of the back three and that was the start of the massive improvement under Duff.

From that moment onwards, they’ve been on a massive trajectory and the style of football has been very good.

They played a lot of good football during the season they lost in the play-off semi final, they played more football than they did last season when they were trying to stay in League One.

The year they won the league, they were possibly a bit of both - they could mix it up when they needed to but they also tried to play some nice football. But they probably weren’t as attractive on the eye as they were during the 2019/20 season, when they lost in the play-offs.

Now he definitely loves the 3-5-2, he definitely knows how to make it work and it has worked for him. When he’s tried changing to another formation, like a diamond in midfield with a back four, it hasn’t really worked.

Whether that’s just down to lack of practice almost, I don’t know, but the 3-5-2 definitely suits him and you can’t really knock what he’s done with it.

The team he built last season can do both sides of the game pretty well.

I think he was surprised how much football they ended up playing in the 3-5-2 because before that it was quite direct up to the front man.

But if you saw Cheltenham play during the 2019/20 season, you’d have been impressed with how they kept the ball on the deck and played it out from the back.

Tozer was a big part of that and they couldn’t do that as much last season because he left to join Wrexham at the start of last season. But he was a massive figure in their style of play because he was so comfortable on the ball and, with centre halves either side of him, he was the man who pulled the strings. They had to adapt slightly without him last season.

He likes his team to play attractive football but they’re also quite a big side who can certainly match the more physical teams in both of the divisions they’ve been in.

What’s he like as a character and a person? He’s certainly well thought of at Burnley.

He’s a very easy manager to deal with. He only played professionally for Cheltenham and Burnley and he’s very popular at both clubs.

He’s a club legend at Cheltenham for what he did as a player anyway, so he won three promotions at Cheltenham as a player and then went to Burnley and won three promotions there.

He’s now got a promotion as a manager at Cheltenham, which was the first EFL title in the club’s history.

He was a very popular character in the dressing rooms at both clubs and I believe he’s still close to a lot of the Burnley lads like Jay Rodriguez and Danny Ings, Sam Vokes…Sean Dyche couldn’t speak highly enough of him.

In terms of dealing with him, he’s quite an even-tempered manager I’d say, he’s not one that will shout and scream and get carried away when things aren’t going well. You can’t almost tell what the result is after a game.

He clearly cares, he clearly has a real hunger though and he’s very ambitious, but he’s quite good at keeping things balanced and not getting too up or down depending on results.

He’s not one to bite your head off in interviews either!

What’s his record like on recruitment? Is he in charge of signings or does he work closely with the club?

When he came in he inherited a team that was under-achieving and he got the best out of the players already there.

The first signing he made, which he was definitely responsible for, was Luke Varney who turned out to be an absolutely brilliant signing - and of course you’ll know all about him.

That was a genius signing because he came in and improved the standards in the dressing room, he scored goals and he still had lots to offer as a player, but it was certainly his character in the dressing room and his influence around the place that made him such a good signing.

He’s now got a head of recruitment who came in before Michael Duff took over, a chap called Micky Moore, who has to take a lot of credit for some of the recruitment, particularly some of the loans they got in.

Michael will tell him what he wants and Micky will go and find it, so they worked very well together.

Michael certainly has a big say in it and Micky won’t force Michael to sign players, so Michael will say ‘we need this and we’re recruiting for 3-5-2’, so they don’t sign wingers for example and everything is geared towards playing that shape.

Micky Moore has been particularly impressive in the loan market and building up relationships with Premier League clubs, so last season they had lads from Tottenham, Leicester City and Watford and they all did really well.

Duff is well connected, but Micky Moore deserves a lot of credit for the club’s recruitment.

Duff definitely showed he can get more out of the players that were already here when he took over though, because they were struggling at the wrong end of League Two and a lot of those lads ended up playing well in League One last season.

Are Cheltenham fans resigned to losing Duff?

It was good the club put out a statement because I think it was important to keep the fans in the loop.

The fans are desperate for him to stay, but they know they’ve just got to enjoy it while it lasts because what he’s achieved with Cheltenham - he’s broken all the records, he’s led them to their highest ever finish, won the club their first ever EFL title, they had the Man City FA Cup game - there’s no doubt he’s destined for bigger and better things.

If he were to go to Blackpool particularly, because they’re in the division above, Cheltenham fans would wish him all the best. But they’re obviously desperate for him to stay as long as possible.

At the end of last season there were a few comments along the lines of ‘this isn’t going to last forever’ because Cheltenham are lucky to have him.

To be fair to Cheltenham, they gave him his first job in senior management but since then he’s certainly over-achieved. There’s no doubt he’s up there with some of the best managers, if not the best manager, Cheltenham have ever had.

They’ll be gutted to see him go, but I think they’ll understand. When he left Cheltenham to join Burnley as a player in 2004 after winning three promotions, there was a bit of disappointment he left, but there was an understanding he was always going to play higher up the pyramid at some point. That’s the same in management because he will manage at a higher level.

Is he settled in the Cheltenham area?

He’s moved back to Cheltenham and his wife is from Cheltenham, so the kids are settled there. He’s bought a house in Cheltenham and both the kids are in school. His family are all around him and his parents live down the road.

I don’t expect him to jump at the first job that comes up, but I do think Blackpool is close to another area of the country he’s very familiar with.

I think he was based in the Manchester area when he was at Burnley for over a decade, so that might be a positive in Blackpool’s favour.

It’s a higher level of football and the club seems to be in a good place, so I think the job would certainly appeal to him if it was one he was offered. That’s just my opinion.

I don’t think he would up-sticks and go to any club anywhere in the country, if they were maybe a few places above Cheltenham in the league ladder. But with Blackpool, they do have a lot to offer in terms of what he would be looking for.

I think he fits the bill in terms of what the Blackpool owners and chief executive would be looking for.