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Archived News from February 2003

4th February 2003 11:58

The power of positive thinking

Jamie Jackson, The Observer, Sunday February 2, 2003

When I left Sheffield United last summer, I knew there would be four or five hundred footballers unemployed, so it was a gamble to try and strike out as a manager, but I wanted my own job. The worst thing then happened - I couldn't get a position and so I went to play for Barnsley.

I enjoyed my couple of months there, but unfortunately the manager [Steve Parkin] left and the reserve-team boss [Glyn Hodges] took over and saw me, I think, as a bit of a threat. I had a short-term contract which was terminated, and I didn't have a problem with that. I then went training with one of my friends in football, Carlton Palmer, who invited me over to Stockport County. But he can be a little too dogmatic at times: with him it's either my way or the highway. We had a few conversations about working together, but with our personalities and views on football it wouldn't have worked - which we both realised.

Most managers get the job because a club's got problems.When I first came to Mansfield, we were bottom of the league, six points from safety and that's why I got the nod. The first thing I had to do was stabilise the place, which I did, winning the first three games and getting the team off the bottom. And while it wasn't always pretty, it was effective. When I arrived, the team had conceded 53 goals but were also second-highest scorers in the division. So the solution had to be keep the ball away from our end and put it near theirs.

For the first league game, I made three defensive changes and put them into a 4-4-2 - it wasn't so much they were playing three at the back, more they were playing everything! Also, the young lads were a little too enthusiastic, their energy wasn't being channelled in the right direction - instead of three well-timed runs they'd make seven, which was a bit of ill-discipline, football-wise. I'm lucky in that I've played in every division as well as playing for England. Most people will only remember me from Man City, Wolves, things like that, but I was at Torquay, Bristol Rovers and Reading. I've been brought up where everyone has to muck in, and I enjoyed it. I tried to implement this when I came here and the change now is unbelievable. I've had the whole place painted, we've got new flooring down, massive action pictures on the wall and now the players enjoy coming to work.

Putting a positive slant of things is important as well. Like stories in the [local] newspapers - there's ways of saying things even when they are negative. I've spoken to them about this and they've been very helpful. When I look at people who I class as good defenders now, I would say the basics haven't changed. People like your Rio Ferdinands - their attributes will always be the same: technically good, controlled aggression and a good understanding of the game. The fear factor always plays a massive part in football, but I think good players turn it to their advantage. As someone who has played for England, I suppose the players can learn a bit from me. When I played in the European Championship [in 1992] it was the most nervous I've been. I was confident enough about the football, but I remember phoning my kids on the night before and, though I wanted to sound excited, I couldn't. Deep down I was thinking, 'Oh no, millions of people are going to be watching, and I need to practise the national anthem to make sure of I know the words!'

I've played over 670 league games and definitely want to continue until I'm 40. Long term, I'd love to manage one of my former clubs [in the Premiership] but at the moment I'm very happy. The club was on its heels when I arrived, but now we've got a fighting chance of staying up, and if we do that, it would be a great success.


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