Paul Jewell: The Scouse Special One

Brian Viner interviews the Wigan manager who likes Jose Mourinho and has more in common with him than you would expect. And, like his Chelsea counterpart, he likes nothing better than confounding the critics
Click to follow
The Independent Football

"That's why you don't get carried away in this job," says Jewell. "You need good people around you, and you need thick skin, because one minute you're a hero, next minute you're nothing. Moyesy'll get it right, but he was manager of the year last year, now there are fans who want him sacked. I remember being manager at Bradford, funnily enough in a match at Sheffield Wednesday [which, coincidentally, would be his next managerial job]. I took off Stuart McCall and Peter Beagrie, who were crowd favourites, and the fans were singing, 'You don't know what you're doing" at me. I thought, 'That's handy. We got promoted [to the Premiership] last year for the first time in the club's history. Now I don't know what I'm doing'."

A typical Scouse wit, somehow amiable and acerbic at the same time, infuses Jewell's conversation. He is an interviewer's dream: friendly, articulate, opinionated and funny. For the first five minutes of our encounter, in his sparse office overlooking Wigan's training ground, he talks golf. His son, Sam, just 16, has a handicap of two and wants to turn pro. "It's a great escape for me to walk the fairways with him," Jewell tells me. What's his own golf like? "Crap. But I hit my best shot ever the other day at Ilkley, which is a right posh course. A great shot on to the green, then these lads jumped over a wall, picked my ball up and ran away. I couldn't believe it. A posh place like that!" The sort of thing you might expect at Bootle Municipal but not Ilkley, I venture. "Exactly," he says, laughing. "I used to do it meself."

If Jewell had a motto, it might even b,e 'I used to do it meself'. He feels that he underachieved as a player, having left school to join Liverpool in the halcyon Bob Paisley years, where he spent five years getting a whiff but never quite a taste of glory. He then moved on to Wigan and Bradford, with loan spells at Grimsby and Brighton, never, in his own words, doing himself justice. "I could have done more, looked after meself better, trained harder. So now when I see players underachieving in my care, if care is the right word, I say, 'Listen, I was you'."

It is because he looks back with regret at his playing career that the 41-year-old is determined to maximise his potential as a manager. "I want to be, not the best, but as good as I can be. That's why I don't leave any stone unturned. We had a great result last Saturday [beating Newcastle United] but at eight next morning I was driving to Birmingham [to watch the Birmingham City v Aston Villa game] because we're playing Villa this Saturday. I don't want to be an underdog, I hate the word underdog. I want to keep striving, do my best every day. And if my best is to be in charge of Wigan, then fine. But if it's not..."

Then what? Could it be that I'm talking to a future England manager? "No, I can rule meself out now. It would never appeal to me. I like working with players every day." I am reminded of what another Scouser, Peter Reid, said to me when I asked him the same question, at a time when he was working miracles with Sunderland. "Never. I like a bird, and I like a pint. I'd be crucified."

Jewell might not share Reid's weaknesses, but he certainly shares his strengths. "Honesty," he says, when I ask him what his managerial trademarks are. "I think I know a player. I like my players to enjoy coming to work, and I think I'm honest with them. Having said that, when Mike Pollitt came from Rotherham, I told him he'd be No 2, but if he got a chance and played well, he'd stay in. Then John Filan got injured, Polly come in and did well, but I left him out when John was fit. He has questioned my honesty, and he's right to do so, but you've also got to be honest with yourself. I can't pick someone for a quiet life."

Not that a quiet life would be likely in any circumstances, with the outspoken, charismatic Dave Whelan, multimillionaire owner of JJB Sports, as his boss. But the manager insists that the chairman, a former top-flight footballer himself, never interferes in playing matters.

"Geoffrey Richmond at Bradford did. I don't want to knock him, because he gave me my first job in management, but I didn't like justifying every decision. That's why I left. Here, I run the whole thing. The chairman's been great. I judge people by how they are when the chips are down, and when they've been down, he's come up for me. On the day England played Germany and won 5-1, Wigan went bottom of the Second Division. Then we went to Wrexham and lost 5-1 ourselves in the Auto Windscreens or LDV Vans or whatever it was called. I heard the whispers - 'Jewell won't be long at Wigan" - and I was at a low ebb. I'd come here and felt the club was in decline. There was too much dead wood, and I had to shake it up, but I tried to do it overnight. I was upsetting a lot of people.

