Colin Calderwood has been Chris Hughton’s assistant at Newcastle, Birmingham, Norwich and now Albion. As the former Tottenham and Scotland star told Seagull, it’s a role he’s again relishing...
You’ve been here since the start of February, so how are you enjoying it here, Colin?
It’s been very enjoyable. As time’s gone by I’ve got to know everybody at the club and I’m delighted to be back in football. I’ve got a lot of enthusiasm for the job and my recent time out of the game has reinforced to me how important it is to be diligent when you are in work and to do the best I can.
How does the assistant manager role work, in relation to the manager and the players?
You’re always a back-up for the manager. My relationship with Chris goes back to my playing days at Tottenham, when he was a coach, so I’ve had much more time with him than anyone else here. I’ve got an understanding of his ways and what he’s thinking; I know how the week will be structured, the types of players he’ll maybe look for and the weaknesses he’ll want to exploit in the opposition. Chris is also very open to his coaching staff giving their input, so there will be times when Nathan [Jones], Antti [Niemi] and myself will get together for a general chat. There’s always an opportunity to do have your say, and I enjoy being that liaison point with all the coaching staff.
You’re also a buffer between the players and the manager, aren’t you?
As assistant manager, the relationship you have with the players is completely different to the one you have as the manager. You can have a different relationship, you are much closer with them. Saying that, they have to have respect for what you say and what you do and so when I first arrived, it was important that what I was telling them was valid and also constructive. One thing about this group though is that the way they apply themselves and their attitude to training is excellent.
You’ve worked with Chris at Newcastle, Birmingham and Norwich, so was it always the intention to work with him again?
Obviously I was delighted for Chris when he got the job here but I didn’t for one minute think or assume that he would be taking me with him – football isn’t that straightforward. When the call did come from Chris though, I didn’t have to think too long about accepting because the infrastructure here is fantastic. It’s a great environment to work in and everything is in place to make the club competitive again.
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At what point did you want to become a coach?
I was 26 and playing for Swindon when I did my first coaching badge, which was pretty young. My thought process from the moment I left school was to become a footballer, then longer term to become a coach or a manager. I didn’t know if I would be any good but in terms of my life plan, I always envisaged staying in football, which is the way it’s turned out.
When you did eventually move into coaching and management, who were your influences?
It’s the first managers you have as a player that have the biggest influence on you. At Mansfield, Ian Greaves, the ex-Bolton manager, was a strong manager and you could see from the way he conducted himself that he had coached at the highest level. I got to know him well, given that I had to drive his car home after away games so he could have a drink! Then Lou Macari took me to Swindon and we had a good run and won promotion to what is now the Premier League [which was later annulled due to financial regularities at the club at the time – Ed]. I also played under Ossie Ardiles and Glenn Hoddle at Swindon, two great players who I learnt a great deal from, but Ian and Lou were the ones that built the foundations of my career.
What’s been the biggest change in coaching and management since you first went into it?
Not too much has changed on the pitch, but off it there has been a significant change with the amount of press coverage you get – certainly in the Premier League. A manager’s press conference before a game can have a huge influence on how people judge the club and the manager himself. The pre-match questioning can lead you down all sorts of avenues and you have to be well versed and experienced to make sure you don’t slip up. With social media, everything is instant now and a flippant comment will be out there in seconds and could be very, very costly.
What about coaching players, has that changed compared to say 20 years ago?
It’s changed more at the lower level to be honest. The structure in place for youngsters is now very good, in terms of what we are teaching them and also the way we are educating children to play football and to keep them in the game. As we are all now aware, kids simply don’t play football or practice like they used to. The loss of schools’ football is huge, kids don’t play on the street anymore, they don’t play in the park, in the playground or after dark. So that game-time has been lost, playing three-and-in with your mates, working on your crossing, your shooting, controlling the ball against a wall, it’s pretty much all gone. That’s why when we do get them in the building at a young age, it’s important they play on small pitches, in small-sided games, so they get as much time with the ball as possible. For me, it’s all about throwing them into games of 4v4, 6v6 or 8v8 where they are forced into as many touches as possible.
Finally, what else do the players need to do to ensure next season will be better?
You’ve got to have a winning mentality and a competitive edge to be a success in any league and that’s something we will continue to instil in the players as much as possible. Sometimes you have to come from behind to win, or adapt a different approach in certain games, but the way to the top is always by winning.