It has been a sad week, but also an exciting one, traumatic too.
Last Saturday I was managing Crystal Palace at Doncaster, today I'm managing Queen's Park Rangers against West Bromwich Albion. The new job is a challenge I'm really looking forward to, but it has been a wrench leaving Palace. That was underlined at Doncaster when the players did fantastically well to come back and get a point after a woeful first half. Where they got the energy from I'll never know. It was difficult leaving such a great set of lads.
It was just as hard leaving the fans and Simon Jordan, the chairman who brought me in. But in the end I felt I had no choice. The last few weeks have been very difficult. Since Simon had to surrender control it's been like being slowly poisoned.
For example, the day before we played Aston Villa in our FA Cup replay, Neil Danns rang me to say his agent had told him he was going to Swansea. Then he'd had a call from Shefki Kuqi, our former player, who's now at Swansea, saying how pleased he was Neil was joining them. Danns wanted to know if it was true. It was news to me so I rang the agent that the administrator was using. He informed me they were planning to loan Neil with a view to a permanent move but had not made a final decision. I told them there was no way we could afford to lose another player with the transfer embargo on us.
Then there was a situation where the cook and masseur, who are self-employed, and not on big wages, were not going to get paid the money they were owed. But, I was told, the agent who negotiated Victor Moses' transfer had been paid his fee in full. I argued the case for the cook and masseur and they were paid.
There are other things, which I cannot tell you at this time, but the legal advice provided by the League Managers' Association, who are very good for us managers in these situations, was that I had a decent case for constructive dismissal. On that basis I could have just walked out when QPR enquired, but I made it plain to the administrator I would only go if Palace were compensated satisfactorily. I think that is the only way you should leave a club. He seemed very confident the clubs would come to an agreement, so I suggested somebody to take over who I felt would do a good job, but he was informed they already had somebody in mind.
On Monday, the parties were still talking but I felt we needed a firm decision one way or the other, so I told them both that if an agreement was not reached by lunchtime I was going to stay put until the end of the season. An hour before the deadline, I was told I was free to talk to QPR. Palace received a substantial amount of compensation, far more than they were considering selling Neil Danns for.
Obviously Simon was disappointed at the timing but I think it might work out best for everyone. We had taken only one point from 12. Maybe Palace needed a change. I think with Dougie Freedman and John Pemberton coming in on Paul Hart's staff, with their Palace backgrounds, it might just be the shot in the arm the club needs.
I did see the quote from the administrator suggesting I had told him I didn't have the stomach for the fight. I can only imagine he thought that after I told him I could not guarantee the club staying up if I remained in the job, but that applies to any club in the bottom half. Only Rafael Benitez guarantees a finishing position. Of course, the administration took the wind out of our sails, we seemed to have one blow after another, but I don't think I could have worked any harder over my period at Selhurst Park, I don't think I've worked harder at any time in my career.
There was also the uncertainty over the future. Palace are for sale and, although the deadline keeps being extended, I could have ended up with an owner that didn't want me. Against that, QPR were offering me a three-and-a-half-year contract. I loved the club, but in the end I didn't think I could take the risk. If you asked 100 people what they would do in the situation, 99 of them would take the security of a contract.
2. I'd never dream of a Selhurst Park player raid
You can imagine my disappointment when I was told I would be barred if I came to the club on Wednesday morning to say goodbye to the players. I don't know what they thought I could have done. I do believe you should be able to say goodbye to a group of players who have given everything, and also the staff behind the scenes. I will have to save it until 10 April when QPR play there.
Obviously I've read about how many players I'm supposedly taking with me in the next few days, but I'd never dream of taking anybody this season while the battle at the bottom is on and I am surprised anybody would think I would, especially with the embargo Palace are under. It was the best club I have been at in terms of fan support, which was constant from day one.
To this day, I still cannot understand why Simon was forced into administration. It does not make sense to me. I am convinced he would have been able to do a deal with the transfer money he would have received in January and that would have got the hedge fund its money back. Instead, even though Victor Moses was sold in January, the fund won't be paid until the club is sold, and that may not be before the end of the season. So why not let us have a go at promotion, which would have solved everybody's financial problems?
3. I still get butterflies meeting a new squad
Last Tuesday I met the new major shareholder and the chairman at Rangers, and we soon reached agreement on the contract details. Speaking to them, it was clear to see the vision they had for the club and, I admit, it was nice to be wanted.
The first meeting with a new squad is always strange, even at my age, and with my experience, you have the butterflies. I said to them, "No doubt you are used to this, meeting the new manager..." It was obvious to me the players need to know who they are working with and it can only be better for them having stability. In fairness, to Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone, I know they have been criticised for what has happened over the last few years, but let's not forget they saved the club when they came in. Flavio's a massive fan. I'm sure he'll enjoy watching the games now without so much responsibility.
I told the players I expect them to work hard, but I also expect them to smile a lot. I love the dressing-room atmosphere when players want to come to training and don't feel it is a chore. That banter is one thing I will miss when I pack it in. Then we set to work. I began with my usual "robust" first session. Anyone who's ever been at a club when I've taken over will know what that was like. I've not got long to assess them and it's a good way to judge character. I don't know if they were surprised. The skipper, Mikele Leigertwood, was with me at Sheffield United so he may have tipped a few off, I'm sure they've been bending his ear.
I know most of the players but I also looked at some videos and I've learnt a lot already, even if injuries and international duty meant I was not able to work with the full squad. Today's game is against a team who will be in the Premier League next season – and what a good example West Brom set for everyone on how to run a club financially well and still be able to compete. They will also help me assess what we've got in the locker. I do know some good players – Wayne Routledge, Heidar Helguson, Fitz Hall – have gone. Some people clearly expect me to start replacing them. I've been getting lots of calls from agents offering players. For some reason they never rang me in the last year at Palace. There's also been the family stuff to look at, new home, new schools, there's a lot of upheaval in a move even though both clubs are in the capital.
Being manager at Palace gave me a new lease of life and I'll be eternally grateful for the time I spent there. I think QPR is a similar club, with another atmospheric ground crammed into the streets. It can be quite hostile, and has been to me at times – I hope that's going to change.
4. I'll miss the gentle giant Keith Alexander
After all the upheaval of this week, you still have to keep things in perspective and remember the important things in life. The passing of Keith Alexander on Tuesday night after Macclesfield's game with Notts County was a bombshell to me. I spoke to Keith a few years ago about becoming my assistant. He thought seriously about it, but was then offered another job as a No 1. He was a big, gentle giant who always had a good word for people. I think I speak on behalf of every manager in the country in offering our condolences to his wife and family at this difficult time.Reuse content