Premier League footballers may sometimes come across as irredeemable egotists, but they need to feel wanted as much as the rest of us – perhaps more so. So when the Scottish full-back Alan Hutton was told by one manager, "I don't want you training with me any more, you can train with the kids," his hurt was understandable. And when offered the chance to start again with a coach who had nurtured him as a young player and given him caps for his country, the decision was not hard.
The first manager was Harry Redknapp, who inherited Hutton at Tottenham; the second was Alex McLeish, who had moulded him at Rangers, selected him for Scotland and is now offering him a chance with Aston Villa, today's unbeaten visitors to Queen's Park Rangers.
Perhaps McLeish too felt he needed friends. After three and a half years in charge of Villa's despised rivals Birmingham City, he has yet to be accepted. Tactics have been derided as dull, Darren Bent is injured and results could go either way. One win over Blackburn and four draws is a record that raises the question, is the glass half full or half empty? This afternoon's outcome will offer further clues, especially after Wednesday's 2-0 home defeat by Bolton in the Carling Cup.
Hutton predictably praises McLeish's qualities and achievements: "He's been there and done it, been a fantastic footballer himself. He's a strong character. When maybe I was struggling as a player he'd always help and encourage you. He's done a great job wherever he's been, I don't see why this will be any different. We've got a great squad of players, it's just about working hard and progressing as a team. They've helped me along so much, I've settled down quite quickly."
His main concern is regaining full fitness levels, which he says were difficult to maintain after Redknapp's rejection. He had arrived in London as an expensive acquisition, signed after six years at Rangers by Juande Ramos. "I think it was a case I'd been bought by another manager and Harry Redknapp had different ideas about how he wanted to play. It was stop-start for me and I didn't get going. I think I've got a lot to offer and not to be given a chance wasn't great. I think at one time there were five right-backs. Practice games I just played everywhere, centre-half, up front, wherever. It's a massive knock to your confidence, not a nice feeling."
At one point last season he seemed to have seen off all challengers, including Kyle Walker, who preceded him to Villa on loan and was suddenly an England international. "I played about 20 games in a row, including Europe and then we had a bad performance at Fulham in the Cup and got beat 4-0. After that I didn't play. No word, no nothing, don't know why. I'd go and see him [Redknapp] and my questions weren't getting answered and I think the last straw was when I was made to train with the kids for whatever reason. I don't know what that was about. I was hardly doing anything there. I don't think anybody should be treated like that. There were so many people in that squad who felt unwanted and I've never experienced that before in any team I've been at."
He had earlier been on loan at Sunderland without the clubs being able to agree a fee for a permanent move. This summer Tottenham recalled Walker and made him their first-choice right-back. Meanwhile, Luke Young, once of Spurs and Charlton, was agitating for a return to London, which left Villa with a hole to fill. McLeish thought he knew just the man: "I first had Alan as a young player at Rangers and like every young player they have to develop. There were a couple of things in his game that he ironed out at an early age and really broke through probably as a consistent performer when Walter Smith came in [as manager]. And taking charge of the national team, I was getting the benefit of that as well with his forays up and down the flank. He looked every bit an international player against the French, the Italians. He had a really good spell that season. I want him to come and do that here."
"He knows the way I play inside out," Hutton says. "He knows what I can do. I'm sure when the fitness comes back, he'll get the best out of me. Playing for Scotland was brilliant and I had that love for football and everything about it. At Tottenham I didn't feel wanted. Coming here with a manager I've worked with before, I'm getting that happiness back and loving football again."
Queens Park Rangers v Aston Villa is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pmReuse content