Joe Jordan: Pompey helmsman draws on Morton and Milan to keep ship afloat

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As Joe Jordan admits, it might seem an unlikely combination: a Scot who had not worked in the top league of English football for some 18 years and a Croatian who was largely unknown to the British public.

As Joe Jordan admits, it might seem an unlikely combination: a Scot who had not worked in the top league of English football for some 18 years and a Croatian who was largely unknown to the British public. Considering that they were replacing two of the game's biggest personalities, it is perhaps all the more remarkable that Jordan and Velimir Zajec are doing such a good job in charge of Portsmouth following the departure of Harry Redknapp, the manager, and his assistant, Jim Smith.

Although they would have expected more than a point from Saturday's match at home to Norwich City, especially after the visitors were reduced to 10 men after only five minutes, Portsmouth are on a run of eight matches in which they have been beaten just twice since Redknapp, Smith and Kevin Bond, one of the coaches, took their leave of Fratton Park. The two reverses, moreover, were against Arsenal and Chelsea and in both games Portsmouth were deemed unlucky not to have taken at least a point.

While Zajec, whose appointment as director of football so upset Redknapp, is now the man in charge, Portsmouth's management are very much a two-man team. Jordan takes the coaching and is usually the first point of contact with the players, both in team talks and during matches.

"Velimir picks the side," Jordan says. "He asks me what I think, though he knows his own mind. We make sure that we're on the same wavelength when we start talking about preparation for the game.

"I sometimes go and watch the opposition. Whoever we're playing, we give them the same attention as we would Arsenal or anybody else. We study it very carefully so that everybody in the team knows their task against that particular opposition. One of the things I learned from playing abroad is the value of spending time on preparation for particular opponents. That's in Velimir's make-up as well.

"I like my teams to be organised and so does he. I like my teams to have a shape, especially when the opposition have got the ball. As a player you want to know what's expected of you, especially when you haven't got the ball. When we've got the ball Velimir and I are on the same wavelength in that we try to play good football - and I think that's something we've achieved.

"It was quite an upheaval for the players to lose the manager, his assistant and one of the coaches, but they have proved a credit to the club and themselves in the way they've focused on the game. They've shown great resilience. We've gone behind in some games at difficult places, but we've been able to recover and take something from those games."

Jordan has relished the extra responsibilities, particularly having spent the best part of two years out of full-time employment until he was asked to join Harry's game last summer. The 53-year-old Scot always believed he still had plenty to offer, particularly as his managerial and coaching career to this point has included plenty of high points.

After playing for Morton, Leeds United, Manchester United, Milan, Verona, Southampton, Bristol City and Scotland, Jordan got a taste for coaching when he started to help out his former Leeds colleague, Terry Cooper, who was in charge at Ashton Gate.

When Cooper was sacked, Jordan took over as manager and enjoyed considerable success. A spell as manager of Hearts, who finished runners-up in the league, was followed by the chance to work briefly alongside Liam Brady at Celtic. When Brady left, Jordan decided to follow. Lou Macari took over at Celtic and Jordan stepped into Macari's job at Stoke City, only to find himself out of work again, despite a promising season, when Macari came back on the market the following year.

A second spell at Bristol City was doomed to failure when Jordan fell out with some of the directors. After a period assisting Lawrie McMenemy with the Northern Ireland team, Jordan joined Macari at Huddersfield Town. Despite having to sell players, Jordan felt they had turned the club around, only to see yet another job end in dismissal in the summer of 2002.

It has been a topsy-turvy time and Jordan's recently published autobiography details numerous examples of the vagaries of management. During his first spell at Bristol City, for example, he turned down the chance to manage Aston Villa, deciding that the time was not right to take on the challenge of such a big club and, crucially, a chairman like Doug Ellis.

Instead, Jordan chose to join Hearts, only to fall out with Wallace Mercer, the Edinburgh club's chairman, particularly after he suggested - not unreasonably - that they would have to spend if they were to challenge Rangers and Celtic on a regular basis. The relationship had not got off to the best of starts, Mercer telling Jordan that he would have to sell a player to pay for the £80,000 compensation Hearts had been ordered to pay Bristol City. Despite taking Hearts into Europe, Jordan was fired.

While such experiences would have turned some football men into bitter cynics, Jordan remains philosophical. "When you're a football manager or coach you have little chance of controlling your own future, unless you're someone of the stature of Alex Ferguson or Arsène Wenger," he says. "When Harry Redknapp left I didn't lose any sleep over my own situation. I've been in the game long enough to know that there was nothing I could do about the situation.

"As a player you can dictate your own destiny to some extent. I was lucky in that until I was 31 I was able to control my own career. I could dictate where I wanted to go. Then AC Milan said they didn't want me any more - which was the first time anyone had said that to me in my career."

Jordan's playing career had taken off at Leeds, who signed him from Morton for £15,000 in 1971. Don Revie had already established Leeds as one of the major forces in English football and Jordan appreciated the company he was joining when he arrived at Elland Road and saw the World Cup cars of Jack Charlton, Terry Cooper, Allan Clarke and Les Cocker, the trainer, in the car park.

A fearless centre-forward who throughout his career made the best of his ability, Jordan soon established himself in Revie's side and was a valued member of the team that won the championship in 1974 and were perennial challengers for honours both at home and in Europe. It was the perfect place to learn his trade.

