It’s been the worst kept secret in football but we can now make the official announcement: Michael Duff is the new manager of Cheltenham Town.
The 40-year old former Northern Ireland international defender will start work with the Robins tomorrow having brought to an end a 14-year career with Burnley Football Club as a player then coach.
Before joining Burnley Michael was, of course, a member of the Cheltenham Town team that progressed from the Southern League to Football League One in five remarkable years under the management of Steve Cotterill.
Since his retirement from playing in 2016 Michael has been employed by the Burnley academy, most recently taking charge of the Under-23 team at Turf Moor.
A UEFA Pro Licence coach, Michael has played and worked under some outstanding managers in Cotterill, Owen Coyle, Eddie Howe and now Sean Dyche. He emerged as the leading candidate from a thorough recruitment process conducted by the club’s Board of Directors.
“We are absolutely delighted to have Michael Duff on board as our new manager,” said Robins chairman Andy Wilcox.
“I think this will be the start of a new era at Cheltenham Town and the Board are very excited to have made this appointment.
“It has been a very intense few weeks and it has probably taken a bit longer than we wanted because as well as searching for a new manager, we have also strengthened the squad with six new players.
“I would like to pay tribute to Russell Milton and all the backroom staff, who have done a magnificent job in difficult circumstances, and I must also thank my fellow Board members, who have all worked extremely hard over the past four weeks. I am certain that the club is now in a much stronger position and we can all move forward together.”
The facts and stats regarding Michael Duff’s playing career are remarkable. He was playing for Carterton Town in the Hellenic League when their manager Derek Bragg recommended him to Cheltenham Town youth development officer Mike Davis in 1996. After only six appearances for the reserve team he made his first team debut in the Southern League against Dorchester Town in September that year.
Following a spell on loan at Cirencester Town in the Southern League Midland Division, Michael’s career took off following the appointment of Cotterill as manager and he was a member of the team that won the FA Trophy at Wembley before going on to score the goal that won promotion to the Football League in 1999.
In 2002 Michael became the first ever Cheltenham Town player to win an international cap while playing for the club when he made his debut for Northern Ireland in a friendly against Poland and two years later, after 372 first team appearances for the Robins, he was transferred to Championship club Burnley where his career continued its upward curve.
It total he made 384 first team appearances for The Clarets and won three promotions to the Premier League, the last of them in 2016 at the age of 38 before retiring to concentrate on a second career in coaching and management. He also won 24 Northern Ireland international caps including a substitute appearance in the 1-0 win over England at Windsor Park in 2005 and he is one of the few players to have made league appearances at each of the top eight divisions of the English football pyramid.
“I can’t wait to get started back at Cheltenham Town,” said Michael.
“It’s a big step for me to leave a job where I was settled, working with a great manager at a Premier League club, but I feel that the time is right now.
“It is a fantastic opportunity and I would like to thank the Board for the faith that they have shown in me. I know that they have worked very hard to get the deal done and I am very grateful for the opportunity.
“I only played professionally for two clubs so obviously Cheltenham Town is a club that I know well and one that is very close to my heart.
“It is also an opportunity to move my family back home and I’m looking forward to meeting the staff and players on Tuesday.”
Michael faces a busy first day at work with meetings, media commitments, first team training and two matches at the training ground as the Under-23s take on Plymouth Argyle in the Central League while the Under-18s play Bristol Rovers in the Youth Alliance Cup. We will bring you further updates from Michael’s first media conference tomorrow.