STAGS’ SPONGE BOSS

Adam Mur­ray has been soak­ing up all the info he can to be a top coach

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Stu­art Ham­monds

ADAM MUR­RAY the foot­baller is some­one this cor­re­spon­dent has known for more than a decade, since his days in Carlisle United’s 2004-05 Con­fer­ence pro­mo­tion-win­ning mid­field. But this is our first meet­ing since he be­came Mans­field Town man­ager a year ago next week.

Should I call him “Muzza or Gaffer”? I jok­ingly ask.

With a nod to his re­cent press con­fer­ence, in which he crit­i­cised

The FLP’s re­port on his side’s im­pres­sive draw at Portsmouth and of­fered to bring in his sev­enyear-old son Har­ley to be in­ter­viewed about chil­dren’s TV char­ac­ters the next time we called, he replies: “Call me SpongeBob!”

It is typ­i­cal Mur­ray: a light­hearted quip to ease any po­ten­tial tension, but to­tally ap­pro­pri­ate as he goes on to ex­plain how he’s gone from Premier­ship player and Eng­land U21 prospect at 17, via the Priory Clinic for al­co­hol treat­ment at 22, ten dif­fer­ent clubs, more than 500 ap­pear­ances, three pro­mo­tions from the Con­fer­ence and loan spells at Worskop Town and Rain­worth Min­ers’ Wel­fare dur­ing 2013-14 – to fi­nally be­ing the Foot­ball League’s youngest man­ager at 33.

How seven years ago, when the man in the op­po­si­tion dugout yes­ter­day at Northamp­ton took over at Ox­ford and re­in­stated the out-of­favour cap­tain to en­gine room and arm­band, he started to soak up any in­for­ma­tion he could get.

It was preparing him for making up for the lack of a toplevel ca­reer he be­lieves he should have had af­ter making his de­but for Derby in 1998.

“I didn’t make it at the level I should have as a player through my own fault,” says Mur­ray, now 34. “So, since Chris Wilder came into Ox­ford, and I thought ‘Yeah, you’re top drawer – I like you’, I’ve been ob­sessed with coach­ing and dif­fer­ent ideas.

“I said to my­self that when I got the chance, I was go­ing to be the best at it that I can be.

“I messed up on this side of it, so I’m go­ing to do all I can to make sure I make it on that side.

Gung-ho

“I al­ways made gung-ho de­ci­sions as a player. If I was out of the team, I wanted a move be­cause I was im­pa­tient to try to get back up. I never looked at the big­ger pic­ture.

“I’ve ex­pe­ri­enced most things in life that any of my play­ers will, so I have tools I can use to be more mea­sured in my thought process on this side of it.”

Now he’s switched sides, Mur­ray – still ‘Muzza’ to the Mans­field lads he skip­pered – is cer­tainly mea­sur­ing up well.

Ini­tially re­luc­tant to ex­tend his care­taker spell, he drew on the notes he’d been making since those Non-League days un­der Wilder when chair­man John Rad­ford called him to “have a chat with the board” af­ter they’d fin­ished in­ter­view­ing those who’d ap­plied to suc­ceed Paul Cox last year.

“We’d had good re­sults while I was care­taker, but I was play­ing well at the time and felt fit­ter than I had ever been,” he says.“It was a risk be­cause my name as a coach could have been tar­nished be­fore I’d even started.

“I was in my track­suit at a re­serve game when John rang, but I dashed home, put my suit on, printed all my notes off that I’d been col­lat­ing over those years and had a good chat with them.

“I made a pre­sen­ta­tion and said that, if I do things the way I want it to be done – and it was a case of ‘We need to do all the ba­sics as a foot­ball club right’ – I think I can take it for­ward.

“Games went on and it was...like be­ing in hell! I’ve never known any­thing like it. I knew it was go­ing to be tough, but I didn’t know how tough.”

Hav­ing pre­vi­ously been Cox’s player-as­sis­tant, he re­jected ad­vice to take an older head as his own No.2 and kept the ex-man­ager’s coaches, Richard Cooper and Micky Moore. He de­scribes the pair as “bril­liant” and “as hun­gry as I am for coach­ing”.

Mur­ray played for the likes of Jim Smith, Steve McClaren and Paul Ince. As well as call­ing yes­ter­day’s op­po­nent, Wilder, he reg­u­larly uses his old Derby coach, Steve Round, as a sound­ing board, but ex­plains: “My big­gest thing was that I wanted to fail or suc­ceed and learn all the lessons, by do­ing it my­self.

“Last sea­son was the best learn­ing curve I could have had. If we’d gone down, I’d have been out of a job be­fore I’d even started.

“The year be­fore, I’d been out of favour with Paul and had gone out on loan to Work­sop and Rain­worth. It was sur­real be­cause I was sup­posed to be his as­sis­tant but I wasn’t in his plans.

“The op­por­tu­nity was there for me to leave the club, but I woke up the morn­ing I was sup­posed to come in and sign my pa­pers, and I just said to my mis­sus, Lyn­d­sey,‘I can’t do this, it doesn’t feel right – even if I have to go with my beg­ging bowl and say ‘Look, I can af­fect this team for you. Give me half a chance and I can show you I can still do it’.

