Bright lights in­spired the new York man­ager

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

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.”

Ex­pec­ta­tions

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.

Re­spect

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.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

RICH PEDIGEE: Richard Cress­well played for Stoke City in the Pre­mier League

MINSTERMAN: Richard Cress­well

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