Aidy Boothroyd: 'I was the next big thing – I'm 10 times better now'
A Premier League manager at just 35, he tells Glenn Moore how he is rebuilding his reputation with lowly Northampton
At the beginning of December 2010, Aidy Boothroyd was manager of a Coventry City side that sat fifth in the Championship, four points off a place for automatic promotion into the Premier League, where he had managed Watford three years earlier.
A year later he became the 10th manager in 11 years of a Northampton Town side three points off a place for relegation out of the Football League.
It looked, from the outside, like a precipitous slide for a man once touted as "the next big thing" and, in a season when Alan Curbishley is prepared to turn down Wolves, it suggested Boothroyd was a little too desperate to get back in the dugout.
Not desperate, he says, when we meet in his office at Sixfields, but "very keen, I absolutely love being a manager". He adds: "Another manager rang me up and told me, 'This is either a really clever move, or a bloody stupid one'. I said 'I'm hoping it will be a clever one'."
After six weeks it looked a stupid one. The Cobblers were now three points adrift at the foot of League Two and Boothroyd had won one and lost six of his first nine games.
Was he getting worried? He pauses. "I was getting a bit, not worried, but... my worry was we'd get some hidings, but I saw promising signs. We only got beat in the last couple of minutes in a few games. Then we had a spell when we played twice a week, beat teams around us, racked up some points, and started to climb the table."
There were some hiccups, notably between the sticks where Northampton went through a series of goalkeepers, but the Cobblers secured safety with a 0-0 draw at fellow strugglers Hereford at the weekend and Boothroyd can now plan for next season.
"It was a risk," he says, "but you have to have faith in yourself. To me now it is more important to be working for the right club, and the right person, than it is to be working for a club with a 'name'. I didn't really do my homework on Coventry, on the people I was going to be working for. It was 'They're a big club', but I jumped too early out of Colchester.
"When I sat down afterwards I thought, 'What do you want when you go into a club?' You want the results to be down, because the expectation will be low; you want to work with a decent chairman who will give you a chance, and will support you; and you want to look at the potential of the place, some clubs will only ever be 2,000-3,000 [crowds] and that will be their lot."
Northampton ticked all the boxes. Prior to Boothroyd's appointment they had shipped 11 goals in two matches. The chairman, David Cardoza, though he tends to be impatient with managers, is prepared to invest, both in players and a ground redevelopment. That, Boothroyd hopes, will lift gates in a town whose population is similar to Norwich. Given the season's travails a current average approaching 5,000 is respectable.
Boothroyd adds: "The chairman wanted me, that's important when you get a sticky period, and there is not much stickier than being bottom of the league for two months."
Northampton were bottom from Boxing Day to 10 March. The Conference loomed and, as relatively near-neighbours Luton are finding, that league is hard to escape. But Boothroyd knew results would not change overnight.
"On my first day we had a practice match to look at what we'd got, and I thought, 'There's going to be a few phases to this job'. The first phase was to get the best out of what you have up until January when you can bring people in."
With his staff, notably assistant Andy King, Everton legend and a former Swindon manager, Boothroyd set about identifying targets. Then, he adds, "it was a case of persuading players to come to a club that was bottom of the league".
A dozen players arrived in January. Fourteen left. Just as significantly Cardoza turned down a six-figure bid for Adebayo Akinfenwa, Town's leading scorer but 30 next month. "We were in trouble and needed him, but I also think he can get better," said Boothroyd, who ordered the chunky striker to lose three stone, and is happy Akinfenwa has shed two already.
Among the newcomers, on loan from Burnley, was Clarke Carlisle, star of Question Time and Countdown, chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association, and, in his spare time, still a decent footballer. "I told him 'Don't forget, you're a family man first, then you're a footballer. Everything else fits around that'. He's done that brilliantly. Clarke leads by example and he expects everyone else to be the same, to be the best they can be. Off the pitch all the little things, like making sure you are ready to start meetings on time, having respect for other people, training with an intensity, doing things in the community, all the things I think are part of being a professional footballer... he makes sure they get done. Some players if you give them an inch they'll take a mile. He and Luke Guttridge [another January recruit] help me police the dressing room."
The strong finish will raise expectations but, Boothroyd has learned the need to manage those. "I'm the man who said at Watford we'll be in the Premier League next year, and after we did that I started telling everybody we'd be in Europe, but we got our arse kicked."
Boothroyd is still only 41 but he has packed in a lot of learning having started, at Watford, at the age of 34, and been feted as a rising star when he quickly took them into the top flight in 2006.
"I was the next big thing, the next Mourinho, future England manager and all that nonsense," he recalls, "but I'm 10 times the manager now than I was then. I was into everything cutting edge, sports science, you name it. I went to everything. Once at Watford I even found myself attending a stewards meeting. I sat there thinking, 'What am I doing here?'
"There are fundamentals you need to have right: recruitment, the relationship with the chairman, the right staff. It helps if you buy yourself time by winning. And you have to treat people respectfully and keep an emotional even keel. I think I'm more even-tempered now, though my wife would completely disagree.
"Perhaps I was little too intense back then, but for a 30-something bloke to go from picking up balls and bibs in the Championship, to being on the front of every paper, it is bound to do things for your ego."
The ego is still there, but with a self-deprecating awareness. He recalls: "I was having lunch in Watford the other day, and this fellow comes over and says 'Excuse me, is it Aidy Boothroyd?' and I'm thinking 'Here we go, another fan who wants to talk about the FA Cup semi-finals, getting promoted and all that'. I said 'Yeah, yeah', and the bloke said 'You've just left your card in the machine'. My mate laughed himself silly.
"I'm still driven, and fiercely ambitious. I want to get back to the top level. I feel I have unfinished business there, but I love being here. I have my enthusiasm back."
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