McAllister accepts Coventry challenge

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The Independent Online

Captain Sensible for most of a playing career now in its third decade, Gary McAllister found his sanity questioned after he was unveiled as player-manager of crisis-torn Coventry City in succession to Roland Nilsson yesterday.

When the former Scotland midfielder rejoins Coventry on 13 May, having fulfiled his commitments to Liverpool, he will be taking on a club who finished halfway down the First Division and are £30m in debt. They must raise £9m by selling players, have no money to buy replacements and require swingeing cuts to the wage bill. No wonder McAllister was asked, only half-teasingly, whether he was mad.

"I made plenty of calls seeking advice from people I trust, obviously including Gordon [Strachan, his former Coventry manager]," the 37-year-old McAllister told reporters. One cut in: "And you still took the job?" "Yes," he grinned. "There's loads of pros and cons. I tended to listen to the plus side rather than the doom and gloom.

"Some people will see it as a gamble. I see it as a challenge, a privilege and a great first club. I didn't expect to come in at this level. I looked at the young managers who have done well, like Martin O'Neill, and they usually start lower and build up to the size of club he's at now."

By that criterion, he is indeed fortunate rather than foolish. O'Neill's ascent to Celtic began at Grantham; Alex Ferguson started with East Stirlingshire, Brian Clough at Hartlepool and Jock Stein at Llanelli. Coventry fans seeking omens should know that McAllister hails from Stein's home town, Bellshill, just up the road from another useful manager named Matt Busby.

Both might have found reviving Coventry a daunting prospect, yet the club's third manager in seven months is under no illusions. The chairman, Mike McGinnity, said: "I've told Gary there's no money available. We may as well start as we mean to go on and be totally honest with each other, otherwise it would never have worked the first time I had to refuse him."

One of McAllister's first tasks will be to offload the most saleable assets and highest earners. Among them are Lee Hughes, David Thompson, Magnus Hedman and Gary Breen, though they would leave "only if Coventry get the right price".

He will exploit the Bosman ruling to attract replacements capable of restoring the Sky Blues to the Premiership, from which they were relegated the season after he moved to Anfield in 2000. "Lots of players will be available but you won't see many transfer fees in this division," McAllister reflected. "I hope players see the way I've played down the years and want to be part of that here."

The bargain-basement promotion of West Bromwich Albion gives him hope, while his inexperience as a manager and intention to play for at least another season makes the choice of assistant and/or coach "fundamental". Speculation has centred on the colourful trio of Eddie Gray, Craig Brown and Eric Black. Black, who comes from the same Lanarkshire community and was a coaching student under Gérard Houllier, resigned yesterday as manager of McAllister's first club, Motherwell.

Meanwhile, McGinnity argued that the focus should not be on Coventry having appointed another novice manager, but on the qualities McAllister would bring to a club that imploded with the play-offs in sight. "Gary's a disciplinarian who plays with passion and pride," he said. "He had offers to play on at the highest level, after which he could have chosen a club in far less debt. The players are delighted he's coming back – he's the first winner we've signed all season."

McALLISTER'S CAREER

1964: Born 25 December, Motherwell

1981: Joins Motherwell

1985: Motherwell win Scottish First Division. Signs for Leicester for £150,000.

1990: Makes Scotland debut. Moves to Leeds United for £1m.

1992: Helps Leeds to First Division title – the last before the start of the Premiership.

1996: Signs for Coventry for £3m. Captains Scotland in Euro 96.

2000: Ends international career after 57 caps. Free transfer to Liverpool.

2001: MBE in New Year's Honours. Winners' medals in Worthington Cup, FA Cup, Uefa Cup, European Super Cup, and Charity Shield.

2002: Signs three-year deal as the manager of Coventry City.

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