"Then we went to Scotland, pre-season, and eight or nine players broke the curfew. I fined them two weeks' wages, they appealed to the PFA [Professional Footballers' Association], and the fine was halved. I had them all in my office, and said, 'OK, you've won the battle but will you win the war?" As they walked out one of them sneakily said, 'Will you?' Meaning, will you be here? Because they'd already seen off Ray Matthias, this manager, that manager. And the chairman was known for changing managers. But he went in the dressing-room, nodded towards me, and said to the players, 'He's staying'. That was the turning point. Mind you, as he walked out he said to me, 'Right, make sure we stay in this division this year, and next year I want to be in the top six by Christmas, otherwise neither of us will still be here'. Well, by Christmas we were top, 10 points clear."

Despite Wigan's extraordinary upward mobility, however, Jewell even now faces the charge that Whelan has simply bought it all. Even his old mate Stan Ternent called Wigan "the Chelsea of the Championship" last season.

"Which is fair enough, in a way, but money brings its own pressures. You've still got to deliver. Jose Mourinho thinks Chelsea's players and staff don't get the respect they deserve and I agree with him."

They are improbable kindred spirits, the Special One and the Scouse One, yet they have bonded. In July, Jewell had an appointment at Chelsea Village with an agent. "So I asked whether there was any chance of having a meeting with the Pope - I mean Mourinho - and he was great. We chatted for about 45 minutes. He respects other people, that's what I like about him. He's not condescending. And in the first game of the season here, when Chelsea scored in the last minute, he whispered in my ear, 'You don't deserve that". He was right, too. If you'd offered me a draw at half-time that day, I wouldn't have taken it."

And if I were now to offer him fourth-bottom at the end of the season? "Oh yeah. Staying up's still the target, let's have it right. If other people's expectations change, that's fine. But I'm a realist."

Jewell's realism was forged in the tough, working-class streets of Liverpool, his ethics at the knee of his late father, Billy. "He probably wouldn't like me now because I'm a manager and he was a trade unionist. I loved him to bits. He died 11 years ago and I still miss him every day. He was a quiet man with very strong principles. He would never work a minute's overtime, because he thought there would be no unemployment if people stopped working overtime.

"I'm not here to pontificate on anyone's politics, but I was brought up to believe there's a right way and a wrong way. My mum and dad taught me good habits, and from there I went to Liverpool and they taught me good habits as well.

"If you got a 'well done' from the likes of Ronnie Moran, Joe Fagan, Reuben Bennett, you were happy. I'll never forget coming back from Bucharest after the semi-final of the European Cup. As usual, I was 17th man or something. And it had been a fantastic performance. We'd won 2-1 and were in the final again. But there was no champagne flowing, no back-slapping. And then Ronnie comes down the plane just before we land in Liverpool. 'Don't forget,' he says, and points to me Gary Gillespie, Steve Nicol, whoever else ... 'you, you and you, half five tomorrow at Anfield, we've got a reserve game against Coventry.' That's always stayed in my mind. They'd just got to the European Cup final, but could they win the next reserve game? That was Liverpool."

And that, too, is Jewell. Last Saturday he administered a public bollocking to Henri Camara, when the player, having been substituted, stalked huffily down the tunnel. "I thought he showed me and his team-mates a lack of respect, but he come in here on Monday and we had a chat. He knows he's done wrong and he's man enough to admit it. So it's dealt with."

Another player, whom Jewell declines to name, suggested to him at the end of last season that in the Premiership he might have to "calm down" a little. "It was a fair point, but I can't change my principles. I've already mellowed. At Bradford I was almost paranoid. I think managers are if they don't have a great playing record. You've got to make it work because you might not get another job if it doesn't. At Sheffield Wednesday I knew as soon as I got there that the whole club was rotten to the core. The best thing there was the fans, and the chairman did me a big favour when he sacked me. Peter Shreeves said to me that nobody could have done any more, but he also told me to make sure I made a success of my next job, because otherwise people would look at Bradford and say it was a fluke."

It is plainly no fluke that Wigan, not even in the Football League a generation ago, sit sixth in the Premiership. "I remember Gérard Houllier ringing me up after Bradford beat Liverpool on the last day of the [1999-2000] season," says Jewell. It was the win that ensured Premiership survival for Bradford and denied his old club a Champions' League place. "He said it was a better achievement than Arsenal winning the Double, and maybe it was. But my sweetest moment in football was the Wolves game last season [when Wigan secured promotion]. It's such a young club, and I feel immense pride in what's been achieved here. When I drive to work now I see kids in the blue and white kit kicking footballs around. When I first came here on loan from Liverpool, all them years ago, all I saw were kids in cherry and white throwing this thing around." A big, happy grin. "I"d never seen a rugby ball before. I thought it was a bomb."