AL­CHEMIST GRAYSON TAR­GETS THE TOP

Pre­ston boss is at it again with sign­ings of un­der­rated May and Doyle

The Football League Paper - - MARTIN LING - By Chris Dunlavy

IT IS the mo­ment of truth. Si­mon Grayson, swad­dled in a lab coat, stands be­fore a work­sta­tion at York’s Went­worth Col­lege. Half an hour ear­lier, the Pre­ston man­ager had per­formed a ‘Western Blot’, a pro­ce­dure us­ing a UV marker to pick out pro­tein strands in prostate can­cer cells. Now it’s time to see if his work cut the mus­tard.

“Per­fect,” nods Pro­fes­sor Nor­man Mait­land, di­rec­tor of the York Can­cer Re­search unit, as a ma­chine ejects a po­laroid of Grayson’s ef­forts.“Re­ally. I don’t think it would have come out much bet­ter if I’d done it my­self.”

Be­gin­ner’s luck? Hardly. In football terms, Grayson has been an al­chemist for the best part of a decade.

Since tak­ing his first man­age­rial job at Black­pool in 2006, the for­mer Le­ices­ter cen­tre-back has won four sep­a­rate pro­mo­tions to the Cham­pi­onship.

Po­ten­tial

Per­haps more im­pres­sively, he has used those clubs as his very own Petri dishes, cul­ti­vat­ing su­per­stars from scraps and cast-offs – and mak­ing his var­i­ous em­ploy­ers a ton of money in the process.

“I love that part of the job,” says Grayson, who was at York pro­mot­ing the Football to Am­s­ter­dam cy­cle ride which last year raised more than £350,000 for Prostate Can­cer UK.

“Pick­ing play­ers up, see­ing hid­den po­ten­tial. I’ve al­ways liked try­ing to bring in play­ers who other man­agers have failed to work with.

“I’m not say­ing I’ve got them all right. But when I look back at my record, I’d like to think that a lot of play­ers have ei­ther gone into the Premier League or been sold for a lot of money.

“Ross McCor­mack cost me £400,000 from Cardiff, where he was barely get­ting a game. He moved on for £11m.

“Bradley John­son was at Brighton on loan, just dis­ap­pear­ing. I brought him back in at Leeds and he even­tu­ally ended up play­ing in the Premier League for Nor­wich.

“Wes Hoola­han was at Liv­ingston, com­pletely un­known. Now he’s an in­ter­na­tional. Max Gradel’s just gone to Bournemouth for £6m. I bought him for £100,000 from Le­ices­ter.

“Jer­maine Beck­ford is prob­a­bly the best ex­am­ple. A lot of peo­ple aren’t hav­ing him for what­ever rea­son, but we have a con­nec­tion and I get the best out of him. He scored 18 goals for us last year.

“I just try to cre­ate that en­vi­ron­ment where play­ers en­joy their work and give them a chance to prove peo­ple wrong.”

Which, af­ter a busy dead­line day, is ex­actly what new strike pair Ste­vie May and Eoin Doyle will be hop­ing to do.

Loa­nee Doyle, 27, scored 32 goals in 69 games for Ch­ester­field, but strug­gled to hold down a place for Cardiff fol­low­ing a £1m switch in Jan­uary.

May, mean­while, has joined on a three-year deal from Sheffield Wed­nes­day af­ter fail­ing to trans­fer his pro­lific goalscor­ing form for St John­stone to the Cham­pi­onship. Can Grayson work his magic again?

“I hope so,” he laughs. “Hope­fully it’ll be a bit like when you take young lads on loan from the Premier League. Some­times that first one doesn’t work out. It’s too big a change.

“But by the sec­ond and third they’ve tough­ened up and got used to life out­side of their com­fort zone.That’s what we’re hop­ing will hap­pen with Ste­vie and Eoin.”

Grayson, who played in the Premier League for Le­ices­ter un­der Martin O’Neill, be­lieves part of his suc­cess with play­ers re­sults from treat­ing them as adults, urg­ing them to take re­spon-

sibil­ity for their own ca­reers. “It’s tough for play­ers these days,” he says.“Yes, they get a lot of the trap­pings, the money and the fame. But they’re also un­der im­mense pres­sure. So­cially, pri­vately, pro­fes­sion­ally – they are un­der the spotlight 100 per cent of the time.

“When I was at Le­ices­ter we got to Wem­b­ley five times in six years. It was a tremen­dously suc­cess­ful team. But it was also full of char­ac­ters – Matty El­liott, Steve Walsh – and we had a great so­cial life.Would we have got away with some of the night outs now? No way.

“But ten, 15 years ago, you took more per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity with your ca­reer.It was your duty to make your­self bet­ter, to make sure you didn’t do any­thing stupid.

“Now, be­cause of the academy sys­tem – which I’m not knock­ing – young play­ers don’t nec­es­sar­ily want to make de­ci­sions for them­selves. They’re wait­ing for a coach or man­ager to tell them what to do.

“I know be­cause my lad (Joe) is at Black­burn, a first year scholar. Over the last few years he’s had ev­ery­thing done for him.

Re­spect­ful

“Mod­ern day foot­ballers are given the best op­por­tu­nity to make it,from the amount of time they train, the bet­ter pitches and coaches. But they do some­times lack the abil­ity to think for them­selves – on the pitch and off.

“So for me, it’s about get­ting that bal­ance. You’re in the public eye and you have to be re­spect­ful of that.But I try not to im­pose too many rules and reg-

ula­tions be­cause I want my play­ers to be re­spon­si­ble adults.”

If Grayson has mas­tered the art of get­ting into the Cham­pi­onship, get­ting out of it has proved more tricky.

Twice he was ham­strung by fi­nances; nei­ther Black­pool nor Hud­der­s­field could re­al­is­ti­cally eye any­thing more than sur­vival. But Leeds United, his boy­hood club, was a dif­fer­ent mat­ter.

“I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber Christ­mas in our first year in the Cham­pi­onship,” he re­calls. “We’d just beaten QPR to go sec­ond or third. I wanted to spend £500,000-£1m on a cen­tre-half be­cause I thought we were lack­ing a real, gen­uine leader at the back.

“I had Rob Sn­od­grass, Bradley John­son, Jonny How­son, Neil Kilkenny. Up front we had Lu­ciano Bec­chio. Of that front six,all but one have since played in the Premier League.

“If we’d got that cen­tre-half I think we’d have been pro­moted, be­cause the rest of the team was as good – if not bet­ter – than any­thing in the di­vi­sion.But the board said no and we fell away.”

So can Pre­ston, pro­moted from League One through the play-offs last term, fi­nally be his ve­hi­cle to the top flight? Though of­fi­cially the only debt- free club in the Cham­pi­onship, cash re­mains tight at Deep­dale and Grayson is mak­ing no prom­ises.

“There is a gulf in the Cham­pi­onship,” he ad­mits.“You look at us this week and, be­sides the £50,000 on Daniel John­son, that’s the first time I’ve paid a trans­fer fee.

“You look at Derby on the same day, they’ve gone and spent £6m on Bradley John­son. It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent level.

“It’ll be hard, but Bournemouth have shown how far you can get with a good, hon­est bunch and a bit of or­gan­i­sa­tion. It’s not im­pos­si­ble.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion im­ages

GOLD DUST: Grayson has a track record of re­ju­ve­nat­ing un­der­per­form­ing play­ers, as he hopes to do with Ste­vie May, inset

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