On your emotions of becoming the manager of Sunderland...
Well, to take the second part of the question to begin with. It was a big decision for me, simply because I loved the job I was doing, so much. I had a really enjoyable time at St Mirren, I was very happy and was looking forward to the challenges of managing in the Scottish Premiership.
However, when this opportunity presents itself, a club of this magnitude and stature, probably the timing of it in terms of the potential and the opportunity to try and take the club forward again, that was so appealing.
I think the overwhelming emotion this morning is excitement, it’s just nice to be back in the country and it’s nice to be at work, if you like. Having seen the stadium earlier today and then being in the training ground, it gives me the best possible platform to try and be successful as a manager. There will be no excuses from my side and I’m looking forward to getting started properly, from tomorrow.
On Stewart Donald convincing you to join...
There was no real rush to leave the job I was in and it’s probably been a new experience for me because having enjoyed a period of success on the pitch, it probably presented opportunities earlier than I’d have imagined. I didn’t feel as if any of them were the right fit at the right time.
This, from the outside looking in, felt a little bit like it. However, I was aware of some of the circumstances around the club in recent times. So then, when Stewart and Charlie spoke to me, they probably presented a vision that was consistent with what I’ve done at previous clubs and something that I felt was the right opportunity at the right time.
That’s probably the biggest thing about, it just feels right. I think with how I’ve worked previously, I’ll have to adapt it because of the league, I have to adapt it because of the size of the club. But, a lot of the core aspects will remain and hopefully that will allow me to try and take the club forward.
How would you describe yourself?
Post playing, I was involved in different coaching roles. So, I’ve been an assistant, I’ve been in charge of the Under 20’s at Hearts, before I went into management in its own right. So, that probably allowed me to develop my approach to it. I always wanted to manage, and I believe I could have done it straight from playing. If I had done, I might not have lasted very long because I’ve certainly evolved over that period of time.
What I’ve probably understood is that recruitment is so key to what a manager does. Putting a group in place that will buy into how you work as a manager. I’ve always view my job as making people better, making players better and I’ve never really came away from that. I love working on the pitch as a coach and if you make players better individually you have a good chance of obviously making your team successful as well.
So, that will remain. I’ve never really lived in fear of a job, it’s more just wanting to do the job to the absolutely best of my abilities and this, as I mentioned earlier, gives me a really good platform to do that.
On available funds to sign new players...
Well, I think with having only really arrived back in the country a couple of days ago and then arriving this morning. That process really starts in earnest from tomorrow because a lot of the conversations that we’ve had was about making sure that I could get here and it worked and it was consistent with what Stewart and Charlie want to do for the club.
What I would say though, without shying away from the questions completely is that it’s naïve to say that we won’t be in a period of transition. I think that’s obvious for everybody and we have to do a lot of work in a short period of time to try and get things in place for the start of pre-season.
But, that in itself is exciting. I think that’s a new start, if you like. Not necessarily a complete change in personnel, just for everybody in general. So, that process will continue over the course of the next days and then hopefully over the coming weeks you’ll get a more exciting answer than the one I’ve just given you.
On having a clean slate...
Yes, I think so. I think that was probably a big part of the appeal. I think the appeal of Sunderland as a club is big in general when you mention some of the managers that have been here and the profile they’ve had, both as players and as managers. But, I think that timing of it was really key and that was probably one of the biggest pulls for me.
The opportunity to try and put my own stamp on things, from the playing side and then try and influence the relationship between the club, the supporters and the playing side in general. I’ve always viewed that as my responsibility as well and I don’t think it changes just because you’re at a bigger club. I think that core aspect of the game should remain, but certainly timing wise, it feels right for me to come here, at this time.
On rebuilding the squad...
The absolute position we’ll be in will become clearer over the coming weeks. But, I think in management, none of the jobs that I’ve took on have been easy and under easy circumstances. There has always been challenges and different ones in that period of time.
