Bright lights inspired the new York manager
WAS Richard Cresswell ever Premier League class? Probably not. But ask Stoke fans which player got them there and the big Yorkshireman will top every list.
“Cressy was a great pro, pivotal to everything we did,” said Tony Pulis, who signed the then 29-year-old striker from Leeds in August 2007.
“We got him on a free transfer, played him on the left wing and he ended up scoring 11 goals to get us promoted. He was out of position all season, but he wouldn’t dream of moaning. He always put a shift in and was such an honest kid. For a manager, he was an absolute dream.”
Promotion with Stoke marked Cresswell’s third bash at the big league and one he enjoyed a great deal more than the bruising experiences of his youth.
Born in Bridlington and athletic from the womb, he was a talented cricketer before choosing to focus his sporting talent on football.
“He was a great lad and a born winner,” said Ken Towse, who coached Cresswell at Bridlington Cricket Club in the late eighties. “It wouldn’t have mattered which sport he chose – he’d have made a career of it.”
Spotted by a local scout named Barry Appleby, he was recommended to York City’s youth chief – and future Sunderland manager – Ricky Sbragia.
“Barry had a great eye for a player,” said Sbragia. “He found the likes of Jonathan Greening and Curtis Woodhouse, and brought Cressy to the club at 14. “He was clearly a good footballer, but what marked him out was his hard work and willingness to learn. Nobody can be successful without that. The other thing I liked was that he’d turned down offers from big clubs to learn his trade somewhere he was going to get a chance.”
It wouldn’t be long before the behemoths were back on his tail. A debutant at 17, Creswell managed just one goal in his first 69 games and even suffered stick from the Bootham Crescent crowd as great expectations gave way to nagging doubts.
But, paired with veteran striker Neil Woods (“he taught me so much, about movement, about anticipation,” said Cresswell) the teenager went on a rampage and by March 1999 had already plundered 19 goals and won the first of his four England U21 caps.
“Cresswell’s potential is frightening,” Minstermen boss Alan Little said at the time. “He has grown up and got great physical strength and
he’s got that knack of scoring goals.
“He looks like he has got everything. And that’s a danger for me, because when young players have got everything here then they tend to leave.”
And that’s exactly what happened when Premier League strugglers Sheffield Wednesday shelled out a club record £950,000 just weeks later.
In retrospect, the leap was always too great, the move too soon. Stuck behind established stars in an ailing and financially stricken side, Cresswell barely got a start as the Owls sank from the top flight.
Twelve months later, a £750,000 switch to Leicester brought only similar frustrations and another relegation. Cresswell was written off as a Premier League flop.
“As a young lad, it came to me pretty quickly,” admitted Cresswell in 2009.“It was a big money move for me to Sheffield Wednesday from York and I felt the pressure a bit. Maybe it was a bit of inexperience, but I let it pass me by a lot.”
Little agrees. “It’s such a big temptation for a youngster when a club like that is interested,” he said. “But it’s better to learn your trade in the first-team at a small club than it is to get lost in the wilderness.” The slog back to the top began at Preston, first under David Moyes and then Billy Davies. Freed of expectation and playing regularly, the goals began to flow – 15 in 2002, 16 in 2003, a season’s best 21 in 2005. Next came 11 in 44 for Leeds, his boyhood club.
Along the way, Cresswell lost one play-off final and sat out another, suspended in a bizarre case of mistaken identity as Leeds lost 3-0 to Watford in 2007.
But that return to the Premier League eventually arrived.
But for concerns over an old knee injury, Cresswell would have joined Hull in the summer of 2007.
And when the Tigers pulled out, Pulis got on the blower and, 12 months later, Cresswell had made a mockery of those doubts by playing 43 games as the Potters clinched second place.
Determined not to repeat topflight nightmares past, Cresswell trained throughout the summer, finishing top of the club’s preseason bleep tests at the age of 31. His reward was 34 games, survival, and the enduring respect of Potters fans everywhere.
“Richard helped us get pro- moted and he helped us stay there,” said Pulis, who sold Cresswell to Sheffield United at the end of the season. “For that, people here should always respect him.”
It would, however, be his final shot at the big time. After three years with Sheffield United and a final, glorious return to York, Cresswell retired in 2013. Now, after a spell in charge of the youth division he once graced, the 38year-old has been named caretaker manager.
“Cressy’s had a really good career,” said Sbragia. “He’s been a good servant to every club he’s represented and I doubt you’ll hear a word against him.
“But he’s also got a lot of experience to pass on to the younger guys and I think it’s great that he’s in a position to give something back to the game.
“If he learns as quickly as he did as a player, he’ll go far.”
RICH PEDIGEE: Richard Cresswell played for Stoke City in the Premier League
MINSTERMAN: Richard Cresswell