"I look for every statistic you can think of." Had Dean Holdsworth said these words as a member of Wimbledon's Crazy Gang, he would probably have had his suit shredded. Yet his days of putting beds in lifts and flying clothes from flagpoles belong to a distant past as he embarks on his first manager's job in the League with Aldershot.
Holdsworth, at 42, is still a son of Sam – only it is the influence of Allardyce that looms large these days, rather than Hammam, the erstwhile Wimbledon owner whose eccentricities we will come to later. "I was brought up on set-pieces and stats with Sam Allardyce," explains Holdsworth, who played under "Big Sam" at Bolton. "I am all for statistics. Good ones are important to me and the bad ones you try to erase."
Holdsworth earned his opportunity with Aldershot after leading Newport County to the Blue Square Premier League last season and he has made a positive start since taking charge of the League Two side in mid-January, with only two defeats in 10 games so far.
"We've tried to raise the bar on the standards of the player, of the fitness and mental fitness," he says. Perhaps surprisingly for a man who spent a combined 10 seasons with Wimbledon and Bolton, he is also encouraging a "passing mentality". He explains: "Players have got to be able to caress the ball, know it is their friend and not an enemy." That said, if Plan A does not work, he will ask his players to "go round the back, on the sides or over the top some times". Going over the top – on and off the pitch – was second nature to Holdsworth when playing in the Wimbledon side of Vinnie Jones, John Fashanu et al. "We worked hard, played hard, we were bloody good at football. If you could bottle that feeling of power you'd be a rich man. It was a fabulous place to be, bordering on eccentric and dangerous."
He remembers team-mates crying in his car, unable to cope – "I've seen players get their clothes cut up three or four days on the trot becausethey tried to fight the system" – but Holdsworth, who first earned a reputation for scoring goals at Brentford, had no such problems.
He even had the Wimbledon chairman Hammam kiss his backside in front of the whole squad for his scoring feats. "He was on his knees with Fash [John Fashanu] holding him down," recalls Holdsworth, who hit 19 goals in his first top-flight campaign in 1992-93 and 17 in his second as Wimbledon finished sixth, earning himself an England B cap. "Sam had to buy me a Ferrari if I got a certain number of goals and if not I had to give him money from my contract.A Ferrari turned up on the Monday. One year he made a bust of me in bronze." Holdsworth's only interest then was goals but his Damascene conversion came at the Reebok Stadium, and, with it, a thirst for knowledge. "I spoke to Sam Allardyce, to his sports psychologists, to Pro-Zone about why they use video analysis, scouting reports," says Holdsworth, who did a course in sports psychology at the University of Central Lancashire.
"The days of running a football club with a stick and a management style have changed dramatically from when I was a player. Managers would walk in and rant and rave, call people names and make it personal," he says, citing Joe Kinnear's rants at Wimbledon. "I saw under Sam Allardyce that man-management is key to getting the best out of players. A sport psychologist at Bolton made me believe if a player likes you and believes in you and respects you, he will give you more than a player who doesn't."
Holdsworth had a brief spell as Phil Brown's assistant at Derby but was keen to start managing at the bottom. "There are many players who are friends of a mate who can get them a job in football. I wanted to be my own person, get my hands dirty in non-league, do the groundwork."
After a season at Redbridge, whom he led to a play-off final, the Londoner became the Newport manager in 2008. Within two years he had won them promotion as runaway champions. He also found the time to establish the Non-League Footballers' Association. "I have so much respect for non-league football and footballers," he says of his work at Newport. "I just asked them to go a little bit further." This involved his part-timers adopting a professional's code of conduct including "no alcohol on the coach, trying to eat the right food and get the body fats down".
A similar code will be in place at Aldershot next season. It is a classic case of poacher-turned-gamekeeper given Holdsworth's antics at Wimbledon, where he was no stranger to the red tops. "I wish it wasn't there, that some of the things didn't happen; unfortunately you don't have a crystal ball and life experience only comes from living and there is so much out there for a young man who is healthy, fit, [has] money, good-looking, whatever. There are probably not many T-shirts I haven't got." Including, these days, one with Statto on it.