“To be fair to Paul, we shook hands, I came back in and we stayed up. Twelve months on as man­ager, I couldn’t let us go down be­cause it would be game over, and I put that pres­sure on my­self.”

Sur­vival

De­spite los­ing nine of their last 11 matches, Mans­field fin­ished seven points clear of the dot­ted rel­e­ga­tion line, be­low which were Chel­tenham and Tran­mere, who the Stags beat 1-0 to vir­tu­ally guar­an­tee sur­vival with three weeks to go.

“Go­ing into that one I felt sick, couldn’t sleep,” says Mur­ray.“You know that your de­ci­sions are life and death in that sit­u­a­tion, not just for your­self but ev­ery­one at the club.

“Lyn­d­sey would say to me ‘You’ve got to switch off or you’re go­ing to kill your­self’.

“It was lit­er­ally wak­ing up in the mid­dle of the night, sit­ting up and making a note of things be­cause I knew I’d forget it in the morn­ing. Bang, bang, bang and I’d try to get back to sleep, but you can’t.”

When the sum­mer came and con­tracts were up, Mur­ray brought in 14 new play­ers to play a dif­fer­ent style of foot­ball than the direct ap­proach that had served Cox well for three years.

“We were ma­chines and we’d played one way – a suc­cess­ful way – for a long time to get out of the Con­fer­ence,” he says.“We had a de­cent first sea­son up, but things had just caught up with us and we needed to rein­vent it.”

As a cre­ative mid­field player, and a Field Mill crowd favourite over three spells, there was only go­ing to be one way.

“We aren’t say­ing we are go­ing to play To­tal Foot­ball ,like the Dutch used to, be­cause we are in League Two,” says Mur­ray.

“But what we have done is say to the lads ‘Here’s a struc­ture and, within that, th­ese are ideas that we are go­ing to use and we are go­ing to play. At times, your po­si­tions will change, but your op­tions don’t – so if left-back Mal Benning ends up as ten, try­ing to vol­ley in an­other spec­tac­u­lar goal, mid­fielder Chris Cle­ments

might end up at three, but he’s still the same pass­ing op­tion’. And be­cause of that it flows.

“I’ve got Nicky Hunt, who played in the Premier League at right-back for hun­dreds of games.We are putting new ideas into him and he’s go­ing ‘Bril­liant!’

“A big part of the re­cruit­ment was to get peo­ple in who could play the way I wanted to play, but we need peo­ple who could also do the other side, be­cause it is League Two. I look for mar­ginal gains, the ex­tra one per cent that cer­tain peo­ple and things will give us.

En­velop­ing

“I also needed to look at the dress­ing room and know that they were good peo­ple and had good morals. Lit­tle things like know­ing they were fam­ily men. Like when we signed Nicky, he came to look at the ground and he brought his mum and dad and his daugh­ter. I thought ‘You’re per­fect for me’.” Not sur­pris­ing, be­ing a fa­ther of four him­self. In­deed, while Mans­field have been en­velop­ing them­selves be­tween the likes of Portsmouth and Plymouth in the play-off places, the lat­est ad­di­tion to the Mur­ray fam­ily – two-weekold Remi – has given dad the chance to work even more.

“It’s worked out good be­cause I don’t need a lot of sleep,” says Mur­ray, who also has daugh­ters Jolie (11) and My­ley (5).“I go on a max­i­mum of five hours so it works for me.

“When the lit­tle un needs his feed in the night, I’ll get up and set the lap­top up so I’m logged on to Wyscout watch­ing our next op­po­nents while I’m giv­ing him his bot­tle. It’s bril­liant.

“The only is­sue I’ve got, and I know it’s part of be­ing a par­ent and you have to get the bal­ance, but I like be­ing at work at seven o’clock. I like to get in and plan.

“I like to be the first one in so I know the chang­ing rooms are clean and ev­ery­thing’s in place. At the start of the sea­son, I was cut­ting the grass on the train­ing pitch be­cause I wanted to make sure it was spot on.

“But at the mo­ment I’m hav­ing to do the school run with my old­est, who’s just started se­nior school.

“I have to drop her off lit­er­ally when the school opens at 8am and she goes mad be­cause she’s on her own. She says ‘Dad, noone’s here un­til quar­ter to nine’. I’m like:‘Just go in the class­room and have your break­fast’.

“I’m not get­ting into work now un­til half-eight, which isn’t bad, but it’s not ideal – al­though, on the days we change train­ing to 3pm to repli­cate a match­day, it’s fine.”

The tim­ing of his ap­point­ment might not have been ideal ei­ther, but Mur­ray the sponge is happy squeez­ing out the ideas he’s soaked up to make his Stags shine.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

THINK ABOUT IT: Adam Mur­ray makes his point on the touch­line for Mans­field DERBY DAYS: Mur­ray play­ing for County in the Premier League against Manch­ester United’s Nicky Butt

CHAM­PION: Mur­ray holds the

Con­fer­ence tro­phy aloft in

2013 FAM­ILY MAN: Nicky Hunt made an in­stant im­pres­sion

MEN­TOR: Chris Wilder, who was

in the op­po­site dugout yes­ter­day with Northamp­ton

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