McGhee keen to use Brighton as stepping stone to the big time

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The Independent Football

All managers have one or two stepping stones on the way to their ultimate goal but Mark McGhee is now arguably into his fifth, in a matter of just 12 years. Reading, Leicester, Wolves, Millwall and now Brighton. Doesn't seem much of a career progression for the 46-year-old Scot, does it, especially when his best mate, Gordon Strachan, is going from strength to strength at Southampton?

Yet in his clean but distinctly ordinary square-walled office at the Seagulls' training ground - a complex shared with Sussex University and a far cry from the relative luxury he used to enjoy - McGhee can still raise a smile when the old pun about having more clubs than Jack Nicklaus is thrown in his direction.

The rain may be lashing down in the car park on McGhee's custom-plated BMW, a lasting perk of his well paid lifestyle. But inside, nothing can dampen his enthusiasm, after sitting down to lunch for the first time with his unfamiliar backroom staff, to get started in his new job, beginning at Peterborough this afternoon.

New environment, new surroundings. Not for the first time, McGhee admits, but being out of a job for a mere two weeks following his surprise departure from Millwall is surely some indication that he is still regarded in high esteem by his peers. "My ambitions haven't changed," he said. "I spent my career at big clubs [Newcastle, Aberdeen, Hamburg, Celtic] and managing a team in Europe is still what I aim to do. But it's about opportunity and timing, and all I can do is keep repeating what I believe has been a successful career, wherever I've been."

Well, almost. McGhee won the Second Division title with Reading in 1994 and repeated the trick with Millwall seven years later. His stewardship at both Leicester and Wolves did not work out quite so effectively, as has been well chronicled, but lessons have been learned, particularly in the way he walked out on Leicester to join Wolves in 1995.

McGhee admits he made mistakes but remains confident, if not convinced, that another chance will come to move in the big time. "I suppose it might never happen but as long as I do each job properly, I'm prepared to keep trying. Certainly, I feel as excited working with a new group of players as I did the first day I walked into Reading or any other club. Besides, what am I going to do otherwise, sit at home and play golf? I've been a football person since the day I left school at 16 and I'm still making a living out of it."

Yet given his desire to manage again at the top level, didn't McGhee hesitate when the Brighton job came up following the departure of Steve Coppell to, irony of ironies, Reading? "Absolutely, yes. I could have waited and hoped but I saw Brighton as a team that have a great opportunity to be promoted and when I spoke to people who knew about this club, including Steve, I realised it was a job I should be interested in. They all told me it was a very enjoyable place to work."

McGhee's departure from Millwall, who had climbed to eighth in the First Division, stunned the average punter. Rumours abound, as fans scratched their heads for a reason that McGhee fell out big-time with the chairman, Theo Paphitis, who allegedly wanted more of a say in team selection.

All McGhee will say is that every manager has a life span. "I had probably squeezed every drop out of those players that I could. In order to progress, they needed some fresh faces of a certain quality to improve the team. Put it this way: I left at a time that was right for me."

And so to Brighton, where McGhee is keen to receive top marks before moving on again. "There is less patience now with managers than there used to be, it's generally a more precarious job. Every time you take a new one you risk being unsuccessful and that's the day you risk being unemployed. It's a chance you take but no one ever actually believes they will fail. If they do, they're in the wrong business."

Not so long ago, however, McGhee was regarded as the blue-eyed boy of management, someone who might even take over one day from Sir Alex Ferguson, his once-time mentor before they inexplicably fell out, at Manchester United. So what went wrong? "Certainly my career was derailed after my experience at Wolves and I admit that my progression was somewhat halted," McGhee explained. "I should have waited longer at Leicester and served a longer apprenticeship, like Martin O'Neill did before going to Celtic, and then maybe moved to an established Premier League club. I perceived that Wolves were a bigger club than Leicester, even though they were in the First Division.

"But in terms of my teams on the pitch, nothing went wrong. Even at Wolves, the first full season I was there they finished third in the League before the money dried up. Good luck to them now, they're a great club and I had a tear in my eye when they got promoted. I spoke to Dave Jones only this week. Nice man."

Refreshingly honest, McGhee admits he is more than a little envious of the likes of Jones, O'Neill, Strachan, and Everton's David Moyes, who has got to where he wants to be with far less experience. "Of course I envy them but I also appreciate why they are where they are, and why I am where I am. I can live with that. I've taken my medicine and I'm still only 46."

And perhaps with a greater idea of loyalty. McGhee has never walked out on a club since Leicester and insists he never will. "People talk about loyalty but what does it mean? I won't be staying at Brighton for ever, the chairman knows that. Am I comfortable with being a manager in the Second Division? No, I'm not. But as long as I am here, I'll work as hard as I can to make Brighton as successful as I possibly can. To me, that's loyalty."

Mcghee the manager


Appointed: 10 May 1991

League position: 15th, Third Division

Left: 14 December 1994

League position: 6th, First Division

Leicester City

Appointed: 14 December 1994

League position: 19th, Premiership

Left: 7 December 1995

League position: 8th, First Division

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Appointed: 13 December 1995

League position: 20th, First Division

Left: 4 November 1998

League position: 11th, First Division


Appointed: 25 September 2000

League position: 13th, Second Division

Left: 14 October 2003

League position: 8th, First Division