Plymouth boss John Sheridan has picked up tips from Big Ron
AMONG the amusement arcades, lollipops and Hollywood Balls, Big Ron Atkinson loved to hand out the occasional ‘spotter’s badge’.
Reserved for those with the vision to pick a pass and the technique to pull it off, the spotter’s badge was bestowed on everyone from David Beckham to Zinedine Zidane during Atkinson’s days as a Champions League pundit for ITV.
It became his most famous quip, as synonymous with the former Man United boss as oversized jewellery and a year-round tan. And it was all because of John Sheridan.
“John was one of the best players I’ve ever worked with,” says Atkinson, who managed the Irish midfielder at Sheffield Wednesday.
“He was a magnificent passer, great vision. He’d play a ball nobody would anticipate and you’d go ‘He’s seen that one early, that’s a spotter’s badge’. And that’s where it came from.
“Shez could do it in the tightest areas. He made his own time and space. Great players do that.
“And he’s one of the best players I’ve ever worked with on free kicks. He pulled all kinds of strokes around the box. He’s cocky on the ball. Audacious.
“You talk to anyone at Sheffield Wednesday and he’ll come into their best-ever team. I think there was some sort of ballot and he was voted their best ever player.
“Shez is well rated. In terms of Ireland, Johnny Giles and Liam Brady would be up here, and in the next category, I’d have Shez.”
Born in Stretford, Sheridan grew up supporting Manchester City and joined the club as a schoolboy.
However, it would be across the Pennines at Elland Road where the classy playmaker would forge his reputation, making more than 250 appearances in seven years.
Signed in the wake of relegation from the First Division in 1982, Sheridan would became a beacon of hope for disgruntled Leeds supporters, his class on the ball – and frequent flashes of temper – endearing him to the crowd and sealing a place in the Second Division team of the year three years running.
“Shez was as good as anyone at that time,” said former Leeds team-mate Brendan Ormsby. “Skill-wise, I’d have put him up there with any of the midfield boys from the top First Division clubs.
“He had real class in the middle of the park, and he was a bit of a rogue as well. He was the complete package and he was – and still is – a lovely bloke.
“He never stopped moaning, though that’s usually a sign of a good player – one who demands the best and expects a lot from his colleagues.”
Unused by Brian Clough at Forest, Sheridan then joined Wednesday, where he played arguably his finest football, famously scoring the winning goal against Man United in the 1991 League Cup final and helping the Owls to third in the top flight.
It was also where he won the majority of his 34 Ireland caps, which yielded appearances in Euro ’88 and the 1990 and 1994 World Cups.
“Sheridan is the best central midfield player I ever played with,” said Wednesday team-mate Carlton Palmer. “Without a shadow of a doubt. He was even better than Gascoigne.”
Though advised to retire with a knee injury in his early thirties, Sheridan soldiered on with Bolton (where he won the First Division in 1997), Doncaster and Oldham, finally hanging up his boots at the grand old age of 39. Appointed manager of Oldham in 2006, he spent three years at Boundary Park, finishing eighth in 2007-08 before departing the following season. Sheridan then joined Chesterfield, where he won the League Two title in 2010-11.
That achievement would count for little when he was sacked following relegation from League One but, after six months out of the game, the 48-year-old joined League Two strugglers Pymouth Argyle in January and led them to safety with eight wins from their final 19 games.
And for Sheridan, the man who gave him the first ever spotter’s badge remains the most influential.
“I’ve had good experiences,” he said. “Howard Wilkinson was very well-organised, knew his set-pieces, knew what he wanted from his players and drilled it into them. Cloughie just played off the cuff.
“But Ron Atkinson has to be the best manager I have worked under because of his man-management, which was his real strength.
“He knew how to get the best out of players, which is something I feel I am capable of doing.”
PLYMOUTH ARGYLE MANAGER SURVIVAL: Plymouth manager John Sheridan shouts instructions from the touchline