ALAN IRVINE

Chris Dunlavy pro­files the Norwich City care­taker-man­ager

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

FOR­GET the two years in charge of Pre­ston. For­get the sin­gle-sea­son stints at the helm of West Brom and Sh­effield Wed­nes­day.

Even a decade spent belt­ing up and down the flanks at Ever­ton, Crys­tal Palace and Black­burn pales in com­par­i­son to Alan Irvine’s im­pact as a coach.

Wayne Rooney, Ross Barkley, Eric Dier, Saido Ber­ahino, Andy Car­roll. All count the Scot as a crit­i­cal in­flu­ence in their for­ma­tive years.

“For young play­ers, there’s no bet­ter coach than Alan,” said Vic­tor Anichebe, nur­tured by Irvine as a young­ster at Ever­ton be­fore mak­ing his first-team de­but at 17.

“He played a huge part in my devel­op­ment and so many other young lads. He’s never cared if you’re a se­nior pro or a kid out of school – if you’re good enough, you’re ready.

“He’s a great coach and I don’t think any­one at Ever­ton would dis­agree with me.”

Steven Tay­lor, the for­mer New­cas­tle cen­tre-back, cer­tainly doesn’t. Hand­picked to run Black­burn’s youth team by Kenny Dal­glish at the age of 35, Irvine fol­lowed his fel­low Glaswe­gian to St James’ in 1997 and counts Tay­lor, Peter Ra­m­age and Shola Ameobi among his alumni.

“I have mas­sive re­spect for Alan,” said Tay­lor in 2014. “He coached me as a young kid com­ing through at Un­der-17 level and, to this day, he’s one of the best coaches I have ever had.

“I haven’t seen any­thing re­ally close to Alan. He had that aura about him. Ev­ery­one was ner­vous and scared around him but not in a bad way. He com­manded to­tal re­spect.”

Dier, now a reg­u­lar for Eng­land and Spurs, had just turned 17 when he joined Ever­ton’s Un­der-18s on loan from Sport­ing Lis­bon.

“At first, I hated it,” said the 23-year-old. “I was strug­gling with the food, the lifestyle, the weather, the place, the peo­ple. Even the lan­guage was a fac­tor. And the foot­ball was much more ag­gres­sive.”

Men­tal­ity

Irvine’s ar­rival six months later changed ev­ery­thing. He in­stantly moved Dier up to the re­serves and, by the time he re­turned to Por­tu­gal, the de­fender was ready, first­team fit.

“He’s one of the best,” said Dier. “He could go to Por­tu­gal to coach. That’s his men­tal­ity. He’s in tune with ev­ery­thing.”

Irvine’s trust in youth per­haps stems from his own re­jec­tion as a teenager. Spurned by Man City and Leeds – the club of his boy­hood hero Peter Lorimer – he ex­celled at school and spent five years work­ing as an in­sur­ance bro­ker.

He even re­jected a con­tract at Hearts to com­plete his Char­tered In­sur­ance In­sti­tute ex­ams, a qual­i­fi­ca­tion he main­tained through­out his ca­reer.

But, by 1981, word of his per­for­mances for Scot­tish am­a­teurs Queen’s Park had spread far and wide. Ever­ton even­tu­ally beat 22 other clubs to Irvine’s sig­na­ture.

Three years at Good­i­son proved bit­ter­sweet. At 23, it was a top-flight ca­reer he’d only dreamed of. “I sud­denly went from play­ing against peo­ple I had never heard of to play­ing against peo­ple who had played in the World Cup,” he said.

Yet the emer­gence of Trevor Steven fre­quently saw Irvine benched. And, af­ter watch­ing his team-mates climb the Wem­b­ley steps to lift the 1984 FA Cup, he’d had enough. Irvine joined Crys­tal Palace, lured by the prospect of work­ing with Steve Cop­pell. He and Ian Wright would stay be­hind to­gether af­ter train­ing, two men who’d ex­pe­ri­enced the real world and viewed days on the grass as a priv­i­lege. Team-mates re­call an en­er­getic winger and cere­bral char­ac­ter who spent away jour­neys play­ing chess or bridge with the kit­man. Yet it wasn’t un­til he joined Dundee United in 1987 that the coach­ing bug truly bit. Se­nior play­ers like Paul Stur­rock, Mau­rice Mal­pas and Jim McInally would con­stantly talk tac­tics. “It was very dif­fer­ent to be­fore when it was a case of ‘train­ing’s over, put the balls away’, said Irvine. Ideally, he wanted to play un­til 40. But, hav­ing helped Black­burn win pro­mo­tion to the Premier League only to suf­fer a se­ri­ous neck in­jury, that of­fer from Dal­glish ar­rived at the per­fect time.

Over sub­se­quent years, Irvine was a “sponge” soak­ing up in­for­ma­tion from the likes of Ray Har­ford and, par­tic­u­larly, Don Howe.

Com­pas­sion­ate

So im­pressed was Bobby Rob­son by Irvine’s work at New­cas­tle that, on hear­ing of in­ter­est from Ever­ton in 2002, he urged chair­man Fred­die Shep­herd to of­fer a ten-year con­tract.

It wasn’t enough, with David Moyes and a young Rooney the main ben­e­fi­cia­ries. Irvine was widely re­garded as the com­pas­sion­ate ‘good cop’ to Moyes’ snarling dis­ci­plinar­ian.

Man­age­ment beck­oned in 2007. Pre­ston were res­cued from rel­e­ga­tion, then guided into the Cham­pi­onship play­offs. His sack­ing, in 2009, was met with Gary Rowett-es­que out­rage.

“We were all dev­as­tated,” said Neil Mellor. “He’d cre­ated an en­vi­ron­ment where ev­ery­one felt part of things. We had that be­lief and trust to say ‘Yeah, I like how you go about your busi­ness, I’m to­tally com­mit­ted to this’.”

Next came 18 months at fi­nan­cially-stricken Wed­nes­day be­fore a re­turn to coach­ing du­ties at Ever­ton in 2011.

A six-month stint at the helm of West Brom in 2014 ended in the sack but was no­table for the flour­ish­ing of Ber­ahino. So far, Irvine is the only man to have wrung con­sis­tent per­for­mances from the striker.

As­sis­tant at Norwich since July and care­taker since the dis­missal of Alex Neil, he has no in­ten­tion of ap­ply­ing for the job. Nor did he ap­ply to take charge of his beloved Rangers last month. A man who has al­ways done his best work in the back­ground is, at 58, con­tent to stay there.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

CARE­TAKER: Alan Irvine says he has no plans to keep the Norwich job

HAPPY RE­TURNS: Alan Irvine was rarely an Ever­ton starter but came back to dis­tin­guish him­self as a coach

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