01 Oct 2009

MENTORING: GREAT SCOT

Your success at Rangers shows your ability to meet high expectations. How did that help you to handle the pressure of managing in the Barclays Premier League?


It helped to have been through it before. As any “old firm” manager will tell you, it’s extremely intense and there’s nowhere to hide when you lose. Even a draw is a crisis if your opposition is anybody other than Celtic. The success I had at Rangers far outweighed the tough times, but the tough times prepare you to deal with other challenges.


It preconditioned me to deal with the pressure of expectation at Birmingham City and to believe in our ability to get back into the Barclays Premier League. Circumstances can change, but expectations never do.


I’m only human and I feel the pressure of expectation the same as anyone else. But nobody puts greater demands on me than I do myself. It’s always been like that. I beat myself up at times because I’m very conscientious about my job. However, it’s never been about me; I’ve always been a team player – I want to make the fans happy. Success is an addiction for the fan and I’m fulfilled if I can feed that addiction.


In management, whether you succeed or fail, you have to do it your own way. With time, your personality comes through. I try to be honest with the players, while maintaining their confidence and motivation.


You were manager when Scotland did the unthinkable and beat France on their own turf, another example of your ability to deliver results on the big occasions...


France had been World Cup finalists the season before, so we knew that, tactically, we’d have to be meticulous. If we played open football against France, they’d have destroyed us. But, while I knew our chances would be limited, I had belief in the team. Before the game, I said to the players, “One day, France will lose at home – why can’t we be the team that beats them?” Our players had great organisational skills and I could trust them. Trust is vital and we had it in abundance that night.


Managers are always learning, but what has been the most formative stage in your career?


Without question, the move from Hibernian to Rangers accelerated my learning process. At the time, I thought the next step in my management career would be to move to England and work my way up, so the call from Rangers came as a real surprise. I suppose it was indicative of the financial climate in Scotland and at Rangers that they would take a chance on a young manager.


It was a great opportunity. Taking part in the Champions League, in particular, was a huge learning experience and helped me to prepare for management in England. I also learnt immediately how important it was for Rangers to win every single week. But I already had the winner’s mentality, having played under Sir Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen.


As a manager, you will never be able to say that you’re infallible or that you have a game completely sussed. I suspect even Sir Alex would admit that. The important thing is to learn from any mistakes that you make. Football management is a precarious profession and the game is so fickle that you’re only as good as your next game. But managers tend to have a masochistic streak that means we love it.


How did playing under Sir Alex Ferguson influence your decision to go into management?


I didn’t have a game plan to be like him or any of my other managers. But anyone who has played under Sir Alex has experienced his intensity and love of the game and it rubs off on you. We’ve probably all taken things from him, subconsciously, into our management careers. His philosophies on selecting players, in particular, have stuck with me. Sir Alex doesn’t choose players lightly – they must have great mental strength and the character to succeed.


Management is very different now to how it was in Sir Alex’s early career. Even in the 12 years that I’ve been a manager, I’ve seen a marked change in the players and the psychological aspect of management. Yet, while many managers couldn’t make the transition, Sir Alex has successfully evolved and adapted to the changing requirements. For example, at Aberdeen, he corrected every mistake that we made and instilled in us a desire to win; if you do that with the current generation of players you disable them, so you have to use other forms of motivation. Sir Alex’s ability to move with the times marks him out as a great leader.