Carry on passing: Dario's mantra as the trap door swings open

The admirable servant of Crewe and the game's principles is not about to shirk responsibility.
Click to follow
The Independent Football

It is testimony to Dario Gradi and all that is Crewe Alexandra that there will be little wailing at Gresty Road this fateful lunchtime should the unthinkable, but highly predictable, come to pass. Unlike Brighton, relegation will not have them weeping uncontrollably at the altar that perhaps would never be the new stadium to save them; unlike Gillingham, there will be no petrified glances towards an all-omnipotent benefactor who has eternal damnation in his power.

It is testimony to Dario Gradi and all that is Crewe Alexandra that there will be little wailing at Gresty Road this fateful lunchtime should the unthinkable, but highly predictable, come to pass. Unlike Brighton, relegation will not have them weeping uncontrollably at the altar that perhaps would never be the new stadium to save them; unlike Gillingham, there will be no petrified glances towards an all-omnipotent benefactor who has eternal damnation in his power.

Instead, there will be a simple drowning of sorrows that will, in truth, remain pretty buoyant, and then Monday will be here again. And so will Dario. And, so more importantly, will a club who are a blessed one-off in world football's lower leagues: solvent, content, harmonious, dignified.

"I don't imagine there will be a tremendous difference in the close season whatever division we find ourselves in," said Gradi, whose tone might suggest he is resigned to Coventry opening the gates to League One hell today, but whose twinkle in the eye assured that the survival fires still blaze bright.

"Sure, we might lose a few players - Kenny Lunt's been here since he was nine but probably should move on to increase his wages, as it's a short career. But don't worry, there wouldn't be a mass exodus because of economics. In fact the finances here are good, we've actually got some money. So yes, I would be in next week, making plans, seeing what's what."

No one is in a better position to ascertain "what's what" than the MBE who first walked through the Alexandra Stadium's crumbling doors some 22 years ago. The title of "longest-serving manager" has come to sit so easily on those Milan-born shoulders that the burden has long become part of the gait. True, there are a few idiots who have started the call for his head, but where Gradi has taken The Railwaymen is beyond the parameters of a mere journey.

"I heard the new man at Liverpool say the other day that he would like to be there for 20 years, and I can understand that," he said yesterday at the Reeseheath Training Ground that is undoubtedly the most impressive outside the Premiership, and evidence enough of Gradi's remarkable life-work. "Because there's no feeling like building something. But what you can't do, not even at Liverpool, is win all your matches and be successful every year. Look at Alex Ferguson. He hasn't just been a first-team manager, he has built a good club. And I have, I have built a good club. They can say what they like, but they can't deny that fact."

There are those who will, of course, pointing to the sale of Dean Ashton at the turn of the year as a destructive piece of business on Gradi's behalf. Crewe were feeling quite giddy up at eighth in the table when Norwich came calling; play-off talk was in the air, but then the bitter winds whipped in. And how they howled. Crewe have not won since beating Leeds on New Year's Day and are only in any sort of contention for staying up today because of a goal difference effected by Ashton's £3m boot that means those three elusive points would leapfrog them to safety if Gillingham fail to win at Nottingham Forest and if Brighton lose at home to promotion-chasing Ipswich.

"When Dean left I thought we had enough points," said Gradi, not so much holding his hands up as outlining a scenario that has become the norm ever since David Platt first spread the Crewe secret far and wide. "He'd been here a long time and had got to the stage when he needed a new challenge. We said to him that we would prefer to take less money for him in the summer, but we wouldn't dream of thinking any less of him if he did go.

"He probably thought we were already safe. If Dean knew we weren't, I suspect that he may well have stayed and seen us through."

Indeed, Ashton has said as much, but then that's hardly a surprise at a club where only one player has ever asked Gradi for a transfer and where only a skilled diplomat called Robbie Savage has ever fallen out with the man in charge. Loyalty is bred from the tenderest of ages, from "the kids" that Gradi, uniquely in the world of professional management, still gets up to coach early on a Sunday.

"Do I ever get down, does my enthusiasm ever dim?" Gradi said, responding to a question he must be wholly sick of answering. "Of course it does, on a Saturday night usually. But then I take the juniors the next morning and it makes me elated to see all these great young players that will one day turn out for Crewe. But that's the ups and downs of this game, and you've got to make sure it's fun.

"No, it's not always fun on the weekend, but it picks up on Monday and then Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday are terrific. The only trouble is that Saturday comes along again. Yeah, it would be a great job if it wasn't for the games."

Today's is a headcase in point, a full-blown, 90-minute crisis that has forced Gradi to rip up his mothballed modus operandi. "Usually, it's just me who decides what we'll do," he said. "But this week I had the whole management team in, going through the tapes for hours and hours to see if I've missed anything. The players will have contingency plans for different situations, if we're 0-0 with 20 minutes to go and so on.

"People always go on about our passing game and how I will remain true to my footballing principles no matter what. But the fact is I have no principles. The only reason I don't tell my side to whack it and kick the other team is because I don't believe that works. Chelsea, Arsenal, United... they don't whack it, do they? That follows in this league, too, where the only ones who whack it are Gillingham, and even they have a method, with two big blokes up front. No, we teach the kids to pass it here and we will go on passing it here."

Whether in the Championship, League One, League Two or wherever. Like Gradi at Crewe, there are still some things you can rely on.

Comments