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Gradi back nurturing careers at Crewe

One of the game's outstanding coaches is back in the dug-out today, though he would rather be on some windswept Astroturf, developing a promising young talent.

Dario Gradi reluctantly resumed control of Crewe Alexandra yesterday after the departure of Gudjon Thordarson. Crewe are mired in mid-table in League Two, a long fall from the period, early in the decade, when Gradi managed them in the Championship.

Gradi's 24-year reign at Crewe was about more though, than results. Under his guidance dozens of aspirants made the difficult journey to a professional career including internationals such as David Platt, Neil Lennon, Robbie Savage, Danny Murphy and Dean Ashton.

Now the club offers facilities to match the opportunities. Transfer receipts have been ploughed into a training ground which betters some in the Premier League with 3G Astroturf pitches, a dome and hydropool.

Gradi, though now 68 years old and technical director, remains personally involved in coaching the hundreds of boys on the club's books, from eight upwards. They are privileged. I know an academy director who attended one session under Gradi as a schoolboy. A quarter-century on he still remembers it like yesterday.

Bristol City's Nicky Maynard is the latest Gradi product making waves, along with Scunthorpe's Michael Connor. These days, however, the major clubs are not prepared to wait. Gradi recently lost a 12-year-old to Everton and has complained at Liverpool's interest in 15-year-old Max Clayton. Thus the interest in the Gaël Kakuta case. Gradi said: "I hope the big clubs are frightened to death. There's no excuse for breaking the rules. It's so hard to protect your players. It's the rich robbing the poor."