Following a distinguished playing career at all four levels of English football with Preston, Wimbledon and QPR, Ainsworth began his coaching career at Wycombe Wanderers in a player-coach role in 2011, having earned legendary status in his final years as a player.
The former QPR caretaker boss was handed the reins at Adams Park in September that year and steered the club away from relegation before hanging up his boots after his 600th career appearance against Port Vale.
Financial restraints contributed to a testing 2013/14 season but Ainsworth successfully kept the Wanderers in the Football League thanks to a final-day victory and followed it up with an outstanding campaign which culminated in a play-off final at Wembley, having achieved the club's best-ever points tally in the Football League.
Ainsworth was named the LMA League 2 Manager of the Year for his efforts, and in the 2015/16 campaign, Gareth led his League 2 side into the 3rd round of the FA Cup and forced a replay against Premier League side Aston Villa.
In 2016/17, he took the Chairboys on a 16-game unbeaten sequence over the winter period, and embarked on runs to the semi-final of the Checkatrade Trophy and the fourth round of the FA Cup, losing a 4-3 thriller at Tottenham.
Ainsworth's first promotion as a manager was to come in 2017/18, as the Chairboys clinched League One football and a third-place finish with 84 points. The automatic promotion was sealed at Chesterfield on Saturday 28th April in a 2-1 win for Wanderers, earning Ainsworth an extension to his contract until 2023, and the club then achieved their survival goal in their maiden season back in the third tier, finishing 17th.
Ainsworth would then go onto achieve the unimaginable, taking Wycombe Wanderers up to the Championship for the first time in their 133-year history, with many tipping his side to be relegated. After a hard-fought league campaign that saw Wycombe top at Christmas, the Blues had found themselves outside the Play-Offs as COVID-19 brought the season to a halt. However, after the League One season was voted overwhelmingly to end early, Wycombe, on points per game were lifted to 3rd in the table and into the Play-Offs – with 1.74 the magic number.
Ainsworth’s play-off campaign included a 6-3 win on aggregate against Joey Barton’s Fleetwood Town and a 2-1 win in the final against local rivals Oxford United. He received plaudits from up and down the country for guiding the Chairboys to the unthinkable and signed a new long-term deal in February 2020.
By Tom Baldwin