On Djilobodji and Ndong...
I think Charlie did release a statement and from my perspective it remains the same.
It’s went above the station that I can comment on, simply because it’s moved into a legal area. So, it’s probably easier for me as a manager, to deal with it in that sense. What I have been consistent in is a solution or a resolution that would help. I think we’ve said that for a while now and hopefully that will still be the case.
My focus and attention has always been on what I had here and I think I’ve been really consistent in that message from day one. About taking players as I find them and working with the group I had. We’ve worked really hard at that and naturally, on a Thursday prior to a game on Saturday, very much my attention is on that group that I have available for this game.
On conceding first in games...
I think there’s always a balance between recognising something that you have to be better at and it becoming something to worry about, I know you might think they’re the same thing but I think there is a fine line between the two.
We speak about a lot of things post-game and pre-game and the good thing is that this group of players don’t look for excuses. They recognise that there are bits they can do better, there’s bits I can do better as a manager. The one thing that’s been different for us is every team that we’ve played against this season, at home, has approached the game in a different manner. So, what we’ve learned in a short period of time is that we have to be prepared to deal with whatever the opposition provides, and on Saturday we probably didn’t do that particularly well in the opening period.
In other matches I think we’ve started ok and it’s been circumstances where we’ve conceded. The great thing is, we’ve reacted really well in every game. However, it would be remiss to think that that’s ok moving forward. We’d like to go ahead in games and stay ahead.
On Fleetwood’s approach...
The honest answer is, I don’t know. We’ve already seen teams approach the game in different ways at the Stadium of Light. As you mentioned there, Oxford were very aggressive, and I mean that in the best possible way, in terms of how high they pressed us up the pitch and how they approached the game. That was contrary to how Scunthorpe approached it in the previous game.
In terms of our preparation for how the opposition will go about the game, we do that as much as we can. But, you can’t always say for certainty how they’ll approach the game at our stadium. But, what do I know is, if they do approach the game in the same manner, I think we’re better prepared for it than we were prior to the game last week.
On Joey Barton’s comments...
I suppose Saturday will be the determining factor of that, to a degree. The table at the end of the season will determine that. The one thing that I’ve done consistently through my management career is never really concern myself too much with oppositions, other than from a professional perspective.
So, I concern myself with how thoroughly we prepare, but in terms of what other teams do and where they’re at, it doesn’t really bother me. It’s hard enough to work at this club, the task at this club and the size of this club to focus on what I’m doing. But, I’m looking forward to the game and it’s an opportunity for me to go up against another young manager. I’ve enjoyed all the different tests we’ve had this season, I’ve came up against very different characters in the dugout and very different teams and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’m sure Saturday will be the same.
How close are you to fielding your best starting 11?
I think the players coming back in forward areas is helping us in particular. Josh and Chris have done unbelievably very well to enable us to get the points we have done, on board at the moment. We’ve asked an awful lot of them and asked them to do roles that were slightly unusual for them and asked them to play in a manner that isn’t always natural to them.
So, Charlie Wyke being fit and Jerome Sinclair being fit just strengthens our options and enables us to change the game a bit better, so that’s a massive boost. The other ones just strengthen our options in areas, rather than giving us completely different options. I think what it does is that it increases the motivation for the players that are playing in the team, to make sure they’re playing well and that’s always a healthy thing to have as a manager.
On adapting to English football...
There is differences. I think because of the proximity of the two countries, there is always this comparison between the leagues and the standard and all these things. Where in reality, it is a different country and there’s differences in culture to a degree, there’s differences in the way people do things, there’s differences in language, how people speak, and these are the same in football.
One of the things you mentioned there, one of the big differences is that you only play teams twice a year, but in Scotland you do it four times a year. In Scotland, you don’t travel very far a lot of the time as well. So, there’s obvious differences, there has been different challenges for me. But, football is football, ultimately.
It’s been about, probably having belief in the things I did before and then being flexible enough to adapt to these new challenges. The new challenges, I’ve loved every minute of them, they’ve been very different. A lot of games, a lot of peculiar rules, but I’m learning every week and thoroughly enjoying it.
On the change of the mood around the club...
Well, I think I’ve probably been fortunate, to an extent, that I came in under new ownership. So, that brought a freshness, I think. Then obviously, they did a very good job in selling the club again and promoting the club in a positive way. What I’ve been fortunate with and I must stress, there are an awful lot of good people at this club that have been here over recent years, during the period where people were associating it with being horrific. Those people that are still at the club have been fantastically supportive of me and they’re really good people, good at their jobs. But, genuinely good people that care a lot of about the club.
So, I haven’t had to come in and build something from scratch. What we’ve done is, engaged and communicated with these people and encourage them to be a part of what we’re doing. Also, I’ve inherited good players that have bought into that. So, it would be inappropriate for me to sit here and pat myself on the back and say: “I’m a genius.” I’ve got a lot of good people around me. I think the helpful thing is that they’ve bought into how I go about things and long may that continue. I think now they have a feel for how I work, both on the training pitch and in and around this training ground.
