“A lot of football success is in the mind. You must believe you are the best and then make sure that you are”
– Bill Shankly (1913 – 1981)
The beautiful game; play your cards right and you can just about achieve anything you set your mind to – whether you’re a player or a member of the coaching set up. However, make an un-calculated or ill-thought out move and your career could be all but over with the blink of an eye. With more individuals pursuing coaching roles as a route into the game that they fell in love with as a child, the market has become bloated. Perhaps the greatest fear of any manager sitting on the sidelines is that a club will never pick up the phone to offer them an interview.
After taking a short month long sabbatical in London it was time to get back and secure the services of my next club. The season was just about to enter the festive period; which meant that managerial sackings where inevitable. Just from checking my inbox I realised that securing a new job would come sooner rather than later. Managerial positions were opening up in England, Scotland, France, Spain, Holland, Belgium and Denmark – the potential was endless, and with the click of a few buttons, my applications were sent out.
Within the span of a few short days the first four offers came in, along with dozens of rejections and embarrasing articles outlining my interest for positions at certain clubs However Dundee United, St Johnstone and Motherwell of the Scottish Premier League and Vitesse Arnhem of the Eredivise answered my calls and, thus, invited me for interviews.
Each interview followed the same patterns as the rest; each chairman asked why I interested in the position at their respective clubs; why I had applied for so many jobs; whether my lack of experience in club management would hinder my performance and what I could bring to the table. I countered, outlining my three trophies I picked up in Finland and the Champions League campaign I just participated in. If those achievements didn’t spell out ‘exceeded expectations’ then nothing will.
But the interviews came to a close as soon as they began, and by then I soon found myself back in the family stead in London, waiting on the fruits of my labor – even if the fruits turn out to be sour. It wasn’t until three days had past that I relieved a flurry of messages whilst I visited friends in Greenwich, but it was perhaps my father’s response that sent chills down my spine the most.
‘Unfortunate news bud!’
Unfortunate? I checked the news… and my heart sank. Motherwell had offered the job to Gary Caldwell, whilst St Johnstone’s caretaker had done enough on the pitch to merit a contract until the season. Vitesse, well the sneaky devils offered the job to a Dutchman I had never even heard of, a fella that had earned his name in the Dutch Second Division.
A day later the phone rang, it was the chairman of Dundee United. He immediately stated that I wouldn’t be awarded the job but wanted to give me the call as a courtesy, thanking me for my time and wishing me well in the future. A friendly gesture, and one that wouldn’t forget. With those applications dead in the water I needed to place my hope in my other job postings. It wouldn’t be long before my inbox pinged and I got the most surprising news to date. Dutch outfit AZ Alkmaar offered me an interview, following the sacking of their previous gaffer due to a torrid eight-game losing streak in the Eredivisie. I grabbed my coat and made my way to the airport with my bag and wallet in hand. This was an offer I wanted to grasp with both hands…
But, once again, the football gods had other plans and my interview was a dud. Was I punching above my weight? Did my achievements in Finland count for little across Europe? It was a time where I began to question my decisions of late…
A week went by following the AZ debacle, Christmas had come and gone and the New Year was upon us… and yet I was still in the hunt for a job. Applications continued to go out and rejections and silence followed suit. Then… the phone call. A man, with a distinctive European accent was on the other end of the line; it was easy to tell that English wasn’t his first language and yet, he spoke it brilliantly. Maintaining a sense of anonymity he asked his series of questions – this was an interview. I responded in kind, with honest answers and my vision for the future. Then he asked about my time in Finland, what I learned and why I decided to leave my post. Again, I responded as honestly as I could; that I left so that I could become the best with another club playing at a higher level.
Then, he brought the formalities to end and stated that they’d be in touch in due course. Before I could ask which club he belonged to, the line was dead.
Days past by, but my phone and inbox remained silent. I began to think as to whether that phone call was just a hoax or a journalist just trying to crack a joke. The letter box rattled and no sooner had the postman disappeared that I was at the door scooping up the contents of his drop off. Junk mail, a charitable cause looking for donations, bank statements and, wait, a letter with a foreign postage stamp addressed to me. I opened it briskly and read the contents. My heart began pulsating, my eyes widened and my smile could not be contained. The contents of the letter contained a set of plane tickets and instructions to not speak of anything until I touched down and met the club representative.
With my bags packed in a rush, and with my passport in hand I hailed a taxi and made my way to the airport. The journey wasn’t too taxing and the once the scenic views of the Flemish countryside were noticeable did my excitement set in. The plane touched down and I rushed to get my suitcase out of baggage and waltz to the exit.
I scanned the exit lobby for the representative and saw him perched next to a potted tree between the desk and revolving door. The club crest was emblazoned on his navy jacket as he reached out to shake my hand
“How was the journey?” he asked.
“Fine. Not to taxing” I replied.
“Good, good.” he responded. Pointing to a black four-by-four in the parking lane outside, he ushered me to the car.
“Let’s get you to the stadium, the media is waiting…”