A mad move? Not for Mad Dog

Allen's career was heading upwards - now he has seen a future at the deep end
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The Independent Online

Some observers say Martin Allen is a wild character, a "Mad Dog" motivator who drives his teams and admirers to the brink of distraction. Others say he is an impatient so-and-so who lacks the finesse for football's fancy boardrooms and cannot wait for success.

Part of this may be true. When he joined Brentford two years ago, Alan Pardew wrote to him: "Remember, Rome was not built in a day! - Pards". But the manager who oversaw affairs at MK Dons' training ground last week was the embodiment of patience and good manners. His deep understanding of professional footballers, their backgrounds, lives, feelings, fears and playing potential dominated his thoughts.

"I don't pick, or buy, or go scouting for good players," he said. "I do a lot of research to get good people. That's first and foremost. I don't want horrible people around me. I don't want nasty cliques and comments or any of that flashy footballer business that is the public perception. I don't like it. I don't want it. I don't want to be around it."

Contrary to the idea that he might growl, snap and jump into the nearest river (and not only during a heatwave), he proved to be calm, organised and impressively knowledgeable. He also proved to be a passionate lover of his job.

Allen is the antithesis of the Footballers' Wives culture that threatens to blight the game; a man from hard-working Dagen-ham council estate roots, who built up his own brand of soccer schools while still playing, who is now committed to a career in management that he hopes will carry him to the top. Given the chance, he would, one day, love to manage England - not for money, but pride.

He left Brentford because the London club's future for him was about consolidation and not progress. Most experts expected him to join an established Championship club. Instead, he went to Milton Keynes in one of the summer's most puzzling moves. In short, Allen swapped a club who were winning for one who were losing and are now down in League Two. Why? "I had two great years at Brentford - plus nine games, where we stayed up when it looked as if the club was going to be relegated. I fell in love with it there and the support I got personally was hard to describe."

Allen requested a meeting with the club's senior directors and asked them about their ambitions for Brentford. When he was told about consolidation and survival, he knew it was time to move on. "I am ambitious, but also realistic," he said. "I said that it would be better for them if they got somebody in who would take the next part of the job on."

He resigned before he went on two weeks' holiday, for the sake of fairnessto the club who profited from his coaching and development of players. On his return he talked to several clubs, but none offered him a job. Then, purely out of courtesy, he spoke to Pete Winkelman at Milton Keynes and accepted an invitation to go and see him.

"After half an hour, he had outlined his plans, his vision for the future and I thought, 'This sounds interesting'." When Winkelman talked about his new stadium, Allen felt the usual cynical reaction, "because they all say they've got a new stadium being built and with half of them it never materialises". This time, the chairman took him to see it.

"When I came off the roundabout and saw the size of the bowl that he had built - and it is going to be ready for next season - I was gobsmacked."

After a further chat, about budgets, ambitions and players, during which Allen was assured that his wish-list was within the chairman's price range, they reached agreement. Since then, Allen has recruited six players and is hunting for one more, but some have gone.

Two of the departed left swiftly, having failed to attend meetings to discuss their futures. He knew he had to act decisively. "If they couldn't make their way in to see the new manager of a club that was just relegated, then I could not see they would be dedicated to turning this club around," he said.

That was followed by the axing of the players' buffet lunch. "The chairman here is very generous," said Allen. "But we are just one division from the Conference... I think they needed a reality check. There was no food at Barnet [where Allen was manager for two years] or Brentford. It was all brought in. And that didn't stop us...

"This was a challenge, to see if they were with you or not. I opened the doors into their room and took a look - and there they were with their Tupperware boxes with sandwiches, fruit salads, yoghurts, rice and pasta salads. There was a real buzz. For me, the manager, it was a joy to see. There was no sulking and moaning and they understood my reasons."

MK Dons open their season with a home fixture against Bury on Saturday. That will be a real test of their diet under Allen.

Coca-cola six-pack: Players bubbling under in the Championship this season

David Dunn Birmingham City

A hub of midfield creativity at Blackburn, where he scored 38 goals in six seasons, Dunn was capped once by England in 2002 and cost the Blues £5.5m a year later. But then he was plagued by his hamstring for almost two seasons. The 26-year-old has a chance to show his quality in spearheading the attempt to bounce back up.

Dean Whitehead Southampton

A tough-tackling midfielder with an impressive range of passing, the 24-year-old was one of the few positives for Sunderland last season and was linked with a move to Liverpool or Reading. He began his career at Oxford before moving to the Stadium of Light in 2004-05, scoring five times in securing the Championship title.

Grzegorz Rasiak Southampton

The 6ft 3in striker has signed for £2m after a dozen games on loan. At Derby he hit 19 goals in one season, but started just five games for Tottenham last term. The 26-year-old has 30 caps for Poland and eight goals. He played against England in the World Cup qualifiers and should find the Championship a relatively comfortable level.

Jobi Mcanuff Crystal Palace

With an array of tricks and pace across the midfield, the 25-year-old scored eight times in his debut season last term. Born in England, he has been capped once by Jamaica. He began at the Wimbledon academy with Nigel Reo-Coker and Mikele Leigertwood, then spent a short spell at West Ham before forging his reputation at Cardiff.

Youl Mawene Preston North End

After taking on Arsenal for Lens in the Uefa Cup semi-finals aged 20, the versatile French defender arrived at Derby in 2000 but played only 61 games in four seasons. He came to Deepdale on a free transfer two years ago and has been inspirational. Played every game in his first season and won every Player of the Year award.

Inigo Idiakez Derby County

The veteran midfielder made his name with spectacular goals and scored 11 last season to complement his vision and free-kick delivery. The 32-year-old spent a decade with his hometown club Real Sociedad and played almost 300 games in La Liga. The Rams will look to him for more inspiration as they try to improve on their 20th place.

Andrew Tong

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