Elsewhere, I had taken risks. I didn’t want to keep the centre forward Geoff Horsfield, so I had signed Louis Saha, who arrived from Metz. He wasn’t playing there, so people didn’t really understand – but I knew that little Louis had quality, and working to improve young players was my thing. Others, like Luis Boa Morte and Steed Malbranque, would follow.
We changed the tactics, too.
Every time, with the goalkeeper, it was a long ball, playing for the second balls. Not for me. I wanted to pass the ball out from the back.
“When we have the ball, we’re very strong,” I told the players. “When you don’t have the ball, you are not strong. You’re obliged to fight to get it back. So we don’t lose the ball. We keep it.”
“If you put any old oil in a Ferrari, it will stop. If you put pure petrol in, it will keep going”
In one of our early games, our defender Andy Melville risks a pass. From it, we concede a goal. He told me a while back, when I last saw him, that he came into the dressing room expecting me to yell at him. On the contrary.
I tapped him on the shoulder: “Keep playing like that. It is no big deal. I want you to continue.”
We wanted to prolong careers, too. Melville was one, Barry Hayles another. Barry (below, with Saha) was capable of playing, but when I arrived he was a bit round. He didn’t want to fight, track back, tackle. After six months, he felt liberated. He was a good player. He could easily have played in the French league.
As long as an older player is professional, he can keep his career going easily. I saw that when I signed Edwin van der Sar. Edwin was already 30 when he arrived at Fulham, but look at the career he had after that point.
That is why you must be professional, look after yourself. I always have this phrase: your body is your business. Footballers are like Ferraris. If you put any old oil in a Ferrari, it will stop. If you put pure petrol in, it will keep going.