David Weir interview: Ready to cut his teeth in the Steel City at Sheffield United
After learning under David Moyes at Everton, Sheffield United's new manager tells Simon Hart he is prepared to be his own man
Friday 02 August 2013
There was a time during his playing days at Everton when David Weir's phone would regularly ring late at night. On the other end would be Paul Gascoigne, his Goodison team-mate then caught up in a craze for the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? computer game, who saw Weir – with his US college degree in advertising and PR – as the ideal friend to phone.
There may come a time as the 2013-14 season unfolds when Weir, freshly embarked on his first job in management at Sheffield United, is tempted to phone a friend himself and, fortunately, he will not be short of sound advice. Not only does he have Walter Smith, the manager who helped him prolong his playing days at Rangers until after his 41st birthday, but also David Moyes, another old boss and fellow Scot under whom he learnt the coaching ropes at Everton until May.
"He has told me any time to give him a call and I'd be a fool not to," Weir says of the new Manchester United manager. "I don't want to be bombarding him every day and asking him questions – I've got to be myself and that's one of the biggest things he said: 'Be yourself and get your personality across.' Walter said the same and, like Walter, he's somebody I'll speak to and ask questions to if I think it's right."
The former Scotland centre-back kicks off his managerial career in the inaugural fixture of the Football League season tonight, when his United side face League One rivals Notts County in front of the Sky cameras at Bramall Lane. There may be some butterflies but it is a challenge the 43-year-old is eager to embrace. He was confirmed as Danny Wilson's successor in early June, one door opening shortly after another – the vacant manager's job at Everton – had shut.
Weir was one of three internal candidates considered for that post before Bill Kenwright, the Everton chairman, opted for Roberto Martinez, yet Weir's reportedly impressive interview was the moment that told him he was ready to stand on his own feet as a manager.
"When I came out of that meeting I thought my time was now. I thought possibly it was going to be Everton but if it wasn't going to be Everton it was definitely going to be somewhere else," he says. "I felt I could have talked all day with regards to my ideas and how I wanted to work. It brought home to me the time was right to go and start doing my job." So Weir rejected the opportunity to remain on Everton's coaching staff and was soon signing a three-year contract in Sheffield.
Weir's insightful autobiography, Extra Time, shows a man of forthright opinions beneath his polite demeanour and he has been quick to stamp his mark on his new club's Shirecliffe training facility, moving the first team down to the academy site to bring all United's players together under one roof. He has also ordered better food (and TVs) for the canteen to ensure players eat lunch together – seemingly a small thing, but from Moyes he learnt the importance of "attention to detail".
For our interview, he sits in his training gear in that same canteen before heading off to oversee morning training (another Moyes lesson: be a coach first, manager second) with his two assistants, Lee Carsley – his old Everton colleague, who has League One experience from coaching at Coventry City – and Adam Owen, a fitness and conditioning specialist lured south from Rangers. "We are trying to individualise training as much as we can, pulling people out of sessions if we feel there is a chance of getting injured, or working people a little bit harder if we feel they need it," he explains.
Weir believes the modern manager has "a responsibility almost" to play "possession-based football" and an eight-match unbeaten sequence in pre-season augurs well for a United team defeated in the play-offs two years running. Yet the division's only rookie manager plays down expectations. "There are some big clubs and some big budgets in this league – Wolves, Bristol City, Peterborough," he says. "There is a lot of competition so it is going to be a really tough league. The fans will always have the expectation of going up because we're a really big club in a league where a lot of people feel we shouldn't be, but we are and we're here for a reason."
United may have been League One's best-supported team last season yet their budget is not the biggest and Weir's only cash signing has been the £250,000 Falkirk forward Lyle Taylor. That said, his six new faces, also including the England Under-20 captain Conor Coady, loaned from Liverpool, have added pace up front and youthful promise. "My idea is to do something that's sustainable and that over time will lead Sheffield United back to being a successful club again," he adds.
In the meantime it will be intriguing to see if Weir has what it takes to join the long list of successful Scottish managers. "I am a long, long way off that," he stresses, although he has been long preparing for his new post, filling notebooks with observations while still playing. By the time Weir appeared in the 2008 Uefa Cup final for Walter Smith's Rangers he was 38 and already "coaching to a certain degree on the pitch. That was a massive learning tool for me, just seeing how things develop on the pitch and working with a great manager with the ability to ask him questions and ask why he did things and him explaining why".
If Smith provided lessons in man-management – with his "sixth sense in regards to what people needed at a particular time" – Weir's education continued during a 16-month spell back at Everton as he helped out Alan Stubbs with the Under-21s. Weir speaks with admiration of Moyes' infectious work ethic and organisation, and cites his move to Old Trafford as a source of encouragement for all home-grown coaches. "It's shown that if you do the right things, there is a pathway," says the man gearing up for his first step on that same road tomorrow night.
Sons of Goodison: Everton connection
Club career Falkirk (134 appearances, eight goals), Hearts (100 apps, seven goals), Everton (267 apps, 10 goals), Rangers (230 apps, four goals)
Scotland 69 caps, one goal
Of the Everton team that qualified for the Champions League under David Moyes in 2005, six are now coaching:
David Weir (Sheffield United manager)
James Beattie (Accrington Stanley manager)
Lee Carsley (Sheffield United assistant manager)
Steve Watson (Birmingham City first-team coach)
Alan Stubbs (Everton U21 coach)
Duncan Ferguson (Everton U18 assistant coach)
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Tips for the top
In terms of stature, Wolverhampton Wanderers tower over the rest. The task for Kenny Jackett is to address the decay that has led to the club being relegated in two successive seasons. He needs to impose the right values – as he did at Millwall – but they have the players and the resources to bounce straight back. Brentford have their own trauma to recover from, after last season's painful last-minute defeat to Doncaster, before losing the play-off final to Yeovil Town. But Uwe Rosler knows how to get them playing and they should compete. Sheffield United went close last year and new manager David Weir could provide the edge they have been missing.
Can anyone arrest the downward momentum of Coventry City? Likely to play this season in Northampton, they are moving in the wrong direction fast and they may struggle again. Shrewsbury narrowly escaped relegation last season and despite some smart additions last summer they will have to fight hard to stay afloat, as will Notts County.
Players to watch
After 10 years of service at Bolton, Kevin Davies finally left this summer but he could be the perfect man to help Preston North End back up. The 36-year-old striker has the experience and the hunger to make a difference in the third tier. Whether Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Bristol City's new signing, has the same hunger is less clear. Highly rated at Arsenal as a youngster, he has yet to find his level in the professional game.
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Tips for the top
Graham Alexander, the Preston and Burnley legend, did not have the best start when he took over as manager at Fleetwood last December, but he has the resources to take them up this season. Chesterfield, who finished last season strongly, are well-backed, as are Cheltenham, who have reached the play-offs for the last two years. At Exeter, manager Paul Tisdale has the expertise to sneak his team up through the play-offs.
Even after the appointment of James Beattie as manager, Accrington Stanley may struggle. They were close to dropping down last season and have not strengthened their squad. Torquay may not have the players needed to keep them up either.
Players to watch
Dave Kitson, the former Reading and Stoke City striker, has moved to Oxford United where, if he can rediscover his best form, he could still score more than enough goals to make a difference. Another veteran forward, Jamie Cureton, hopes to fire Cheltenham into League One.
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