But things change.
Karl left. With 10 games of the season to go, the club put me in charge on a caretaker basis.
I saw it as a new challenge. Now I was back in the game, that feeling I had as a player – that need to win – was back. I love the club and I wanted to do whatever I could to help them get back into the Championship.
I honestly believed we were going to do that.
When I first took over, they’d won one in their last eight and the players were dented because they thought they were out of the playoffs.
My job was to make them believe again. I knew they were good. All I had to do was make them believe that. If they pulled together as one, then that was even better: don’t play as individuals, play as a team.
From day one, I was honest with them: if anyone wants to play as an individual, they won’t play. I’ll only play people who are going to play for the team.
They had to work hard, too. Training became a lot more physical. More intense. I believe that you should train the way you play because you can’t turn it on and off. You can’t think: “I won’t do so much today, but on Saturday I’ll be fine.”
It doesn’t work like that.
“The thing that hurts me most is that I know how good they are. I know what a chance we have”
Everything went up a notch. Standards got better, and we got better. They believed in what we were saying and came together as one. It’s vital that you all believe in the same thing and work hard for each other, because there’s going to be times when someone isn’t doing so well and you have to pull together.
Fans play a big part in that, too. It feels like the fans and the players are closer together now. It’s become the place that I left as a 19-year-old: a family club where the crowd and the players are all as one.
People probably think of me as an intense person. And yeah, when I’m at the club or doing something to do with football, then I’m 100 per cent focused and give my all. But I do try to step away from it when I can. You have to – otherwise you’d go mad.
Believe it or not, I’m pretty laid-back when I come away from football. I like to think I can switch off.
My kids are a good example of that. My little girl is very competitive: she has to win. But my boy has more of the laid-back side. I’m a bit of both.
I suppose it’s obvious that my views on the job have changed since I retired from playing. But one thing about me that will probably never change is how I feel after a defeat.
As a player, it always took me a few days to get over it, and I’m the same now. The thing that hurts me most is that I know how good they are. I know what a chance we have.
And I’m proud to be the manager. Proud to be back at the club where I started out as a kid, and to be passing my knowledge on to others.
It might not have been my intention – but now that I’m in it, I’ll give it my all.
I don’t know any other way.