Of course, there were problems and there had been mis-management at some levels. Just football management. One of the first questions I got asked when I came here was: “Do you think this facility is part of the problem? Does it make people not care as much?” I think it’s only if you’ve not got the right players in it, that’s the simple answer to that. We’ve got, I think now, a group and I mean a group, not just the playing squad, a group of people that are here for the right reasons and all want to try and take the club in a forward direction.
They’re all grateful to be a part of this, because it’s a brilliant club, a really really good club. For me, it’s a privilege to be the manager of it and that doesn’t come away from me every single day. For however long I’m here, if I’m here another month or another 10 years, that won’t go away because it’s a proper football club in that respect.
On the potential risks of joining Sunderland...
I think it was a risk. Any decision you make to move in football management, there is a risk attached to it. I loved the job I was in and I had an excitement challenge ahead of me and I was very comfortable in it, in the best possible way.
When this opportunity came up, I think most people when it’s put forward to you is “Oh, I’m not sure.” However, once I took counsel from people across the game and they reinforced just how big of a club this is and the potential of where it can get to and I haven’t been disappointed in that sense. From day one of being in here, it probably blew me a way a little bit. But, the great thing is, I felt comfortable in it very quickly. If anything, it’s heightened my desire to take the club back to the level it should be at. I’m determined to do that because I’m grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given.
On the changes of the wage structure...
Yeah, I can understand why the question posed from the outside. But, going back to what I said earlier, probably when I came into the job, there were two things that I did. One, I didn’t ask for an opinion of players until I came in, I did my own homework in terms of watching them myself, but I didn’t ask for an opinion on them. Also, I completely separated myself from earnings to the player because I wanted to judge them and assess them myself, every day on the training pitch. Ultimately, when they’re on the training pitch that’s probably the way do it, on a match day of course but with the work they do every single day.
I think, because I judged them that way and my staff judged them that way, I think that quickly took away any feeling of that. You would have to ask the players separately if it ever came into their thoughts. The only thing I will say is that when I was a player I never really concerned myself with anyone else’s contract, if I was satisfied with my own then so be it, that’s part of life. I’m sure that not just in football, if you glance across to people that work in your own organisations or you might think you’re more talented than them, but you get paid a lot less. It’s life.
On Djilobodji’s future...
Yes, to an extent. But, they also take council from me and where I’m at. The great thing about Stewart is that he’s done that from day one. I don’t want to go back over old ground, but there were obviously various different situations that we inherited, and nothing has ever been forced upon me, which was really encouraging for me from day one.
That’s how Stewart is as an owner. From a personal point of view, I get on with him really well and he’s very open with his communication. Also, he would never force a decision upon me. If there was something that he felt was for the greater good of the club, we would have a discussion about it. But, that relationship is good, so that means if and when that ever became an issue, we would discuss it properly.
On the squad for Saturday’s game...
Glenn and Adam trained today, and they were fine. Aiden did a little bit with us today, which is encouraging. He’s still a bit away in terms of general fitness, but it was good to have him involved with the group. Duncan is still continuing to work on his own and he’s getting ever closer.
We were speaking about the start that Oxford made and during that period, you sometimes need something to help you get up the pitch. Chris and Josh want the ball all of the time and their natural tendency is to come towards the ball and they do it very well. But, if you saw the other night, Jerome likes to stretch the game at times and obviously, Charlie gives you an option that he will compete aerially.
So, that is nice to have available, either during the game or off the bench. That was the biggest thing for us. If you asked me five or six weeks ago if we could get through this period and be ok with those players coming back, I’d have bitten your hand off for it. I knew we were going to have to play well in different ways to try and get a points total on board, because it was really restrictive. Josh and Chris’s individual form has been good, but we were really restricted in games with what we could do in forward areas.
On ex-players quickly entering management...
I think when I was playing or certainly when I was getting to the end of my playing career, I believed I could manage right away and I wanted to manage right away. Now, I didn’t get that opportunity and I ended up having a little bit of time in coaching and management. I did some time as a part-time assistant in Dumbarton and then back in with Hearts on the first-team coaching staff and then as a manager in my own right at a smaller club.
In hindsight, I probably had this really good apprenticeship, crammed into a relatively short period of time. I was a development coach along with a first-team coach, then an assistant manager and then a manager, then a manager at a full-time club. I think it meant that I was able to handle these transitions a lot easier and when I got this opportunity, I don’t think its phased me in any way, I feel as if I’ve been ready for it. But, that’s not to say that you can’t do it.
There are plenty of people that do it successfully, go straight from playing into management. Why it’s happening, it’s difficult to say. I don’t think it’s necessarily become a young man’s game in that way, I just think these things are often spherical. You might find that in a few years time everyone goes for experience again and hopefully that will be the case because I’ll be a little older at that point.