The new model Barmby army may be the start of a revolution
Hull City's first home-grown manager explains his attacking philosophy
Saturday 26 November 2011
Much about Hull is unique, not least the accent. Despite the years he has spent elsewhere, Nick Barmby's gently flattened vowels pronounce him a son of the city as surely as his birth certificate, rendering somewhat superfluous the T-shirts in the Hull City club shop bearing his smiling face, together with the legend "One of Us".
But while being the first Hull man to manage the Tigers represents a pretty good start, at least as far as the fans are concerned, the increasing goodwill that surrounds Barmby's appointment is based on more than an accident of birth.
Publicly, and by all accounts privately, everything the 37-year-old former England international has said and done since first being offered the position has been quietly impressive. It is Barmby, not the club, who insists the appointment remains on a "caretaker" basis until he decides whether he is entirely comfortable in the role. Discussions in that respect have not concerned money and personal contract terms but plans and expectations – on both sides. Because as the former Spurs, Middlesbrough, Liverpool, Everton and England midfielder points out, it has all happened so quickly that everybody at the club is on something of a voyage of discovery, most of all himself.
"Over the years I'd sometimes thought about management and what it involves, because there are some players who come in, train, play and go home, but there are others who love everything about the game, are always watching football and talking about it, and I've always been one of those," he said, talking after taking training.
"But while I'd started to do some coaching here, I still had the desire and hunger to play, I still loved training and getting out there in front of the crowd. And I never thought Nige [Nigel Pearson, who returned to Leicester City] would leave. But suddenly there was a situation."
If an approach had been made by any other club, Barmby insists, he would have refused out of hand. But Hull, the club he supported as a boy, and who were in League One when, after a career spent almost entirely in the Premier League, he returned as a player in 2004, were different. Emotion, rather than ambition, made it impossible not to consider the proposition, and having done so, his conclusion was that it could work. "Nigel Pearson did a great job here, and in my opinion we needed continuity, not radical change, like you've seen in the past. There was nothing basically wrong."
The application of the players when he took training offered further reassurance – it might have helped that he told them to keep calling him by his name rather than "Gaffer" – but Barmby's first game in charge, against Derby County at Pride Park last Saturday, suggested he is about more than simply replicating Pearson's methods and philosophy. While just as hard-working and organised as they had been under Pearson, the Tigers were more fluent going forward, and in the person of the 20-year-old former Manchester United winger Cameron Stewart – given his first start of the season by Barmby after a lengthy injury absence – attacked with flair, as well as verve. The resulting 2-0 win lifted Hull back into a play-off position.
Had there been a change in philosophy? Perhaps a little, Barmby confirms. "These players are intelligent, I don't want to treat them like robots where we say 4-4-2, or 4-3-3, and stay in positions. There's no set positions going forward, we want them to express themselves and enjoy it. As long as people are aware if one goes forward, another needs to look at what's around him and if necessary fill in, that's what we're trying to get across."
It may come as no great surprise then that of the many managers Barmby has played under, including Gérard Houllier, Sven Goran Eriksson and Pearson, the man he considers to have had the most influence on him in footballing terms was Terry Venables. For Barmby, replicating the Londoner's achievement of guiding a team (Crystal Palace) to promotion in his first season as a manager would rank alongside his highest achievements in the game, not least because he is aware how important a role the football club plays in the life of the city. When economic times are hard, places like Hull suffer more than most, and Barmby knows it.
"Hull is a hard, working city, a working-class city, and I want to give it a team to be proud of. When we were in the Premier League the place took off, the economy took off, sport is very, very important to Hull, but as long as the fans see a team going out and trying to win a game and giving their all, they'll be happy.
"I'm not daft, I'm aware of that, but for me it was another reason to put myself in the firing line. My first game as manager in our own stadium [at home to Burnley this afternoon] will be a very proud moment for me, for me and my family, it'll be a very special day, but only if we get the result we want. Because in the end it's not about me and the coaching staff, it's about the team. And it always will be."
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