Graham's Blog

The Big Interview Presents… The Gaffer

THE latest Big Interview clip show is about the gaffer, whoever he may be. Pretty much every single footballer we spoke to during the first season of these podcasts had at least one incredible story about a manager they had played under.

In this podcast you’ll meet motivators, bullies, innovators and comedians. Sometimes, that’s just one guy we’re talking about.

We’re going to start and finish with two people who played under Jose Mourinho – although it is fair to say that Damien Duff and Kevin Bridges don’t have too much else in common on the footballing front.

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In between those two, Chris Waddle tells us what he now sees as the method behind the bullying of Arthur Cox at Newcastle United. Gary McAllister then tells us how Howard Wilkinson transformed Leeds United from a Second Division team into a side capable of winning the English Championship.

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Joe Jordan shows us the revolutionary preparations undertaken by Don Revie; Peter Beardsley rooms with his Fulham manager Kevin Keegan, in a flat above the chairman’s shop; Graeme Souness hears a rare team talk from Joe Fagan and Terry Butcher falls foul of Bobby Robson.

Enjoy!

Craig Gordon: The Goalkeeper Who Saved His Career

HE is the footballer at the top of his game. He was a man who struggled to get to the top of a flight of stairs.

The transition between epithets has taken five years and limitless resilience; Craig Gordon having navigated despairing thoughts and physical setbacks to reach a level of fitness and football which has brought him remarkable success. The goalkeeper was once unable to walk without feeling debilitating pain. He has just helped Celtic to run away with a league title.

When I caught up with him at the club’s Lennoxtown training base to record this Big Interview, Craig revealed just how low he felt after leaving Sunderland in 2012, and what it has taken for him just to play football again, let alone win trophies.

He was released by the Black Cats after suffering a second tear to the patella tendon in his left knee. Having undergone an operation to repair it only five months earlier, a surgeon told Craig that there was little to be gained from going back under the knife.

He would have to tough it out as the tendon healed naturally – a process which could take up to two years.

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That prognosis failed to account for the daily discomfort his injury would cause, with the simple act of moving around the house being accompanied by constant pain in his knee. When Craig went on holiday to New York, he struggled to make it to many of Manhattan’s prime tourist spots.

“When I left Sunderland, I thought that was it for my career. I didn’t see a way back,” Craig says in the podcast. “The pain was so bad I found it difficult to get up and down stairs – I couldn’t take any weight on my knee at all.

“That was daily life; every day it was painful to walk around. I thought: ‘It this what it’s going to be like from now on?’ For a good few months I didn’t do anything at all.”

Such enforced inactivity was in stark contrast to the incredible leaps Craig had made earlier in his career. He won a Scottish Cup with Hearts and established himself as first choice for Scotland, before moving to Sunderland for £9 million – a British record transfer fee for a goalkeeper.

Injury had forced him to take the gloves off, and he decided to fight to save his career. Craig researched different treatments to help aid his recovery and set off for Barcelona and then London to have a series of injections.

“I had four PRP [platelet-rich plasma] injections in Barcelona and had high-volume injections in London,” he says. “That is basically when they blow up the area round about the tendon to squeeze it. That kills the blood vessels which are growing into and causing the pain.

“They all worked to some degree and I began steadily to improve. It took a whole season but I was able to start doing some exercise again.”

The road to recovery took him to Glasgow, where he teamed up first with Rangers. Physio Steven Walker had nursed Norwegian midfielder Thomas Kind Bendiksen, pictured below, through a similar injury and devised a rehab programme to help Craig.

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“We just took it really slowly,” the goalkeeper says. “It took almost a full season until I was back out on the training field, there were a few teething problems, but overall I was managing to get through three sessions a week.

“There were moments when I didn’t think I could take it. There were a few little setbacks, when I thought everything was going okay and then I would do a couple of football sessions and it would get sore again.

“There were definitely times that I didn’t want to go in, that it was too painful and too tough. But my wife [Jennifer] would remind me that I didn’t have anything else to do, that I should get out the house and do it. So I did. I wanted to give it everything.

“On the back of that I managed to get a deal at Celtic – this is my third year here and I have no problem with the knee whatsoever.”

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He feels like his old self again. He plays as though he is even better, winning three straight titles and two League Cups. Craig has also been the subject of two bids from English champions-elect Chelsea.

But the Celtic goalkeeper says that reclaiming his career is a triumph which will not be surpassed. “Getting back from where I was will probably be my greatest achievement,” he says.

The Big Interview Presents… Mavericks Part Three

THIS is the third and final instalment in our mini series on maverick footballers – the guys who have created so many happy memories for all us football fans.

If you’re into Celtic then you will probably never forget some of the special moments Shunsuke Nakamura gave to you. In this clip show, Gordon Strachan talks about all the work behind the scenes which caused that magic.

Similarly, Evertonians adore Duncan Ferguson, and David Moyes explains what the big Number 9 had to offer on his return to Goodison.

