Over time, a couple of opportunities to get involved on the coaching side came about. I worked my way up through the age groups at West Brom, took over the youth team, then the reserves, and finally made it to first-team coach. At the same time, I made sure I got fully qualified.
I did the lot – from C Licence up to the Football Diploma in Management – in six years.
My first taste of management came in early 2011, but it was a one-off. I was put in caretaker charge for West Brom against West Ham – the game before Roy Hodgson started as manager.
I packed a lot into those 90 minutes, though.
In the first half, we murdered them. It was 3-0, but we could have had eight. At half-time our lads were high-fiving each other, thinking the job was done.
By full time it was 3-3 and, if I’m brutally honest, we probably should have lost. It was a big lesson for me. I saw that once a team gets that momentum going, it can be very hard to stop.
I didn’t sleep that night, I can tell you that.
About 10 days after Roy arrived, we had a massive row. It was basically a difference of opinion over something that happened in training. We went properly toe-to-toe.
It was actually the best thing that could have happened, because from that day on we got on brilliantly. I think he trusted me more than he’d ever done because he saw there was complete honesty.
That was something I came to see the true value of when I became a manager for the first time.
“I turned up at the training ground and the kitman told me we couldn’t train: ‘We’ve got no balls’”
The first three or four weeks at Portsmouth were brilliant. I absolutely loved it. And then, overnight, the carpet was ripped from beneath us.
There were big problems with the owner’s other businesses and, as a result, the club went into administration.
In my first meeting with the administrators, they sat me down and said: “Just so you know Michael, tomorrow morning you’ll be sacking four members of your staff.”
I told them that wasn’t an option. If they went, I did too.
“What would keep them in a job for the next six months?”
If the players could take an extra 5 or 10 per cent off their wages (they were already being hit with a 20 per cent reduction), we could make it work.
The next morning, I got all the players and staff together in the dressing room. I pointed to each person whose job was under threat and asked the players: how important is this person? And this one?
“For the sake of an extra 5 per cent, you can keep them in a job for the next six months.”
I left the room, giving them five minutes to think about it.
About 30 seconds later, the captain Liam Lawrence opened the door: “Not a problem, boss. If we have to take an extra 10, 15 per cent, it’s not an issue.”