That is another one and a newer one for me to overcome. But, if I didn’t think as if I could do it then I don’t think I would have taken the job on. Bringing a squad of players together is the ultimate challenge for every manager and getting them, first of all, to trust in what I do and then trust in each other. That will probably be a big part of my job over the next two months, to create that within the group and enable them to take that onto the pitch.
Ultimately, that’s where you’ll be judged as a manager and it’s ultimately where things haven’t went as well over the last couple of season.
On transitioning from Scottish Football to the EFL...
It’s a good question because it’s a question from when I chatted with Stewart and Charlie. I will never shy away from the fact that I’ve never managed in England, I’ve coached in England. There was never going to be an answer I could give to that question that would give absolute comfort.
But, what I have done is learn quickly and adapt quickly to the environment I’ve been in and immerse myself in that league, if you like. At the moment, the challenge for me is to immerse myself in League One because that’s where we are at the moment.
There’s no point having delusions of grandeur of where the club should be, the challenge that lies ahead is to get out of League One. So, to do that, I need to learn as much as I can about it, quickly. Also, to understand how to build a squad that will be capable of getting out of there. I’m excited by that as well, rather than be intimidated by it. I do find it quite exciting and I’ve always enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of management and I’ve got a few of them to solve in a short period of time. But, exciting nonetheless.
On the earlier transfer window...
I think there is still enough time. I think every manager would say that when you’re in the flow a club, so the job I’ve just left for example, there’s a good flow to that because you’re in the position where your recruitment process starts long before you get to the summer window.
What it is now is a challenge for me to pick up as information, the information is there, it’s just digesting it as quick as I can. Leaning on the people that I trust and that I can trust around the club that will give me information on potential signings and finding the right characters that will suit the challenge that lies ahead.
Are Sunderland in a position where they need to evolve?
Yeah, I think probably timing wise, yes. There has to be that reconnection between a fan base, one thing I don’t need to do is try to build a fan base, that’s there and I think that’s obvious for people that are involved in football. It’s remained pretty consistent in true, even through difficult periods. But, their connection with what goes on, on the pitch has probably lessened over recent season. Not through one person or one individual’s fault, I just think through a set of circumstances.
There’s a certain synergy with that and between the job I’ve just left at St Mirren. That club at the time, there was a disconnect between what was happening on the pitch and people coming to watch the club. You have to try and get that right because if you get it right you create something that has a real momentum in it. The thing is here, it becomes even more powerful because of the numbers that will come and support the club.
So, yeah, I do think it’s a period of evolution for the club. It’s a period that the club could use to recreate its identity. If it gets it back, you could point to cases around the world and in Europe, their clubs have done it. Where they recognize what they’re about as a community and a club and they’ve built on things from there. They’ve never lost it as they’ve had success, that would be the key aspect and hopefully that’s the challenge that will lie ahead if we continue to have that through periods of success.
Is it a good thing that you’ve already been on holiday?
It was a holiday of sorts, as well. It certainly didn’t quite pan out as the holiday that I’d imagined in getting some peace. I don’t think I’ll be getting another one for a while as well.
On speaking to St Mirren about their new manager...
Over the course of the last week and then as recently as last night, it won’t be my opinion or my thoughts on who should get that job. I think they’re keen to try and continue the progression they’ve made in recent times.
What I would say is that it’s a job that’s became a lot more attractive than it was twenty months ago when I was probably the only person daft enough to take it.
On signing players from Scottish Football...
Yeah, I think it’s something that I would be keen to explore. But, I think that I’m also conscious that I wouldn’t want to make that the foundations on which I built a squad. I think that’s something you have to be careful of coming from another country and filling your squad with players that don’t understand what it takes to win the league that we now find ourselves in.
I could probably say that about the homegrown players that are In Sunderland at the moment as well. It’s finding the right mix that can win this league. But, there are good players in Scotland, I think the game up there is a lot better than people sometimes believe it is. There’s undoubtedly players that can make that transition.
The one thing is, if that interest becomes any more concrete, it’s not a bad sell I’ve got because it’s a really big club and a really good club. One that hopefully, a player could come and progress through the levels with.