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Also, if you are an Ipswich fan of a certain vintage, the name of Kevin Beattie may take your breath away. He is a unique character in English football and Terry Butcher describes how his former team-mate could have been one of the all-time greats on the pitch… and the running track.

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Finally, Tino Asprilla has often been accused of costing Newcastle United the Premier League title under Kevin Keegan. But Peter Beardsley delivers a retort in this podcast.

Enjoy!

Alex McLeish Live Part Three: The Q&A

AT the end of our live Big Interview with Alex McLeish, the former Scotland manager was gracious enough to stick around and answer questions from the audience, and we bring you that Q&A here as a special bonus feature.

Alex tells the story of Alex Ferguson’s attempt to orchestrate a move to bring the defender from Aberdeen to Old Trafford, and how the Manchester United manager had a hand in discouraging bids from other English clubs.

Ferguson was also aware of the importance of fitness and Alex explains how that manifest during his time at Aberdeen, as well as giving his own views on the importance of recruiting experts to help ensure players at the their physical peak.

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And he talks about his decision to step down as Scotland manager and what lies ahead in his career, while also telling one of the greatest anecdotes you’re likely to hear: when Socrates showed Gordon Strachan how a Brazilian takes a drugs test.

Enjoy!

Alex McLeish Live Part Two: Messi, Iniesta And The Search For A Loan Ranger

ANDRES Iniesta. A truly remarkable footballer; talented; brave; a winner of multiple league titles and cup competitions with Barcelona; a four-time Champions League winner; a two-time European champion and scorer of the goal which took the World Cup to Spain for the first time. He is considered to be the best player his country has ever produced – a title which has been bestowed on the midfielder by Xavi, himself an all-time great for La Roja.

But, aye, could Iniesta do it on a wet night in Dunfermline?

In Part Two of my Big Interview with Alex McLeish – which was recorded live at the Aye Write book festival in Glasgow – the former Rangers manager reveals just how close we all came to finding out. It seems incredible to imagine a player with the Spaniard’s superlative skill stepping out for Rangers at the likes of East End Park, Almondvale, or, indeed, the daunting fortress of Pittodrie, but things were very different in 2004.

Frank Rijkaard, the head coach at FC Barcelona at the time, was obliged to reveal his vision for the Catalan side and had been inspired by the success of Chelsea under Jose Mourinho; a team of brawny athletes, as well as skilled footballers. The diminutive Iniesta, still just a teenager, did not appear to fit that mould.

Mikel Arteta had also established a precedent when he swapped the Camp Nou for Ibrox in 2002 after struggling to break into the Barca first team.

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Alex was able to contact the La Liga side’s coaching team directly too, since Rangers assistant Jan Wouters was friendly with Henk ten Cate, Rijkaard’s right-hand man at the Camp Nou. The initial conversation between the Dutchmen confirmed that a loan deal for Iniesta was possible, and that the midfielder could be sent to Rangers for the impending campaign.

“Rangers were downsizing and I needed players of quality, who could take the ball in midfield,” Alex says in the podcast. “Barry [Ferguson] had gone down to Blackburn, so we had lost someone who would have taken the ball in any stadium in the world and we needed players like that again.

“Jan Wouters phoned Henk ten Cate, who was Rijkaard’s assistant at Barcelona. Jan asked if there was anybody we could get and was told about a young kid called Iniesta. He was only 18 at the time. We asked if we could bring him to Scotland and were told that they would try and make some hay at Barcelona and get him over to us. They said Iniesta needed to get some action.”

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Alex was not aware of it at the time, but his interest in Iniesta had not gone unnoticed in the Barcelona board room – with directors challenging Rijkaard about his willingness to allow such a talented player to leave. “I didn’t realise I had caused a shit storm in Barcelona!” Alex says.

And yet it was Iniesta who settled his fate 13 years ago; an enthralling performance in a pre-season friendly with Juventus convincing Rijkaard to keep a hold of the little Spaniard, pulling him into the Barcelona first-team squad and out of the reach of Rangers.

“The Monday after Jan had made the call, Iniesta was moved into the first team,” Alex says of a player who has since made over 400 appearances for Barcelona and captains the side currently. “When Henk ten Cate got back to us, we asked about Iniesta and were told: ‘He’s in the first team squad now’.”

One suspects that the Spaniard would have been a sensation in Scottish football, had the proposed loan gone ahead. That goes for Lionel Messi, too – with Alex also enquiring about bringing the peerless Argentine to Glasgow in 2004. He had been made aware of the Barca prodigy by his young sons, who delivered scouting reports after unearthing Messi while playing Football Manager.

“Jon and Jamie were into the game and they kept coming to me with names from South America. They said this guy Lionel Messi was going to be the best player in the world – [Messi] was maybe 13 or 14 at the time,” Alex says. “We asked about bringing Messi to Rangers on loan [in 2004] and were told flatly: ‘No chance. Absolutely, no chance’.”