BREW­ING SUC­CESS

Jimmy Floyd Has­sel­baink and Ben Robin­son on Bur­ton’s great start

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Mark Shar­man

BUR­TON AL­BION, club stal­warts will tell you, is built on three solid pil­lars: the un­stint­ing work of chair­man Ben Robin­son, the ten-year team build­ing of Nigel Clough and cash from two FA Cup ties against Manch­ester United in 2006, which helped pay for the new Pirelli Sta­dium.

So proud are they of Nigel that, across the road, you can find Clough Drive, named in his hon­our and an echo of the A52 be­tween Derby and Not­ting­ham, Brian Clough Way.

Imag­ine then, what they might do for Jimmy Floyd Has­sel­baink who, re­mark­ably, has taken this small and friendly club to the top of League One. He’s not yet com­pleted a year in the job but has a win record of 65 per cent, bet­ter (so far) than Sir Alex Fer­gu­son and Arsene Wenger. There’s just a chance Bur­ton could go all the way to the Cham­pi­onship.

So, how about a brass plate, in­scribed Jimmy Floyd Has­sel­baink Stood Here, 2014–20?

Rooted

It would be placed close to half­way and three feet back from the pitch, be­cause that’s where JFH spent the en­tire match against Sheffield United this week. Not for him the jack-in-abox an­tics from the dug-out, ner­vous prowl­ing of the touch­line or bawl­ing out his play­ers.

He’s rooted to that spot, im­mac­u­late in his dark suit, white shirt and striped club tie, en­cour­ag­ing, ca­jol­ing, ad­vis­ing. He’ll point, he’ll give the oc­ca­sional thumbs up, he’ll play an imag­i­nary con­certina as he en­cour­ages his back four to press higher.

And, now and again, he’ll put his fin­gers to his lips and whis­tle, loud and sur­pris­ingly mu­si­cal, like a shep­herd to his sheep­dog.

Even when a de­fen­sive header falls short and af­fords Billy Sharp United’s best chance, he stays cool, arms crossed, a man who ex­udes to­tal con­fi­dence in his ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

His boys do him proud. They de­fend well, run all night and pass the ball with ac­cu­racy. Jimmy calls Bur­ton “my Barcelona” and one ex­quis­ite move in par­tic­u­lar would grace the Nou Camp.

Nasser El Khay­ati was piv­otal and should have won the match from the fi­nal pass, United’s de­fence in ru­ins. The man­ager is sat­is­fied, though, be­cause Bur­ton have kept their dis­ci­pline and their shape. Nil-nil against the pro­mo­tion favourites is a de­cent point.

He speaks later of a core prin­ci­ple: “If you want to be suc­cess­ful, don’t give any­thing away. Maybe we can’t win, but you’re def­i­nitely not win­ning here.”

A record of 26 wins, nine draws and only five defeats in 40 League games sug­gests he has it right.

“Jimmy Floyd Has­sel­baink has ev­ery­thing it takes to be a suc­cess­ful football man­ager,” says chair­man Robin­son, a man who car­ries that rarest of dis­tinc­tions, a di­rec­tor who earned praise from Brian Clough.

“He’s very good tech­ni­cally, has a tremen­dous work ethic and is ex­cel­lent with the play­ers. He treats them as in­di­vid­u­als. He’s a psy­chol­o­gist.”

Has­sel­baink’s re­ply? “Did he say that? I just love work­ing with peo­ple. I like dif­fer­ent cul­tures, the way dif­fer­ent na­tion­al­i­ties be­have. It’s very im­por­tant in to­day’s football.”

To back that up, he speaks five lan­guages plus a smat­ter­ing of Ger­man – and he an­swers ev­ery ques­tion with pa­tience and hon­esty, look­ing you straight in the eye.

Mes­sage

As a top-qual­ity striker him­self (twice win­ner of the Premier League Golden Boot), does he have any dif­fi­culty get­ting his mes­sage across to lower league play­ers?

“I don’t re­gard them as lower play­ers,” he says. “That would be dis­re­spect­ful. They are football play­ers, giv­ing their best.”

What about that touch­line com­po­sure?

