Gradi gets his Railwaymen back on track

Bradford City 2 Crewe Alexandra 3
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The Independent Football

Retire at 65 or 66, it matters not a jot to Dario Gradi, back in charge of Crewe Alexandra in his 69th year and ready to stay in the job for the long term. After the first outing for which he had properly prepared his team brought to an end a run of five straight defeats, his renewed enthusiasm is entirely understandable.

The Gresty Road club's longest-serving manager, at the helm for 24 years until stepping down in May 2007, has been entrusted with setting his beloved Railwaymen back on track after a disastrous change of direction under Gudjon Thordarson, who was sacked just over a week ago with Crewe, relegated from League One last season, down to 17th in League Two.

"I didn't need to think about it much," Gradi admitted after the Crewe directors, of which he is one, agreed he was the best man to take the club forward. "I'll have to be careful and I'll delegate more but I'm still fit and energetic. I was having a great life but there was no point to it."

Not that he had been filling his days with gardening and DIY. Gradi was continuing to supervise Crewe's renowned academy, which had been the source of much of his and the club's success. But therein lay the problem.

Thordarson, as well as favouring a direct style of football quite out of sync with Gradi's philosophy, preferred to stock his teams with experienced, senior players, offering far fewer opportunities to youngsters. And Gradi's gift for developing talent for the transfer market had been as important as results on the field.

"The reason that kids sign here is because they have a good chance of making it into the first team," Gradi said. "Gudjon gave some kids a chance but the point is we didn't know whether he would or not."

Steve Davis, who had been Thordarson's assistant, survives. A player signed by Gradi in 1983, he is seen as a potential successor in the manager's job, although not until Gradi feels he can be entrusted with the club's future. "That's why I've come back," Gradi added. "I was not thinking about my career or what it means for me. I am only thinking about the job in hand and the best for Crewe."

Yesterday was a start. At home to Rotherham last week, Crewe lost Gradi's first match back at the helm. This time the scoreline was the same, except in Gradi's favour. They were a little lucky. After Calvin Zola had given them the lead after eight minutes with an extraordinary dipping lob from near the right touchline, they went two in front when Zola beat goalkeeper Simon Eastwood again with a more conventional shot after 23 minutes. Steven Schumacher scored their third midway through the second half with another effort from long range.

Otherwise, they were mostly pinned inside their penalty area as Bradford, who had gone 10 games unbeaten, hammered away. Headers from Michael Boulding and James Hanson found the target but Hanson had two other headers cleared off the line, Crewe keeper David Button made several fine saves and a shout for a penalty was denied when Ashley Westwood was deemed to have handled the ball just outside the box.

"There were a few kicked off the line and they had the ball in the box a lot but that's what defenders are there for and we always looked dangerous going forward," Gradi said. As for how long is long-term, he said he simply did not know. "I've had two 10-year contracts at Crewe and I don't think I'll be getting a third," he said.