Chapter one: Times are changing
Monday 13 November 2017
St. George's Park
Monday 13 November 2017
St. George's Park
I stood and applauded an absolutely stunning goal. Marcus Rashford had received the ball on the halfway line and beat one defender, then two and finally a third. He cut inside a little, looked to his right and slid the ball off to club teammate Jesse Lingard before darting back on the outside and screaming for the return. Jesse got the ball out of his feet with his first touch and lined up a shot before realising he was being crowded out - instead, he cut left and played a diagonal ball with the outside of his right boot back to Marcus who didn't break stride, hitting the ball on his instep and finishing deftly over the top of the stranded Angus Gunn.
Those phases of play between United teammates were becoming more common with each training session and beginning to compete with the passing moves constructed by clubmates Harry Kane, Dele Alli and co. If we could find a way to stitch all of the fine movement together between the pockets of clubmates we have, Gareth Southgate would be a national favourite come the end of the World Cup in Russia next year.
"Take a minute's breather lads and get some fluids on board. Then we're back at it for another fifteen before lunch!" I shouted out.
Gareth had asked me to lead the training session this morning as he watched on and took notes. Playing two games against world class opposition in such a short space is physically and mentally demanding for any athlete or sportsperson, but the fact they aren't competitive matches means Gareth has the opportunity to experiment and give the players a good window of recovery. Five players made their international debut against a relatively strong German team on Friday night, although I could say with almost certainty that Joachim Löw had also used the occasion to shuffle his pack.
The minute's breather was over and I was just about to resume play when Gareth intervened.
"We've had a call regarding your availability and I think it's something that we owe you the right to consider." He said.
He signalled for Steve Holland to continue the training session and wrapped his arm around my shoulder, pulling me in the direction of the main building at St. George's Park.
"Come with me," he added, "it's certainly something close to your heart."
The call had been made from the mobile of Martin Bain, Chief Executive of Sunderland Association Football Club. It was a club that was close to my heart, a club I had previously been employed by and a club I still loved like no other. I was born and raised in Sunderland so I know how deeply ingrained the club is in the city's life.
I worked as a coach with the first team under Sam Allardyce. When Sam left to take up national duty, he urged me to follow but I initially refused. David Moyes was appointed soon after and our methods were arguably not comparable, least even compatible. The England camp soon caught wind and after a short phone conversation with Sam, I tendered my resignation to my hometown club and moved office to St. George's Park where I've worked for little over a year with both Sam and Gareth.
Martin had called from his car, sitting in a lay-by on the M6 about half an hour away. He stressed that he was eager to get things moving as quick as possible, so we agreed with Gareths blessing to meet at St. George's Park while the players ate lunch.
I freshened up by showering and changing from my training gear into something a little more formal. I opted to go with a shirt and tie combination, leaving my suit jacket off on a mild day like today. I waited patiently in main reeption and greeted Martin, shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries. We discussed my history with the club - there was a short period last summer when we had both been employed by Sunderland but our paths had never crossed - and the North East while we had a short wait for him to get clearance to enter the rest of the building. Once this was granted, I led him to my office.
"We have quite a lot to get through and not an awful lot of time," Martin said, "so I'm going to be quite direct in how I approach you. As you're well aware, a little over two weeks ago we parted company with Simon Grayson and appointed Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay as joint caretaker managers. I've interviewed a number of candidates since then about taking on the role on a permanent basis but I've not yet interviewed somebody we're excited to enter negotiations with. I've just finished a meeting in London with Ellis Short and we both agreed your name looks the most appealing at the moment so I wanted to come and have a discussion with you as soon as possible. I understand you've had no time to prepare for an interview so think of this as an informal discussion and my aim here is to gauge whether you're at all interested in leading the club forward."
"Let me start by saying that I'm flattered both yourself and Ellis have considered me for the role and as you know, it's a club that is very close to my heart," I paused, "but you have to understand some of my concerns before our talks can progress any further..."