Manning is plotting Town's downfall following his journey to MK - via Ipswich, Iceland, West Ham, New York and Belgium
- Credit: MK Dons'Archant
Tomorrow will be a surreal day for MK Dons boss Liam Manning.
Rewind to 2007 and the newest addition to the League One managerial ranks was coaching primary school children on wet and windy Friday nights at Ipswich Town’s development centre in Lowestoft.
Now, after something of an unusual journey, he’s set to lead a side in front of a big Portman Road crowd, plotting the downfall of the club which released him from their academy back in 2005.
Manning was a surprise appointment when MK Dons picked him to replace Russell Martin earlier this month, but he arrives with a coaching pedigree forged in Suffolk and fine-tuned at West Ham and then in New York and Belgium.
His professional playing days ended when the former midfielder was released by the Blues in 2005 and after a year playing in Iceland but, in a sense, that’s when his career in football truly started.
While also having a spell managing SIL side Melton St Audry’s and working at Combs Middle School in Suffolk, he coached his way up in the Town academy, tutoring the likes of Connor Wickham, Luke Woolfenden, Flynn Downes and Andre Dozzell before making the move to West Ham at the end of 2015.
“Ipswich have to take a lot of credit for everything that I’ve managed to do because they gave me my start and they look after their own,” Manning said, speaking to this newspaper in 2019.
“Ipswich develop good people and that’s something that’s really important in the academy there and it’s something I’ve taken on as part of everything I’ve done since I left.”
The first stop after Suffolk on Manning’s coaching journey saw him join the Hammers, who had tracked him for some time before making the move to bring him in as assistant academy manager.
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He went on to lead the Premier League club’s Under 23s, working with the likes of Declan Rice, Reece Oxford and Grady Diangana along the way, before the direction of his career changed when he linked up with the City Football Group in 2019.
The group, which own Manchester City and have stakes in clubs around the world, had recognised his coaching potential and, after recruiting him, placed Manning within the youth section of New York City FC.
He moved to the Big Apple as academy director, working to improve the flow of young players to the MLS club’s first-team, with his stay in the Bronx lasting just a year before taking his first professional manager job in the summer of 2020. He joined Belgian side Lommel – another club under the watch of Manchester City’s owners.
His stay in the Belgian second tier lasted just a year once again and, while his one campaign didn’t result in promotion, Manning was able to double both the number of wins and goals from the previous season, as Lommel finished third in the table, missing out on the promotion places by just a single position.
And that, in conjunction with an outstanding CV and countless references, was enough for MK Dons to take the plunge and appoint a relative unknown as their new manager.
Things have started well, with a narrow loss to Sunderland followed by a home victory over Charlton on Tuesday night, heading into his big Portman Road return this weekend.
He won’t be alone, either, with Manning’s new MK coaching staff packed with familiar faces.
First to arrive was Chris Hogg, Dons’ new assistant head coach, with the former Town defender leaving his role as Newcastle’s Under 23s boss to link up with his old Ipswich academy team-mate.
Then there’s former Ipswich defender David Wright, who moves to League One following his time leading Norwich’s Under 23s, taking on the role of assistant first-team coach.
“His values align with me and Chris,” Manning said of Wright. “First and foremost, he’s trustworthy, open and honest but he’s also somebody who analyses the game and looks to improve those around him.”
There’s a familiar face on the pitch, too, in the former of ex-Town loanee Troy Parrott, who has scored in both of Manning’s two games in charge.
Tuesday night's win, which also saw Parrott assist Mo Eisa's goal, saw 'Liam Manning's MK Army' ring out around stadium:mk, bringing the biggest of grins from the club's new manager as he applauded the home support.
Manning grew up dreaming of having his name sung at Portman Road and, while he never managed to achieve that as a player, he now has the opportunity to have his own big moment at the famous old home of the Blues, as he continues to make his way in management.
MANNING’S CAREER PATH
– Manning was with Ipswich Town between the ages of 13-19 before being released at the end of the 2004/05 season without making a first-team appearance.
– Following his release he spent 10 months in Iceland, playing for Selfoss, where his passion for coaching developed.
– Despite having the option to stay in Iceland for another season, Manning returned to Suffolk and played for Leiston under the management of former Ipswich Town player Jason Dozzell.
– Former Ipswich academy chief Tony Humes brought Manning back to the club during this period, working as a part-time coach alongside Town’s general manager of football operations Lee O’Neill.
– His first group was the Under 13s – a squad including current Crystal Palace striker Connor Wickham.
– Alongside his work at Ipswich, Manning had a brief stint as manager of SIL side Melton St Audry’s and also worked at Combs Middle School alongside O’Neill.
– Manning eventually became the Blues’ Under 16s coach, working with the likes Andre Dozzell, Luke Woolfenden, Flynn Downes and Tristan Nydam.
– West Ham, after tracking him for some time, recruited Manning to be their assistant academy manager in December 2015. He went on to manage the club’s Under 23 team.
– Following an approach, Manning became director of coaching at New York City FC’s academy in 2019, joining the City Football Group
– A year later, Manning moves to another of City’s sister clubs, taking his first management role in Belgium’s second tier with Lommel. In his one season at the club, he doubled the team’s win and goal records from the previous season, missing out on promotion by a single place.
– Manning has been appointed head coach of MK Dons in League One, winning one of his first two games in charge before taking on Ipswich at Portman Road. Former Town players Chris Hogg and David Wright are added to the MK staff.