PROFILE : DAVE BASSETT : Gains of Harry's game Simon O'Hagan assesses the management style and unlikely success of a likeable character

Imagine you had never heard of Alex Ferguson or Dave Bassett. You are introduced to them, told that one of them is a football manager, and have to guess which. No contest, is it? But while Ferguson the austere Scot may seem less typical of the bre ed than Bassett the larky Londoner, that would be to overlook deeper qualities in the latter.

Tomorrow night the two of them will be opposing each other in the FA Cup for the third successive season when Ferguson's Manchester United and Bassett's Sheffield United meet in the third round at Bramall Lane. As with the previous two matches - the score stands at 1-1 - this one is made for Bassett, whose appetite for sticking one over his supposed betters is as keen now as it was when he joined Wimbledon 21 years ago and helped launch them on the path that took them from non-League ranks to the old First Division.

Since last season's 1-0 defeat at home to United, following the previous year's 2-1 win, Sheffield United have fallen out of the Premiership and had their difficulties in the First Division before a recent return to form has seen them rise to fifth in the table.

Only the most ardent Wednesday-ite would begrudge them promotion, for the circumstances under which they were relegated - safe until the last minute of the last match of the season when they were done for by a Chelsea goal and some improbable results elsewhere - were cruel beyond belief.

Even the normally irrepressible Bassett struggled to come to terms with what had happened. Derek Dooley, one of the club's directors, remembers travelling with the team to Australia for a post-season tour two days later and never seeing Bassett so low. "Looking back," Bassett says, "I thought I'd recovered by the start of the season. But I realise now that I hadn't. It had a major effect on me." Yet it was typical of a Bassett team to be at the centre of such drama.

Bassett's own playing career was modest. Born in Watford in 1944 - it is hard to believe that this most youthful of men is now 50 - he grew up in and around north-west London, went to school in Harrow, got a job in an insurance firm, and was a junior at Chelsea until Tommy Docherty took over and had a clear-out. Somewhere along the way he acquired the nickname Harry, for no better reason than that his father's name was Harold.

The long-standing effects of a broken leg meant that Bassett only ever played part-time football, all of it for non-League clubs other than the first season Wimbledon had in the Football League in 1977-78. He also played for the England amateur team.

By then he had been "discovered" by Allen Batsford - manager of Walton and Hersham in the early Seventies when a hot-headed young midfielder came to his attention who he reckoned had the makings of a captain. It was Bassett's first taste of responsibility and he relished it. When Batsford joined Wimbledon in 1974, he took Bassett with him.

"The club was in such trouble financially that they were only down to six men," Batsford says. "I remember Dave walking into the dressing-room for the first time and saying: `Right, we're the ones who are going to show you lot how to play.' That was typical. He was always a terrific leader."

Within a year, Wimbledon were taking Leeds United to a replay in the FA Cup; within three years they were in the Football League; within seven years, Bassett had become manager; within 12 years they had reached the First Division. There was something outrageous about it, certainly as far as the purists were concerned, who saw Bassett and his long-ball philosophy destroying their beautiful game.

But Lawrie Sanchez, one of Wimbledon's leading players at the time, remembers that Bassett loved the criticism. "He believed that if they were slaughtering you, then you had to be doing something right," he says. "We played the long ball, but that was just Dave's way of evening things up against bigger and richer teams."

For Bassett, having to make do with modest means is all part of the challenge. "He's sometimes said that he'd like to go to a big-money club," Batsford says, "but I think it quite suits him to be somewhere where the money is tight." Certainly, Bassett has a reputation for being a poor payer, but that has not stopped players giving their all for him.

Tony Agana, who played under Bassett at Watford and Sheffield United, agrees with Sanchez that he is a supreme motivator, often in unpredictable ways. "You might have won 4-0 and he'd still come in and give you a roasting," Agana says. Sanchez remembers a match when Wimbledon were going well in the old Second Division and facing an easy-looking fixture against lowly opposition. "Dave came into the dressing-room an hour before the kick-off and said: `Right, you're going to lose today. You think you're too good for this lot. Well, I've seen your attitude this week, and you're not.' And that was his team talk. It was a classic double bluff. In the end, we won fairly easily and we could give him a good ribbing. But he'd got the result he wanted."

By the time Sanchez was heading Wimbledon to victory over Liverpool in the 1988 FA Cup final, Bassett had been gone a year and the team was managed by Bobby Gould. Bassett is often given the credit for that victory, which in the likes of Dave Beasant, Dennis Wise, John Scales, Terry Phelan and John Fashanu featured players Bassett had nurtured from relative obscurity but who went on to even bigger things. Sanchez thinks that is unfair on Gould, but says that, without the self-belief Bassett had instilled in them, they might not have done it.

After an eight-month spell at Watford that did little for either party, Bassett joined Sheffield United in February 1988, an unlikely- looking move north for a manager whose garrulous Cockneyisms seemed to place him within the bounds of the M25. Althoughhe could not prevent a struggling United from being relegated to the old Third Division at the end of his first season in charge, he then turned things round in spectacular style.

With Brian Deane and Agana in harness up front, United ran away with the Third Division in 1988-89, and went straight on up to the First Division the following season. By now Sheffield and Bassett had fallen for each other in a big way, and it has remained like that ever since. With his wife and two daughters, aged 13 and 15, Bassett says he feels settled in Sheffield, a city which shares his passion for the game.

"I must say I had my doubts about Dave coming here," Derek Dooley says. "I wondered how Sheffield people would take to this cheeky chappy. But he's been marvellous. He's really involved himself in the city." Bassett established such a rapport with the fans that during the disastrous start to the 1990-91 season, when United went until 22 December before winning, none of them was calling for him to go. They finished the season in 13th place.

After United had made almost as bad a start to the following season but again managed to survive, Bassett staged what is probably his biggest stunt. The team obviously couldn't win before Christmas, so let's bring it forward. In August 1992, Bassett threw a Christmas party for his players. The trick seemed to work; United did respectably in the League and reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup when they lost to Sheffield Wednesday.

Asked what he looks for in a player, Bassett says: "I look for talent, whether he's got something about him. It's a gut feeling. Then I ask myself: `Does he understand the game? Is he athletic? Is he brave? Is his character sound?' "

Following these instincts, Bassett has rescued careers, shown faith where others haven't, bought for peanuts and sold for millions. Above all, he has that rare ability to be as tough as need be as a boss while remaining one of the lads when work is done.The number of ex-Wimbledon players who have joined Bassett at Bramall Lane says much for the loyalty he commands.

Tactically, Bassett has mellowed during his Sheffield years. At the very least it has become passe to talk of him as a long-ball exponent. And most of the time it is not true either. "It really infuriates me when people talk of Dave like that," Dooley says. Bassett himself is less bothered by that than the idea that "I don't appreciate someone like Eric Cantona. Of course I do." Which is not to say he won't delight in knocking him out of the FA Cup.

A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
politicsIs David Cameron trying to prove he's down with the kids?
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lift Repairs Sales Account Manager

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting new opportunity has...

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

£21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

Ashdown Group: Assistant Management Accountant - Part Qualified CIMA / ACCA

£30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: We are recruitment for an Assistan...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea