Phil Brown: I want to give myself a chance to manage England
Sunday 05 September 2010
Time and the sack have done nothing to still Phil Brown's ambition or dilute his self-belief. Three months after finishing gardening leave from Hull City, he is bursting to take on "the next challenge" and even voluntarily brings up the subject of the England manager's job as an illustration of how high that ambition flies.
In contrast to unemployment almost five years ago after being shown the door by Derby County – "real dark days" – he is staying positive and taking steps to improve himself and his job prospects with a Dale Carnegie course. Not so much how to make friends and influence people as, he says, "courses that teach you a little bit more about yourself, teach you to deal with people a little bit better".
This sounds like something unexpectedly close to humility from a man not renowned for it. "It's things like handling high-pressure situations better. Managing upwards, which is something I can improve on. Improve your presentation skills.
"An awful lot of football these days is not just about coaching. The more you can improve the business acumen, understanding what chief executives think and what makes them tick, what floats your chairman's boat, that gives you a better chance of staying in the game. It's feedback, reflection, re-education if you like, or future development."
So when he talks about "getting me house in order" he does not mean the Lancashire dwelling from which he has driven today to play in a celebrity golf tournament just outside Hull with former assistants Brian Horton and Steve Parkin. Deciding not to move house to Derby proved the right decision after "fleeing the nest from Sam" as he puts it, having served as the assistant manager to Allardyce at Blackpool and Bolton. Appointed at Pride Park in June 2005, he was sacked the following January after a mountainous learning curve.
"The manager gets the sack after eight months," says Brown. "The club was then sold and not long after that three of the directors were put in jail for fraud. That doesn't seem to be written about too often but that shows you just how difficult my first job in management was. But that stood me in good stead for the second crack at it. I hope the Hull experience and the success that we created there is going to stand me in good stead for the next experience."
What an experience it was. After victory in a Wembley play-off came six wins in their first nine Premier League games, then an implosion that many believe started on Boxing Day 2008, when Manchester City led 4-0 at half-time and Brown was widely condemned for keeping his players sitting on the pitch and reading them the riot act during the interval.
"That was the very first time I wasn't pleased with the mentality of the players," he says. "I hold myself responsible. I gave them Christmas Day off with their families and I wanted them to produce a performance for 5,000 travelling fans. That was what really got to me."
Whatever Dale Carnegie's view of a public dressing-down for employees may be, would he do the same again? "I'll let you know when the situation happens again." He laughs but, laughing matter or not, it is an incident that has come to define him even more than grabbing the microphone to sing "Sloop John B" after Hull survived on the final day of the 2008-09 season. "I'd have said it was a defining moment as opposed to defining me. Instead of being defined as the only manager that's got Hull City into the Premier League."
The following season he was sent home to cultivate his garden with nine games left, from which Hull under Iain Dowie failed to take the eight points that would have kept them up; something Brown clearly feels he could have done. He has had "two or three offers" subsequently, so what is he waiting for? "A chairman and club with very similar vision and drive to me.
"I'm quite an ambitious person. I want to give myself an opportunity to be England manager. Now, saying that to you when I'm out of work, I seem a million miles away.
"But I want somebody to sit across the table and make eye-contact with me and have the same sort of ambition. I'm a grafter, a working-class lad who likes to be in the thick of it. I'm driven as a person, I want to get back into the game to show I can cut it at the highest level."
Rumour links him with the vacant managers' position at Southampton, which would present an interesting dilemma were it to be offered: drop down to League One or play a longer game? "Patience is not one of my finest assets," Brown admits. "I'm on the outside looking in, when for the last five years I've almost always been on the inside looking out. But when you get back in, you need to understand how to stay in and that's what I'm working on."
Dale Carnegie would have approved of that at least.
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