It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to since leaving Ipswich.
A lot of things in football are better now than they were in my playing days: better resources, more education. But, in terms of the way we’re preparing players mentally, I’m not sure things have improved.
In academies now, it’s almost like you’re not allowed to criticise players. So when it comes to a game, and you’ve got people shouting at you – whether it’s 800 or 50,000, people – how do you deal with criticism if all you’ve had is praise all the time?
That’s something I’m questioning myself about moving forward: what’s the best way to deal with those players? What do they need to perform at their best?
“I was out to prove people wrong all the time. Saw criticism as something that made me stronger”
Being a manager can sometimes be like being a counsellor. To a degree, that’s what you are.
In football, I still think that’s something that we are behind on, in terms of understanding that a happy player is more likely to go out and perform well.
At Ipswich, we were just starting to talk about bringing in a psychologist. I’d brought one in a couple of times at Shrewsbury, and straight away you could see some lads were keen to speak to him. Others would take more time to get used to the idea, and some might not ever need him.
As a player, I was out to prove people wrong all the time. Saw criticism as something that made me stronger.
If we had someone come in to talk about psychology, I’d be like: “It’s a load of rubbish.”
And some of it probably was. But what I’m learning is that everyone’s different. It’s about finding out what it takes to get the best out of that individual.
It’s very easy to be down on things, and get a bit cynical after an experience like I had at Ipswich.
It has certainly made me question the way I do some things. But I’m a big believer in being true to myself as well. That’s not to say it’s my way or the highway, but I would rather be sacked the way I was than try to do things I’m not comfortable with or be someone I’m not.
By no means do I think I know everything. I’m always trying to improve and take the experience for what it is.
I’m disappointed that we couldn’t do better than we did. Not only for the club, but also for those coaches who, like me, maybe can’t see a way up the ladder. I wanted to do well for them, too.
Naturally, your pride is dented, but for most of my managerial career I’ve been fortunate enough to leave clubs in a better place than I found them. That’s what I want to get back to.
That’s what being a football manager is all about.
It might have taken me a while to accept it, but that’s definitely what I am now.