I watched with interest the Checkatrade Trophy games at Peterborough United and Swindon Town as they hosted Premier League U21 sides from Southampton and West Ham United in the group stages of the tournament.
The format of the competition follows on from last season with Premier League U21 sides entering the competition with a desire to give Premier League youngsters much needed competitive action and experience against League 1 and League 2 sides as the Premier League look to help its clubs develop its players and coaches.
A competition formerly known as the Johnstone's Paint Trophy, is one I know and respect the value of having reached the final of it when I was Manager of Scunthorpe United in 2009. We unfortunately lost that final 3-2 to Luton Town, following extra time. On the day Grant McCann scored a fantastic goal at Wembley Stadium. Grant is now the Manager of Peterborough United and I enjoyed catching up with him for a coffee in his office before the game against one of my former clubs, Southampton. We talked about some of the events around the final, and in keeping people together and hungry for success, our culture, and how it played its part in us being promoted via a play-off final victory over Millwall six weeks later.
Grant took over as Manager of the Posh last season and I've been following with interest his progress. I signed Grant from Barnsley and he played a pivotal role on us gaining promotion to, and remaining in the Championship. A fantastic achievement for a club like Scunthorpe United at the time.
Grant was a Northern Ireland International and with a wand of a left foot, deadly from free kicks, superb with his quality of delivery from set plays, and vision to unlock defences with his accuracy of passing.
Grant hates losing so I've been interesed to see how he has managed to evolve from a player to a coach and now to the pressure of management. Never easy for a young coach to be given the time to learn, make decisions and thus make mistakes. The final decision is the Managers and the buck stops with him. Different to that of a coach as the consequences of decisions are job and career threatening. As we all know it is a results driven business we operate in and 55% of 1st time Managers never get another opportunity !
Speaking with Grant I was impressed on how open he was with dealing with his change of role and the pressures of Management and dealing with results. Experience of being in situations can only improve the decision making process as long as you're prepared to reflect and learn from them.
Grant has taken steps to keep improving as a leader and I could tell how well he is doing it. Grant works well with his Assistant David Oldfield. A good Assistant Manager is important and giving him responsibility, helps build trust and the ability to also flourish. I was pleased to have Andy Crosby with me for several years and Andy is now well equipped to be a Manager himself.
Being able to switch off at times for yourself and the family is critical and never easy at the beginning of your career as you want to do everything, and may feel guilty if you have 5 minutes off, however for longevity of Management and family life, very important to factor in to a busy schedule.
I like to ask questions and remember asking Sir Alex Ferguson when we played his Manchester United side in the FA Cup at St. Marys about his longevity in football. Given for granted you have to win games, what else do you do ? Staying healthy, keeping up with the latest trends and having a hobby outside of football is very important was the answer from one of the greatest Managers of our time. Being able to switch off, change the thought process at times and refresh the mind can make you more productive and should be viewed as an important part of developing as a leader.
Peterborough United have started the season well and sit top of League 1 however speaking with Grant you can tell he has that hunger to keep his players feet firmly on the ground and working hard to keep improving.
The relationship Grant has with his owner Darragh MacAnthony, is as with any Manager/Owner the most important at the club. Grant is fortunate to have an experienced and passionate owner who will continue to guide Grant and give him the time and support required to keep developing. Grant has been a successful player for the Posh and has built up a good understanding with the owner. I had a brief chat with him and Barry Fry another experienced football legend at the club, and I'm sure that experience they have can only be of benefit to a young hungry Manager making his way in the game.
On the evening it was a well deserved victory over a young Southampton side who only had the experience of goalkeeper Alex McCarthy in the side. Alex was one of my former players at Reading who was returning to playing again following a period out last season through injury.
In the dugout though was vastly experienced coach Martin Hunter, who is Saints Technical Director, and one of my former players and budding coach and potential Manager in the making Kelvin Davis. Both passing on their knowledge to the young Southampton professionals who would have gained valuable experience from the evenings contest.
I was interested to watch the left footed centre back for Peterborough United on the evening Ryan Tafazolli, who was a young player at Southampton when I joined them in 2010 and was part of Martin Hunters U21 team. Ryan moved on to further his career and I was pleased to see how well he has developed. The same can be said for Harlee Dean who was part of that young group and having moved to Brentford has just completed a £2million move to Birmingham City in the Championship.
I was interested to watch the tactics of all four teams. Peterborough United played a young goalkeeper with three dominate centre backs. Two wing backs provided the width to the team. Two central midfield players worked tirelessly and one player in advance of them just in behind two strikers who had pace and a willingness to run the channels. A 1-3-4-1-2 formation with Southampton adopting a traditional 1-4-2-3-1 formation. I have talked with Martin over the years going back to my time as Manager of Scunthorpe United when Martin was part of the FA. One of our discussions was about playing against a three man defence and to put three forwards up against them. The very quick Saints forward line on the evening appeared to take up these roles at times.
Peterborough were very dominate against Southampton at corners. The Saints set up with a zonal defence which struggled to deal with outstanding delivery and desire to attack the ball from the powerful Posh players. Infact Peterborough scored from an in-swinging corner in the opening minutes of the game to take the lead.
Always interested in observing corners, and on the evening The Posh kept 3 players up for corners they were defending. The Saints kept 3 back marking them. I would have liked to have seen one of the Saints defenders going for a short corner to see how the Peterborough player would have reacted.
Another young Manager who has had a promising start to the season is David Flitcroft who joined Swindon Town in the summer. I watched with interest as his team who were top of League 2 at the time played against West Ham United U21 Managed by Terry Westley. Swindon were physically a big threat from set plays for the young Hammers side that set up with a 1-4-2-3-1 formation in a game that saw the visitors win 3-2 with goals from Samuelsen, Makasi and a late winner from Kemp. It's a good opportunity that the competition provides for not only players but also Academy coaches to experience Managing against League Managers in competitive competition.
It was good to see other young Managers in the stand watching the game and developing their knowledge. Karl Robinson of Charlton Athletic and Harry Kewell of Crawley Town no doubt would have been looking at some of the youngsters on display with a view to the loan market. I sat next to David Flitcroft the week later as we both watched Southampton play Wolverhampton Wanderers at St. Marys.
I believe it's important to keep following with interest what is going on in the game, the latest trends and researching players. For a Manager it's beneficial to watch a player live instead of just from video clips of him. I believe the Checkatrade Trophy provides the platform for young players and coaches of both the Premier League, the PL, and English Football League, the EFL to gain valuable experience, make decisions, make mistakes and develop their careers as individuals and within a club and team structure.