"Don Revie set standards in terms of discipline and habits which set the perfect example for young players," Jordan says. "You couldn't have had a better upbringing than that. We didn't want for anything. If you needed something you got it. They were the top - in terms of ability, camaraderie and attitude. One of the best things about Leeds was that they knew how to come back from a defeat or a disappointment. It's a hard thing to do and that to me is a sign that someone's got a resilience about them, a quality you must have to become a champion."

It was frustrating to see the club go into decline following the departure of Revie, who was replaced, all too briefly, by Brian Clough and then by Jimmy Armfield. At that stage Jordan was ready to move on, though his departure came later than he hoped. He was thrilled at the prospect of playing in Germany when Bayern Munich tried to sign him not long after they had beaten Leeds in the 1975 European Cup final.

Jordan had first learned of Bayern's interest before the final when Dietmar Cramer, the coach, was quoted as saying the Scot was the one Leeds player he would like to sign. "The other players started to give me a bit of stick about this and started pulling my leg about it," Jordan says. "It didn't bother me because it was a compliment to hear a top manager saying that about me. I was only a young lad at the time." Leeds took a break at a hotel in Marbella after losing the Paris final. When Jordan, relaxing with his team-mates beside the swimming pool, was told he had a phone call from "a Mr Dietmar Cramer, the coach of Bayern Munich", he was convinced one of his team-mates was playing a practical joke. Hearing what he thought was a phoney German accent down the phone, Jordan asked Gordon McQueen to take the call. McQueen told the caller in a loud voice that, yes, he was interested in joining Bayern, but only if they would also sign his friend and brilliant team-mate, Gordon McQueen.

It was only when there was no reaction from Billy Bremner and John Giles, whom Jordan suspected of being behind the phone call, that he suddenly realised it might have been genuine. It was. Cramer called again two days later and Bayern faxed a bid of £220,000 to Elland Road. It was rejected outright by Leeds, much to Jordan's disgust. "I'd been at Leeds and had a great time, but it was an opportunity that was denied me," Jordan says. "I was desperate to go." Jordan might also have left Leeds for Liverpool. One day after agreeing to sign for Manchester United, Jordan took a phone call from Bob Paisley, who wanted him to go to Anfield. Although he had not signed on the dotted line, Jordan said he had given his word to Dave Sexton, the Old Trafford manager, and would not go back on it.

Three years later, Jordan might not have signed for Milan if Manchester United had played their cards right. They stalled on a new offer in the final year of his contract at Old Trafford and by the time they started talking again he had decided he could not turn down the chance to play for Milan.

Italian football proved a revelation to Jordan, who was always hungry to learn. "I was 29 years old when I went to Milan and I was very experienced, but there were still things that I had to learn on the pitch. I used to go chasing every ball. I was very keen. That was the British way. But the boys at the back of the Milan defence said, 'Leave it, there's no point chasing everything'. And they were right. I was chasing the ball around on my own and I wasn't getting anywhere. So even at that age I was learning."

Jordan is not the sort to have regrets, but you sense that he would love the chance of playing today. How does he think he would cope if he was playing in the Premiership now? "Not a problem. I think players like myself are better protected now. I wouldn't have to react as I sometimes had to in order to protect myself. And if you're a player who wants to play - and to play for as long as possible - there's no excuse not to, thanks to the knowledge that people are prepared to pass on to you in terms of preparation for a game, both physically and mentally. That aspect of the game is far better than it was in my day.

"There's nothing new to me about nutrition, though I think we know a bit more today about dehydration and rehydration. In my day in Italy they were already talking a lot about diet and nutrition. In this country we've seen foreign players come in, we've seen how they look after themselves, giving themselves every opportunity to put in a performance. They're careful about when they go to bed, what they eat, when they eat. That knowledge is available now. Players know they need to eat as soon as possible after a game. They're told when they need to rest. Similarly you can watch yourself on the video technology that's available now and you can see exactly how you played.

"Players today are generally fitter and they're certainly better prepared. I played with a few players who used to smoke straight after a game. Billy [Bremner] used to do that, though maybe not in the dressing-room. I think Big Jack [Charlton] smoked as well. There are very few players who smoke now."

In his early days in management Jordan was keen to introduce some of the things he had learned on the continent, though he was not always successful. At Hearts, he persuaded the chairman to hire a chef from a local restaurant to prepare some pasta for the players.

"It was after a big European match in midweek," Jordan recalls. "We had a big game at the weekend and I wanted the players to get some carbohydrates in them. The players looked at the pasta and they weren't quite sure about it, so I backed off, even though I knew it was right. You can't force players to eat something if they don't want to. It was only a small matter, but it was important and it was a massive lesson for me."

Jordan speaks regularly to Sir Alex Ferguson and is a friend of David Moyes, the Everton manager, having shared digs with him when they were players at Bristol City. "He was someone who was really interested in the game, not just as a player," Jordan says. "You could see that he was a student of the game." He admires their work and would love nothing more than to pit his wits against them as a Premiership manager. "I think I've still got something to prove," he says.

'Joe Jordan: Behind the Dream' is published by Hodder & Stoughton (£18.99)