That old Anfield mantra gives Newell a shout

The Championship new boys: Luton's ambitious manager is a believer in destiny - and his own ability
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The Independent Football

"We only played CSKA over there in a friendly a couple of weeks ago," he exclaims. "They beat us 3-2, but they'd already had half a dozen games." He pauses. "I reckon Liverpool will be on to me for a report on them, don't you?"

The prospect of contributing to Liverpool's European fortunes clearly fires his imagination. Just for a second, he is a fan again; the boy who, at 12, had fulfilled his childhood aspirations by becoming a trainee at Anfield. That was during the Bob Paisley era and a few years after Bill Shankly's. On his office desk, there is a large photograph of the pair together. Though he was jettisoned at 18, his playing career proceeding to encompass nine other clubs - including a productive 20 months at Luton, during which he made 63 League appearances, scoring 18 goals - his affection for the Reds hasn't waned.

Nor his respect for Shankly or Paisley. "They never complicated the game. They got the best players they could together, and kept the game simple, trained them day in, day out, and treated them like men. They never tried to kid anybody that coaching was some kind of rocket science. That's why I don't believe in all these systems and tactics nowadays; all that rubbish. Good players will always come out on top.

"I never made it there, but ultimately, I played at the top level. I'm a big believer in fate. It was fate that won me a championship medal with Blackburn; it was fate that made Liverpool Champions' League winners in May. It was meant to happen that night."

And fate that brought the man who had first revealed his managerial potential at Hartlepool to Kenilworth Road just weeks before the club went into admin-istration in 2003? Yet, by dint of Bill Tomlins' chairmanship, and Newell's stewardship, the club's fortunes have been reversed. Last season, Luton won League One by no fewer than 12 points from runners-up Hull City.

Which is not to say that those orange and white-trimmed boaters are quite being hurled into the air yet. Kenilworth Road, where football has been played for a hundred years, is more a living museum than a football stadium, although a relocation is planned to a site adjacent to junction 10a of the M1. Meanwhile Newell's summer has reflected the paucity of many non-Premiership clubs.

"We bought Warren Feeney last season [from Bournemouth] for 150 grand, and scraped together enough for Rowan Vine [from Portsmouth] in bits and pieces," he says. "But the others are all frees: Dean Morgan [Reading], Carlos Edwards [Wrexham] and Markus Heikkinen [Aberdeen]."

Paul Dalglish, the 28-year-old son of Kenny, Newell's manager at Blackburn, could also make a contribution. He disappeared from the game after playing for Newcastle, Norwich and Wigan, but is currently training with Luton. "I think he just became disillusioned," says Newell. "But I think he's got his head straight now. Hopefully, something may come out of it. He's got pace, he's got ability, and he's getting sharper all the time."

Newell's team have a daunting start. They visit Crystal Palace in their first game on Saturday, and follow that with home games against Southampton and Leeds. "I do believe we have players good enough to do it at the next level," he says. We're a footballing side and we think we could surprise a few people. We've got lots of team spirit and we're on a roll."

So are Wolves, whom Newell predicts will be "very strong". He adds: "Of the clubs who came down, Harry Redknapp will be moaning and groaning at Southampton, but he's got decent players and knows his stuff. Palace have still got a nucleus of what they had last year; Norwich as well. But hopefully, this'll be a tough place to come for all of them. We may just roll a few of them over."

Newell has absent-mindedly picked up, and started squeezing, one of those stress-relieving miniature rubber footballs. Surely life in the Championship wasn't getting to him already? "I just got sent it," he protests. "I don't suffer from stress. No way." Really? "Do you know, the BBC rang me up to be in a programme about the pressures on football managers? But after talking to me, their researcher said 'you don't really seem very stressed'. I said, 'I'm not!' Why should I when, outside of playing, I've got the best job in the world." The programme-makers eventually selected QPR's Ian Holloway for The Stress Test, he of the explosive temper and a vocabulary which required an expletive warning from the broadcaster.

"If my team aren't playing well, sure, I can lose it at half-time occasionally," adds Newell. "But I don't kick tea-cups or slam doors. I say my piece in two minutes, off the cuff, and I'm on my way. I don't go in, intending to lose it, but you get into arguments with players who think they know better."

Speculation has connected Newell with more prestigious jobs, but he is well aware of the capricious nature of football boardrooms. Exotic foreign coaches or former England men - Newell once made the squad, but never won a cap - can tend to be more flavoursome to a chairman's palate if a vacancy arises.

"I'm ambitious, and I don't see any limits to that," he says. "I'm 40, which is only slightly younger than [Jose] Mourinho, but I'm still judged as a young manager. Yet, I've been in the game for 20-odd years now, and I started listening and learning even before I was in the game, at Anfield and Melwood [Liverpool's training ground]. Jobs come up that I'm linked with because I played there, like last year at Blackburn, but they're saying 'it's come too early for him'. But I say 'Why? Why's it come too early?' You're either up to it, or you're not. I don't understand that."

He adds: "I want to manage at the top level, but that doesn't mean I'm looking for a job every day. It will happen - if I'm good enough."

At Kenilworth Road, where they'll readily take off their hats to him, they have no doubts about that.