Jewell polishes the gems of Wigan

Players are queuing up to come to the JJB Stadium, and the manager is aiming to join the Premiership's big boys. Paul Newman reports
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The Independent Football

Paul Jewell, the manager of Wigan Athletic, is sitting in a smart Italian restaurant in the main stand of the club's towering stadium discussing multi-million pound transfers, a new training ground and the prospects of promotion to the Premiership. That is not the sort of sentence he would have expected to be reading 20 years ago, when he joined the club as a hungry young striker.

Paul Jewell, the manager of Wigan Athletic, is sitting in a smart Italian restaurant in the main stand of the club's towering stadium discussing multi-million pound transfers, a new training ground and the prospects of promotion to the Premiership. That is not the sort of sentence he would have expected to be reading 20 years ago, when he joined the club as a hungry young striker.

Life at the JJB Stadium is a world away from the days before the move from Springfield Park. With a capacity of 4,000, one seated stand and bleak open terraces, Wigan's former home was not a place for the faint-hearted, either in the crowd or on the pitch. "You couldn't get a player here for love nor money," Jewell said. "We used to be a team of Scousers from Liverpool and Everton reserves."

Wigan seemed destined to scrap for survival until Dave Whelan decided to plough some of the millions from his JJB sportswear business into the club. Whelan, whose own football career began at Wigan Boys Club before he moved to Blackburn, took over the town's football and rugby league clubs and built the JJB Stadium, which they now share.

"When you compare Wigan today to when I was here, it's like two different clubs," Jewell said. "One of the things I'm most proud of is the training ground we're working on. It will be ready by November and will be fantastic. We've now got a cosmopolitan group of players and I get lots of phone calls from agents about other players who want to come here."

Jewell led Wigan to promotion from the old Second Division two seasons ago with 100 points. Last season they were in a play-off place for the Premiership until the last minute of their last game, when they conceded an equaliser by West Ham's Brian Deane and let in Crystal Palace.

"It took me a long, long time to get over that," Jewell said. "I'd think about that goal every day and every night. But as soon as we got back for pre-season training I knew that we had to turn that huge disappointment into a positive. Since we came back in the summer I haven't heard the players mention West Ham once. It was a kick in the teeth, but ultimately you finish where you deserve in the League."

The season has started well, with Wigan in second place and unbeaten, although Jewell's plans have been disrupted by a series of injuries. The biggest blow was the knee ligament injury which will keep out Per Frandsen, a free transfer from Bolton, for the whole season.

Healthy transfer funds have helped Wigan's rise - Jason Roberts, for example, was signed from West Bromwich Albion for £1.4m - but Jewell counters any suggestion that he has simply bought success.

"I bought Geoff Horsfield for a million and I got my money back when we sold him to West Brom," Jewell said. "People raised eyebrows at the time when I bought Nathan Ellington [£750,000 from Bristol Rovers]. Jimmy Bullard was a good buy for £275,000 [from Peterborough] and there's Jason Jarrett for £75,000 [from Bury], Matt Jackson free [from Norwich], Nicky Eaden free [from Birmingham], Ian Breckin £150,000 [from Chesterfield], John Filan £300,000 [from Blackburn] and Leighton Baines has come through the ranks. So I like to think my record isn't too bad."

Jewell will not hesitate to ask Whelan to buy again. "He has this reputation for being ruthless and tough," Jewell said. "That's how he made his name in business. But I like to think there's a lot of respect between the two of us. He knows the game and we have our differences of opinion, but whatever happens I get the final say on team matters. That's my job and I've never had a problem with him."

The same could not be said of Geoffrey Richmond, the chairman of Jewell's first club, Bradford City. Appointed as manager in 1998, Jewell led them to promotion to the Premiership in his first season and kept them there the following year, only to resign and join Sheffield Wednesday.

"Geoffrey Richmond was good to me and gave me the opportunity, and I like to think that I repaid him tenfold," Jewell said. "He liked his opinions on the team. He was forceful and he really was a hands-on chairman. And I suppose when he's got a young manager he is entitled to do that. But I felt I was getting a bit suffocated."

Richmond was determined to bring in expensive overseas signings, which were eventually to prove the club's downfall. "He wanted me to bring in Benito Carbone and he also asked me to bring in Jorge Cadete and Bruno Rodriguez," Jewell said. "Being a young manager, I didn't say no and went along with it, which I wouldn't do now. In the end he had to pay the two of them off because I wouldn't play them. They weren't good enough. They weren't what Bradford needed.

"With all due respect to Bradford, why would Carbone have wanted to go there? Was it because we didn't have our own training ground? Was it because we were going to struggle? Or was it because he was going to get forty grand a week? That's the only reason. Then they brought in [Dan] Petrescu and [Stan] Collymore. He [Richmond] got carried away with his own importance and it nearly ruined the club. In fact it has ruined the club."

The end for Jewell came after a last-day victory at home to Liverpool kept the club in the Premiership. "He took me out to lunch. He got the champagne out and he told me he wanted to take us into Europe by entering the Intertoto Cup. I said I didn't want to do that because it was three weeks after the season had finished and the place was shattered. We'd given everything.

"He'd also told me previously that my contract would have been up that year and it wouldn't have been renewed. He told me that he thought we had had a bad season. So I decided that if staying in the Premier League with Bradford wasn't good enough for him and if that's a poor season..."

The one major blip in Jewell's career was his subsequent, unhappy eight months at Wednesday, where he inherited major problems, most of them down to a huge wage bill. But he believes in learning from bad as well as good experiences.

Jewell played for both Wigan and Bradford, but his guiding principles were established at his first club, Liverpool, where he regularly topped the goalscoring charts for the reserves in the early 1980s but never made it to the first team.

"In those days there was only one sub and Liverpool were the kings of Europe," he explained. "I was 13th man, which was a big thing in those days, at places like Arsenal and Newcastle. I was 17th man against Steaua Bucharest when we were playing for a place in the final of the European Cup."

Working alongside some of Liverpool's greatest names left a lasting impression. "I still believe in the great Liverpool virtues - the team ethic and keeping the game simple. To get today's players to keep the game simple is getting harder. A lot of them think it's all about flicks and flashy moves. I look at Arsenal. They use their skill when they need to but for the most part they move the ball around simply.

"At Liverpool I didn't see Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish or Graeme Souness flicking the ball up and doing tricks. I just saw them working very hard for the team. The biggest thing I noticed when I was at Liverpool - and when I was in the Premier League with Bradford - was that all the proper teams were full of team players. The team comes before the individual. Henry, Van Nistelrooy, they're not important, the team is. That's what makes great teams. When you come down a level in football, too many players think it's about them and not the team."

Having had a taste of Premiership football, the 40-year-old Jewell wants more. "When I was at Bradford we beat Arsenal at home, we beat Liverpool at home, we beat Newcastle. They were fantastic games. I miss them. As a manager there's nothing like arriving on the bus an hour and a half before kick-off and the place is absolutely packed. You're pitting your wits against the best and the buzz of being in the Premier League is something that I miss.

"My problem is that I was never a great player. I'd like to be judged on my management career. I think my record would stand up to most others and some of today's great managers, like [Sir Alex] Ferguson, weren't great players. I'm very happy here, but I do want to be in the Premiership."