Liam Manning teaches MK Dons Pep Guardiola principles after getting Declan Rice off the ground


He spent a year in Belgium honing his craft, but now Manning is mixing it up with the big beasts in League One – and the concrete cows of Milton Keynes are proving harder to crack than most

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Pep Guardiola previews Man UTD clash

In the madness of the football transfer market, philosophy is the hardest transplant of all.

A good striker always finds the goal and top-notch goalkeepers sure move from club to club.

But for young coaches who break through in football, the methodology will often only survive if the players are good enough to put your ideas into practice.

Liam Manning has made a strong start to his managerial career – and now the concrete cows of Milton Keynes are proving to be one of the longest-lived species in a branch populated by great beasts.

Under Manning’s tutelage, MK Dons are flying high in League One, currently over Sunderland, Sheffield Wednesday, Ipswich, Portsmouth, Bolton and Charlton, among others.

And he’s doing so on the principles he learned from Pep Guardiola as part of Manchester City’s Belgium-based club portfolio, City Football Group.

Liam Manning is making his mark as the manager of MK Dons


Chris Vaughan – CameraSport via Getty Images)

At SK Lommel, a melting pot of 14 different nationalities and four languages, he led a team from a small town of 34,000 near the Dutch border to third place in the Belgian second division last season.

Fair play to MK Dons — not a phrase you’ve always read about a franchise — for recognizing Manning’s potential.

Whilst working at West Ham’s academy he was instrumental in Declan Rice’s rise to the first team and now the Hammers have a fortune of over £100million on their hands.

And his experience at Lommel only confirmed that the 36-year-old Manning was destined for bigger jobs in the local area.

“When I came in the club was on the brink of bankruptcy, there were only five players left from last year and I had to build a whole new team,” he said of his year in lockdown in Belgium.

Top of the Peps: Guardiola

“One can have all the money in the world, but money is only worth something if it is backed by a strong culture

“I learned a lot about establishing a culture of communication and what you need to do before you even get to what a team looks like on match day.

“When you start from scratch, you need everyone to pull together and have a team-first mindset.

“When we look at the group of players and staff here who have done a great job so far, it becomes clear how important it is to put egos aside and work towards the same goals.

“All credit goes to the players who have been brave enough to play the way we want to and by doing so created a culture where they feel they have our support.

“It’s entertaining for people to watch, they enjoy playing, but we also do it to win games and that’s really important to emphasize.”

Manning’s MK Dons are third in League One and chasing promotion


Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)

Manning has plenty of experience at Moo Camp, from 37-year-old Dean Lewington to the former Sunderland and crystal palace Striker Connor Wickham, ex-Chelsea boy Wonder Josh McEachran and on loan Tottenham Midfielder Troy Parrott.

They’ve all embraced the Pep principles willingly – and this weekend’s trip to leaders Rotherham will be their toughest test yet.

Manning said, “There were certain principles already ingrained in this group, and I didn’t go into a dressing room that was stylistically playing the complete opposite of what I wanted.

“I knew they would be brave enough to do it – but dominating the ball, building from behind when it’s right and being aggressive from possession only works if you have the players for it.

“In League One if you look at the size of clubs, the size of their budgets and fanbases, we can’t match some of them off the pitch – but we have talented young players who have shown they can work at that level. “

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