IT’S BACK TO CLASSROOM – I’M DONE AS A MINER!
GARY Bowyer laughs when I ask if he’d mind clearing up a couple of facts before the serious questions start.
Firstly, is it true he once reprimanded Brian Clough for failing to give his dad, Ian, a game for Nottingham Forest?
“I’m afraid so,” says the Blackpool boss. “I probably got a clip off both of them. My dad for embarrassing him and Brian for my cheek!”
And that he retired at 25? “Also true,” he adds. “Surgeon’s advice. And, while we’re at it, here’s another fact for you.
“Contrary to what Wikipedia says, I have never managed Carshalton Athletic. I have no idea where that came from, but it gets published in programmes, on websites, all over the place. I’ve never even set foot in Carshalton and they’ve got my date of birth wrong!”
Bowyer is talking from a hotel room in Plymouth prior to Tuesday night’s 3-1 win at Home Park which lifted his side into fifth place.
Both sides won promotion to League One last season and, so far, it is Bowyer’s Tangerines who are making the better fist of things. “As soon as we got promoted, I rang round several managers in League One and mined them for information,” reveals the 46year-old. “They were all happy to give an idea of what we’d need. You’d be surprised how collaborative this job is. Until Saturday comes, we’re all in the same boat. “That said, I also spoke to a lot of people who got promoted out of that league because they’re a bit more willing to give you details than the people who are still in it!” And it isn’t just managers being mined. This week, Bowyer will return to Manchester Metropolitan University to start the second year of a Masters course in Sporting Directorship. A fixture in Europe for decades, sporting directors act as a link between manager and boardroom, overseeing recruitment, youth development and performing other administrative tasks. The guiding principle is that the manager can then devote his time purely to coaching.
Until recently, such characters were viewed in England as meddlesome jobsworths who stripped away managerial power.
Yet almost all Premier League clubs now use the sporting director model, as do several Championship sides.
“The foreign model is coming in a big way,” insists Bowyer, whose peers on the course include Michael Appleton and former Everton assistant Steve Round. “And, personally, I think it’s a great move. As a coach, I want to be on the grass. “Don’t get me wrong. You can’t be told, ‘Right, these are the players, now go away and get on with it’. I don’t think that would work and it’s why you have to get the right person in. “But a relationship where the two of you collaborate closely, where everything they do is geared up to helping you and vice versa, that would be ideal. Look at Southampton. Look at Watford. Both great examples of the success it can bring.” Bowyer’s interest is both academic and pragmatic, inspired by a chaotic start to his managerial career at Blackburn in 2013 and the unemployment that followed two years later.
A youth coach at Ewood Park for nine years, Bowyer was thrust into the hot seat after a string of misguided appointments by Venky’s, the club’s clueless Indian owners.
Despite averting relegation and stabilising the side, he, too, was given the boot.
“When you go on coaching courses, you do have a little chuckle to yourself,” he says.
“You’re thinking, ‘This isn’t quite how management really is’.
“One of the hardest things about the job – and something
nobody teaches you about – is managing upwards.
“When I went in at Blackburn, a lot of what I did was off the pitch. It was a case of trying to influence and educate the owners on how to build a football team.
“You see it everywhere, don’t you? People come and buy football clubs. They’ve got all the money, but their understanding of football is full of holes. Then, outside influences get involved, all with their own agendas.
“I’d been in this narrow world, coaching young players. Suddenly, I was seeing the whole business.
“It was a steep learning curve, but at the same time that side of it really interested me.
So, when I saw the course, it seemed an obvious step: to gain more knowledge but also to keep my options open for the future.”
Bowyer’s baptism at Blackburn also proved to be ideal preparation for Blackpool.
Like the Venky’s, owner Karl Oyston is reviled by Tangerines supporters who have accused him of failing to invest following promotion to the Premier League in 2010.
Relegated three times in five years, gates have dwindled and many supporters are boycotting games until the Oystons sell up. Just 6,000 of them watched May’s play-off victory at Wembley.
“I do draw on my experiences from Blackburn,” says Bowyer. “When I took over there, everything was very fractious. Very anti-Venky’s. It’s well documented what went on – and is still going on.
“I brought in young, hungry players, the likes of Tom Cairney, Shane Duffy, Corry Evans, Jason Steele. And we said, ‘Conopportunity, centrate on the football because you can’t affect anything else’.
“That’s exactly what happened here. We always talk about not hiding. About not using the relationship between the club and the supporters as an excuse. And, to be fair to the players, that’s exactly what they’ve done.”
Didn’t he baulk at taking on another basket case?
“A lot of people have asked me that,” explains Bowyer. “But I’d been out of work for six months after Blackburn.
“When you’ve worked for 14 years, I don’t think people appreciate how tough that is on you mentally. Especially when you look at the supply and demand.
“There are a hell of a lot of coaches and better managers than me out of work. If there’s an you have to grab it.”
What about a return to coaching? It’s secure, it pays OK and as his long stint in the Blackburn back room proved – you don’t get sacked. And didn’t Bowyer initially reject the chance to manage Rovers?
“That’s all true,” he admits. “But, once you’ve had a taste, it grabs you. In youth development, the achievement is getting players through the system. It’s fulfilling, but it’s a slow burn.
“On a Saturday, you’re judged solely on that 90 minutes. When you win, it’s a buzz. When you lose, it hurts. It changes you. That’s the only way I can describe it.”
Of course, he knows how it will end.
“You look at what Brian Clough did at Forest, the way he built a club,” said Bowyer, who spent three years at the City Ground under Clough. “Not many get that time now.
“I see similarities with Sean Dyche. I see similarities with Eddie Howe. But I’m not sure they were given patience. They earned that time off their own backs by winning football matches.
“All managers are aware of the dangers. All you can do is make players better. If they improve, you get results. And, if you get results, you stay in a job. That’s a fact.”
Unlike that Wikipedia entry.
DESIRE: Gary Bowyer won’t stop learning and he’s back at university to prove it
RESPECT: Sean Dyche RATED: Eddie Howe WEMBLEY TANGO: Blackpool celebrate their League Two play-off final victory last season