“Oh, I do shout, but usu­ally in the pri­vacy of the dress­ing room – and only at the older, more se­nior play­ers,” adds Has­sel­baink. “Younger play­ers are learn­ing. They need en­cour­age­ment, maybe an arm around the shoul­der.”

Has­sel­baink is the latest in a line of man­agers given a chance by Robin­son – a young Neil Warnock, Clough and Gary Rowett. So what does the chair­man look for when re­cruit­ing?

“Strength of char­ac­ter, mainly,” says the man whose main busi­ness is in­sur- ance. “There are dark days in football and you need some­one who can han­dle that. Jimmy was the out­stand­ing can­di­date of the nine we in­ter­viewed when Gary left for Birm­ing­ham.”

Has­sel­baink re­turns the com­pli­ment. “He’s a plea­sure to work with,” says the Dutch­man of his boss. “He’s a hands-on chair­man at the club and he’ll make sug­ges­tions on con­tracts etc, but I’m a hands-on man­ager.

“I make the football de­ci­sions – he never makes sug­ges­tions on team se­lec­tion or any­thing like that.”

Robin­son won’t be drawn on man­age­rial com­par­isons, but there’s a feel­ing that Has­sel­baink has taken ev­ery­thing up a notch.

Bur­ton en­joy the ben­e­fit of train­ing at nearby St Ge­orge’s Park – some­thing they have done since their Non-League days when the pitches were first laid and long be­fore the foot­ings of the FA’s Na­tional Football Cen­tre were dug – and the prepa­ra­tion of the play­ers is ex­em­plary, as is match anal­y­sis.

Heady

“We may be small, but we do things right,” is another Has­sel­baink motto.

These are heady days in­deed for Bur­ton and Robin­son, who first be­came in­volved in 1975. Even a decade ago, when Bur­ton were still in the Con­fer­ence, it would have been un­think­able to play big city teams like Sheffield United on equal terms. There’d be bet­ter odds on the Tem­per­ance Move­ment clos­ing the town’s world-fa­mous brew­eries. But, as he moves be­tween cor­po­rate boxes, to the board­room and to the smart spon­sors’ lounge, shak­ing hands and greet­ing peo­ple, no­body be­grudges him this time in the sun.

In the past the club has faced tax bills and ruin – one ap­peal to the public raised just £600.

In fact, the town’s re­sponse still dis­ap­points, with only around 3,000 die-hard fans from a pop­u­la­tion of 65,000, de­spite the char­i­ta­ble Bur­ton Al­bion Trust regularly en­gag­ing 8,000 peo­ple in so­cial ac­tiv­i­ties through po­lice, schools and other or­gan­i­sa­tions.

“Hope­fully, we’re at­tract­ing the young fans of the fu­ture, as well as help­ing the town,” says Robin­son. Nei­ther chair­man nor man­ager will speak of pro­mo­tion. Has­sel­baink talks only of sus­tain­ing a high level of play –“and we’ll be in for an ex­cit­ing sea­son.”

Robin­son, though, is shrewd enough to have in­cluded po­ten­tial ex­ten­sions in the Pirelli Sta­dium plans, in case they need to meet Cham­pi­onship seat­ing reg­u­la­tions.

Equally, Has­sel­baink dis­misses any ques­tions about his per­sonal am­bi­tions, say­ing that, at this mo­ment, it’s all about Bur­ton Al­bion. That was re­in­forced when he re­jected an ap­proach to talk to a po­ten­tial suitor – thought to be Rother­ham – this week.

They ad­ver­tise ‘Wed­dings At Bur­ton Al­bion FC’ at the Pirelli and un­doubt­edly there’s al­ready a har­mo­nious mar­riage here.

But, if the good times con­tinue, there will be big­ger and wealth­ier suit­ors call­ing for Has­sel­baink. Robin­son hopes the hon­ey­moon will con­tinue for some time.

PIC­TURE: Media Im­age

PAN­DE­MO­NIUM: Jerome Bin­nom-Wil­liams scores a last-minute win­ner for Bur­ton in the League One win at Ch­ester­field last week. Insets: ac­tion from that game

DY­NAMIC DUO: Has­sel­baink and Ben Robin­son

RE­MARK­ABLE: Bur­ton man­ager Jimmy Floyd Has­sel­baink has inspired Al­bion

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