Allardyce apprentice turns Derby sorcerer

Phil Brown, who learned his managerial trade under Sam Allardyce at Bolton, has stabilised Derby County in the Championship. But his long-term dream is to be an international coach, as he tells Glenn Moore
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When the flames had been doused, and the lights restored, the 80-year-old was still in her seat, covered in foam. The maitre d' recalled: "I was there apologising profusely and she stopped me and said: 'Don't apologise, it's the best birthday I've ever had'."

It is a rare example of a footballer wielding a fire extinguisher for the right reason, for the maitre d' was Phil Brown, then a player with Halifax Town, now manager of Derby County. Brown is still fighting fires, though the ones he now encounters are, thankfully, of the metaphorical kind. Having calmed a club still reeling over the surprise summer departure of George Burley, who had taken Derby into an unexpected play-off place last season, he is now dealing with the consequences of the sale to Tottenham, eight minutes before the end of the transfer window, of the club's leading striker Grzegorz Rasiak.

It is a problem he will take in his stride. As well as running Brown's Brasserie two decades ago, he has eight years' experience as Sam Allardyce's number two, first at Blackpool, then Bolton. Brown is yet to adopt Allardyce's multi-national recruitment policy but he has brought with him the cutting-edge management approach practised at the Reebok from Prozone to psychometric testing.

He has also kept the human touch, beginning with the Monday morning staff meeting. "That was when, if you had not done your job, you were told in no uncertain terms," said Brown.

"Communication is vital. When we started at Blackpool there were four of us, Sam got the sack from jail [disgraced tycoon Owen Oyston ran the club], I went to the Premier League with Bolton [working for Colin Todd], Mark Taylor did the same at Blackburn, Geoff Chapman resigned. Two years later we got back together at Bolton and, over the years, went from a staff meeting of four to 36. At that meeting if you had anything to say, whatever your position, you were encouraged to say it. If it was shite you got shot down, you'd be caned.

"The tactics board was a focal point, Sam would walk in and see a team up there. He'd say 'I never thought of that. Who put that up there?' It could be me, or it could be the kit man. Of course, on Saturday Sam wouldn't tell the press it was the kit man, but you didn't often name a team he hadn't thought of. He knew his players and the system.

"As soon as I came in here I started that. Every department, ground staff, whoever, must be represented."

Brown had one other insight into life with Allardyce. "Sam did not believe in e-mails. If I sent an e-mail to the secretary, rather than get off my arse, walk out of my office and speak to her, I'd have been sacked. He had a computer system but hated it, that personal touch was the way forward. I firmly believe in that."

Not that Allardyce has been his only influence. Bruce Rioch is another significant figure. Brown was a 33-year-old full-back, with the bulk of his 786 career games, for Hartlepool, Halifax, Bolton and Blackpool behind him, when Rioch took over at Bolton. In one of his first games, a player stood up at half-time and started talking. Brown recalled: "Bruce said to him: 'Have you got your badges? Have you ever studied coaching or management?' The player said: 'No, why?' Bruce said: 'Well fucking sit down and shut up. In fact, you're coming off.' The player was gone within two months.

"I thought to myself: 'What does he mean? What's the point he's trying to make?' I started in coaching from that day. By the time I was 35 I was fully qualified and got my first job. Then the pro licence came out. You need that to manage in the Premiership. I did that in its second year. I made my intentions clear to all chairmen. I want to be a Premiership manager. I want to be an international coach."

In making the step up from Allardyce's assistant to being his own boss, Brown, 46, has made significant progress in that direction. So far he has stabilised Derby who travel to Crewe tomorrow sitting just below the Championship's leading pack. His ambitions are much bigger.

"The remit from the supporters is to be fourth again, or better. That's the kind of pressure I want to deal with. I've got a three-year contract but I'm impatient. I want to get to the Premiership this year. This is potentially one of the top 12 clubs in the country."

This is borne out by the facilities. Bolton may be in Europe but their training base is basic. Brown admits he and Allardyce would always take potential recruits to the Reebok. Brown can take prospective signings to both Pride Park, the modern ground, and to Moor Farm, County's impressive training complex. This is where we meet, in a spacious office furnished with the usual paraphernalia [tactics boards, reference books, videos], and photos of his wife and daughter.

It is here that Brown plans his training sessions. "I want to make the players understand what they actually do. They are not just a footballer who comes in, puts a bit of sweat on their shirt, get their bags and go home.

"I want them to think before the session: 'what am I going to do?' During the training session, 'what am I doing?' And think afterwards 'what did I get out of that? What did the manager want me to get out of that? Did I help him? Did he help me?' If anything the level of intellect of the player is more important to me than the talent, an educated group of players is better than an uneducated group. In the old days it used to be 'he'll go through a brick wall for me'. Those days are gone. I want players to be better people, not be a better footballer, be a better person."

Responsibility and discipline are key features of this modern management. "We had an alcohol ban pre-season during which we went to Iceland. They were allowed a drink on the last day. Of the 18-man squad six didn't go out. Two weren't old enough.

"I don't mind the camaraderie but the old days of Monday clubs and Wednesday clubs are long gone. On our first away trip this season, to Plymouth, I pulled Michael Johnson [the captain] aside on the Friday night. We had a meal, then a 20-minute video, then most of the players went to their rooms. A few went for a walk and I said to Jonno, 'do I have to worry about them nipping out for a pint?' He said 'you have no problems whatsoever, you have a great set of lads.' I just sat back. The players' commitment tells me they want to achieve something."

If so, then in Brown they have someone whose desire to set Derby alight will match theirs.