Football / FA Cup: Bergara loves changing life and climes: Stockport County's eccentric manager is looking for further progress in the FA Cup. Joe Lovejoy reports

Click to follow
DON'T do the interview over the phone, they said. You'll never understand him. If you go and see him, a bit of lip-reading should help.

There was the case of David Pleat, who had rung about a player. 'They say he can be a bit volatile, Danny. Is that right?'

'Bloody right, 'Pleaty'. He can play left-back, central defence or in midfield . . .'

A true story, but the language problem was a slanderous exaggeration. Danny Bergara speaks better English than most of the foreigners plying their trade in British football, even if the idiosyncratic usage is a Graham Taylor shade of blue.

The delivery is a disconcerting cross between Brian Glover and Stavros of Harry Enfield fame, but what do you expect from a man who has spent half his life in the sun and sand of Uruguay and Spain and the other half amid the Coronation Street terraces of England's industrial north.

Convent worker, lorry loader, Prime Ministerial 'greeter' and manager of Stockport County. If Michael Aspel ever decides to confront a real character with that red book of his, he could do a lot worse than the eccentric of Edgeley Park.

Meantime, this chain-smoking South American who coached the England youth team, was interviewed for the managership of Wales and sacked by Sheffield United with a 100 per cent record, is the stuff of which FA Cup legend is made.

Stockport v Liverpool would have been the pick of the fourth round. Stockport v Bristol City does not have quite the same ring, but

offers the team third in the Second Division the prospect of further progress after their third-round triumph over Queen's Park Rangers.

The cult of the manager is one to be discouraged, but in this case, it has to be said, the man who put it all together is rather more interesting than the jigsaw's constituent parts, assembled at a cost of pounds 400,000, with names to match.

It has taken a long time to prove Vic Buckingham wrong. The venerable Vic, a successful English manager abroad, with Ajax and Barcelona, before the wanderlust became fashionable, warned Bergara against trying to break into management in England.

'Vic was at Seville at the time and, driving from Tenerife to visit my wife's family in England, I stopped off to see him. He told me that I would find it hard in England, but I thought I'd give it a go.'

To begin at the beginning, Danny boy had joined Racing Club of Montevideo at 14, and made his first-team debut a year later. At 16 the small but insidious young striker was capped three times by Uruguay at youth level.

'I always thought I was good enough, but I couldn't be sure that I would be lucky enough to get to Penarol or Nacional - the only clubs where you could earn real money. So I decided to take a job in a bank.' Prudence proved no bar to progress. He carried on playing part- time, and was spotted by Jose Luis Saso, the coach of Real Mallorca.

'He took me and my brother to Majorca. I was there for five years and was top scorer for three successive seasons, then went to Seville for four and a half years. Again I was top scorer for two seasons, but then a new manager came, a Romanian, and for whatever reason he didn't fancy me.

'I went to Tenerife and had 18 months there before I got the injury which took half my calf away. That's when I decided to come to England, to give it a bash.'

Plans for a new career in the travel trade were short-lived. 'It was the time of the oil crisis, 1973, and

instead of taking people on, travel companies were laying them off.'

Thomas Cook's loss was football's gain. 'I'd bought a house in St Albans, very close to my wife's parents, and a cousin of hers put me in touch with Harry Haslam, who was managing Luton. He said bring your boots along, and we'll see what you can do. I played six games for their reserves and scored three goals, but I couldn't get a work permit. Foreigners were not allowed in English football then.

'Eventually they gave me a job as youth coach, but officially I was a lorry loader, working for the chairman's company. I couldn't get paid by the club, so that was my cover.'

From 1974 to 1977 Bergara supplemented the pounds 40 per week Luton were not paying him by working for the Football Association, assisting staff coaching courses where his classes included Terry Venables, Don Howe and Jimmy Sirrel. 'I was giving lectures, comparing methods in Uruguay, Spain and England. I learned a lot about organisation and I'm sure people learned from me, in terms of technique and skill.

'I'm not saying the technique is not there, but it's not as refined as that of the Brazilians or Italians, for example. Players here are not handled correctly when they are young.

'Here, when you're a kid, you play 11-a-side games for cups and championships. When you join a club as a professional, you play five- a-sides. It should be completely the other way around.

'I was five years with Harry at Luton, and then he moved on to Sheffield United and took me with him. It didn't work out.

'After Sheffield, Ron Greenwood asked me to coach the England youth side, one of the proudest

moments of my life.' Another was having John Major invite him to meet, greet and interpret for the Uruguayan president at No 10, but that, as they say, is another story.

Bergara had charge of England's Under 18s, and also took an Under- 20 team to the Little World Cup in Australia, when Neil Webb, Paul Allen, Danny Wallace and Stewart Robson were in his squad. Too many others were not.

'A lot of clubs wouldn't release their best young players. Some said they had commitments in the South-East Counties League. Maradona came through that tournament. Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Germany - everbody sends their best apart from England.'

After two years with Greenwood's youth team it was on to Brunei as

national coach, a job for which he had to thank Reg Brealey, the Sheffield United chairman. 'I couldn't have had a bigger test because they're amateurs and moslems.

'When we were training, the call to prayer would come from the mosque, and all the players would go like this (he falls to his knees, head down). I said: 'What the hell's going on here? Come on, we're training.' They said: 'Coach, no. Pray, pray.' I said: 'Tough shit. Play, not pray'.'

It was hardly a marriage made in Mecca, and after 10 months the

nomad was back, to join Bruce Rioch at Middlesbrough. More hard times. 'At the end of the

season we went down, the club had the receivers in and then Sheffield United came back for me - Mr Brealey again. I ended up as assistant manager to Billy McEwan, and when Billy got the sack I was in charge as caretaker. For two games.

'We beat Maidstone at home, Bournemouth away, and on the Tuesday 'Harry' Bassett took over. He told me he wouldn't get rid of me but after a month or so he had Geoff Taylor with him, and I knew that was that.'

Enter the mentor. 'Again Mr Brealey stepped in and recommended me for the job at Rochdale.' Bergara stayed for less than a year, but left 'a lovely little club' in 'the strongest position they'd been in for a long time'. Rochdale to Stockport sounds more like a local marathon than a career move, but it was a step in the right direction.

'I'd known the Stockport chairman, Brendan Elwood, for a while. In fact, when I was out of work,

before I went to Brunei, he got me a job at a convent in Sheffield, coaching 10-year-olds for a tenner an hour. Anyway, when Asa Hartford got the sack, he asked me to take over. I can't imagine a more friendly place to work. We haven't won much, but the achievements have been considerable.'

One of his players, Kevin Francis, stands 6ft 7in, and the presence of the Edgeley Eiger at the focal point of the attack would suggest that Stockport favour the long-ball game.

'Long ball? We play bloody football. Listen, the coach of Nacional Montevideo played with me as a kid, and when he was over here I asked him: 'How do you play?' He said 'Boom'.' Bergara waves his arm over a blackboard, indicating a long clearance from defence into the opposing half. 'Once we're in the final third we can play,' the man said. That's what we do.

'We outplayed QPR, no bragging. Ask Gerry (Francis). We play when we're allowed to play, as we were that day. We battle when we have to battle. If our pitch is crap, which it is - it's got more sand on it than Blackpool beach - we adapt to it.' Volatile and versatile. City are in for a bumpy ride on the Stockport sands.

(Photograph omitted)