Football: Monday interview: Waddle ready for a management role

Ian Stafford meets the former international eager to start a new career
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The Independent Online
Chris Waddle, the football manager, has his staff already in place, and a system all worked out. He will play three at the back, with two wing-backs, two in midfield playing directly in front of the back three, two attacking players, who would work from the touchline to the centre spot, and one lone striker up front.

The problem is that his staff and team formation are only in his head, and he explains all this not in a manager's office, but from the corner of a country hotel lounge on the outskirts of Sheffield a few hours before playing for Chris Kamara's Bradford City in the First Division.

Waddle, one of the great, if often unappreciated talents of English football in recent times, has so far refused to cross the line into management, despite inquiries from various clubs. Instead has chosen to continue playing this season, at Falkirk and now Bradford.

"I'm ready now to become a manager, but I'll only take up the right job for me, and to do this I must have a gut feeling about it," he explained. "A player knows his own mind if he's playing well, and I know that I'm not kidding myself. My options are pretty simple. I may as well continue doing what I love best, rather than just sit at home and wait for the phone to ring. Bradford have more or less asked me to stay for the season, and unless I get that gut feeling pretty soon I'll probably sign."

The man who has, in his time, played for Newcastle, Spurs, Marseilles and Sheffield Wednesday, featured heavily in a World Cup semi-final for England, one of his 62 caps, and picked up a player of the year award just three years ago continues, at 35, to confound and confuse even his colleagues in the game.

"The players at Wednesday couldn't believe it when I told them I was going to play for Falkirk," he admitted. "Others reckon I should have become a manager by now. Then you get people like Glenn Hoddle who tell me to carry on playing."

Yes, but surely not for Falkirk! He appreciated the point, but first explained how his initially successful relationship with Wednesday fell apart. "I wanted to leave at the end of last season, when my contract was up," he said. "David Pleat wouldn't let me go, so I then asked for a two-year contract to see out my career. He would only offer me one year. Last season Celtic came in for me at pounds 750,000 which, for a 35-year-old, was a lot of money. Since then, the manager made this figure the going rate.

"Sunderland came up with pounds 300,000, while even Newcastle made an offer, but each time Pleat said it wasn't enough. I then argued that if I was worth pounds 750,000, then I was also worth a two-year contract. He didn't agree, and then told me he wouldn't play me, which prompted me to ask for a free transfer. We seemed to be going round in circles, but after the team had won the first four games of this season, he obviously felt more secure about letting me go."

Okay, but Falkirk? "Everyone said I would have clubs clamouring for me, but I never expected it. In hindsight, I shot myself in the foot when I stated after leaving Wednesday that I would consider any offer, and that did not just mean playing. I think this put a lot of managers off me because they didn't want to sign someone who could be in a position to take their job if things did not go well.

"I'd had my ankle flushed out just before the start of the season, and Falkirk provided me with a chance to get fit playing first-team football. They are a lovely little club, I had more people present at that press conference than at anywhere else in my career, and playing and seeing how a club at that level works can only put me in good stead for management. It was a worthwhile exercise."

Waddle therefore found himself top of the bill at such footballing outposts as East Fife. For him, this was no problem. "Don't forget, I was playing amateur football in the Northern League when I was 19. I went to Coventry but, after they refused to give me an apprenticeship, I worked in a sausage factory for two and a half years, playing football on Sunday mornings. I've never had a normal football career."

He can say that again. From the moment he first kicked a ball Waddle has had people on his back, infuriated that he possessed a wealth of talent but, with his shoulders dropped and his head hanging low, gave the impression that he lacked desire. "Everyone accused me of not being interested," he said. "It was either that or a theory Jack Charlton came up with which argued that I did it on purpose to trick defenders into a lull.

"The truth is that I have footage of me playing as a 12-year-old and I look exactly the same then. Arthur Cox was my first manager at Newcastle, and he always used to say to me: `Straighten up, you're a big lad.' I used to tell him I was comfortable the way I was. When I left the club he said that I walked around as if I had a sack of coal on my back. I remember saying it was because I had Arthur Cox on my back!"

Then, of course, there was his England career, which promised so much more than it actually produced. "Yeah, I know," he conceded. "Six goals, should have scored more. But when I played for England it was all 4-4- 2, and I was expected to just work the flanks, often getting the ball from 85 yards from the goal. John Barnes and I always used to talk to each other about it, but nobody else would listen to our point of view.

"My biggest disappointment in the game is that after the 1990 World Cup, when I had just been given some freedom to play in the side, I really felt I was in a position to stamp my authority on the international game. I was playing well at Marseilles, Michel Platini told me that if I'd been French he would have played me, and I'm sure I would have played a part in the 1994 World Cup campaign. Instead, a new manager came in, and as everyone knows, he just didn't fancy me."

Of course, then there was that penalty, against the then West Germany in the World Cup semi-final in Turin. Six years on, Waddle has just made a "Pizza Hut" commercial, which hit the screens last week, with his fellow penalty "criminals," Stuart Pearce and Gareth Southgate. He fully expects to receive some flak for it.

"Life goes on, and it's a way of showing people that I'm okay about it," he explained. "But I'm waiting for mixed reviews. People will no doubt accuse me of cashing in on missing a crucial penalty for England, but I don't think I deserve a life sentence for it, do you?

"I'll probably never be allowed to forget about it. I remember, a few months later, when I was back playing for Marseilles, Franz Beckenbauer [who coached the 1990 World Cup-winning Germans] became the new manager. The first thing he said when he saw me was: `My favourite player!'. Loads of people worse for wear in pubs used to have digs at me about it, and even last week, playing at West Brom, someone had a right go."

Really? What happened, then? "Well, I was collecting the ball for a throw- in, and someone in the crowd shouted from a few yards away: `You wanker, Waddle, you cost us the World Cup'." Ouch!

He could have been a manager by now. Waddle received phone calls from people representing Wycombe and Cardiff City, and almost ended up at Maine Road. "If a consortium had been successful with their takeover bid, I would have been installed as the manager. That, I would have fancied."

Instead, after receiving interest as a player from the likes of Millwall, Notts County and Chesterfield, Waddle opted to play for Bradford, which is convenient for his family home in Sheffield, and where he waits for that gut feeling to convince him to take the step into management.

"I deeply love football," he insisted. "It's given me many, many moments I'll always treasure, good far out-weighing any bad. In fact, I can't live without the game. I watch every single game on television, and you can often find me in the crowd at reserve games, and even standing in parks on Sunday mornings watching kids.

"I won't keep dropping down the divisions like some players have done, refusing to accept that their playing careers are over. I still have great belief in my ability as a player, but I'm also really looking forward to management. I'm extremely ambitious about it, and I'm looking for a club who shares my ambition. They don't necessarily have to be a big club, but they do need to have big plans."

We stroll out to the car park, where his blue, XJS Jaguar stands, registration plate WAD 8. "I've wanted one of them since I was a kid," he said, following my gaze. "I've even stuck the shirt number I've always worn on the plate."

What, though, if the offers start to dry up? Waddle paused for a few moments, then discounted the notion. "Well, people know where I am," he said. "Besides, I like to believe there'll always be a job for me."

He'll make an interesting football manager, that's for sure. Even if he does carry a sack of coal on his shoulders.

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