It was a big day; my first in charge of a professional football club. Not only that, it's the club I've supported all my life. Leyton Orient.
Let me start at the "real" beginning of the story.
I've worked at Leyton Orient for 6 years now. I started as a coach of one of the junior sides before moving up to be assistant manager of the Under 18s. I then moved into the scouting team before becoming a fully fledged coach of the seniors two years ago under Russell Slade. I was always the tactics specialist and as such helped Russell with sorting out a basic system at the start of the season to build on and then we can alter that depending on our opposition. I used to get quite animated on the touchline during games as well; if you've ever watched Orient play (whether on TV or at the ground) and saw a funny looking bloke with glasses hopping up and down on the touchline, then that was me!!
After a fairly successful season in 2012/2013, things took a dramatic turn.
There was whispers that the club would be sold to an Italian billionaire businessman. There were rumours flying everywhere, especially about the future of Russell. After a week of speculation, he'd had enough and resigned with immediate effect. No warning or anything. We were all shocked. Two weeks before the season started, the Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti completed his takeover and began looking for a new manager. Our Assistant Manager Kevin Nugent, who has been at the club longer than me, said I should apply for the job seeing as I was the brains behind the tactics anyway. I love Kev; he's a top bloke and he got me thinking. Could I do it? Would I even stand a chance?
Two days later, I was being interviewed for the job.
Faced by Becchetti and his advisers, and one familiar face from the board, Matt Porter who was Chief Executive under Barry Hearn. I was nervous but didn't feel like there was any pressure because I didn't think I'd have a chance of being appointed. I came out feeling happy with what I had said. No more than a few hours later, I got a phone call from Mr Becchetti.
"Hello, Paul?" he enquired in his heavily accented English.
"Yes, speaking", I replied .
"I was very impressed with what you had to say in your interview and with what you have done during your time at the club", Becchetti said, "and as such, I would like to offer you the job". I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I managed to stammer a thank you and went straight to the ground to sign my contract. It was a dream I had held for years after being unable to play due to a serious injury I suffered in my teens. I was going to represent my club in the most important role of all.
So, it was the the big day and I had just arrived for my meeting with the Chairman
. I was greeted by the receptionist and was told to go straight up to Becchetti's office. I knocked on the door and entered. I'd been in here before to speak to Barry Hearn. Becchetti had certainly put his own mark on it with a distinctly Italian feel. We had a brief meeting about where we wanted the club to go and most importantly the transfer budget. He told me that I could rely on the full backing of the board had an initial budget of £1.4m and a spare £10,000 in the wage budget
, although this was flexible.
I left with a positive feeling running through me. We could certainly achieve success under this man if he kept his financial support up for long enough. Luckily, I had inherited a good side from Russell and didn't need to make too many additions but that budget would certainly be helpful to add depth. I went off to a conference room to meet my staff
and discuss tactics, transfers and training. I already had my own ideas as to how the club should be managed and made that clear to the staff. I'm a big fan of the 5 man midfield and this will be what I will promote through my tenure at the club from the senior team right down to the youths. I realised during the meeting that we were short on staff, with only Kevin Nugent (Ass. Manager), Kevin Dearden (GK Coach) and Andy Edwards (U18s Manager) present. It hadn't occurred to me that I would need to replace myself as a coach! I asked Nuge to place an advert for coaches and then went searching for a scouting team and a Head of Youth Development myself. There's plenty of websites that shows unemployed staff and I soon found the people I wanted. I got straight in contact with Nick Marshall (Head of Youth), Barry Poynton, Barry Whitbread and Gavin Tait(all Scouts). They said they would get back to me with their answers which meant I would have to wait to use the big transfer budget I was gifted with.
Then off to meet the players
. This was easy as I knew them all inside out anyway so we had a chat about what I expected of them and how I would be changing systems to fit my footballing beliefs. It was very productive and all the players seemed very positive about our chances this season. I let Nuge lead the training session so I could observe what condition and mood the players were in after their summer break. They were looking sharp and had a great session. When they came in after their warm down, I gathered them all together and explained my expectations for the team this year. We could get promoted but their attitude has to be right. There were nods and noises of agreement. This pleased me as I know that a lot of of the group have ambitions to play at a higher level and it would be fantastic if that could be with Orient. I dismissed them and the staff off and walked to my car. The hard work had started. This preseason was going to be busy...