Diamond can help Cipriani to shine again
If you're creating a 'northern super club', a celebrity fly-half will fit the bill at Sale
Steve Diamond is nothing if not an optimist. The sporting director and chief executive of Sale Sharks – or the putative "northern super club", as he describes the Manchester team he used to play for and coach – says he has no qualms over handling next season's fly-half Danny Cipriani. "The controversy that surrounds the lad is his celebrity and that's not a drama for us," says Diamond. "He's coming to a massive city where if we're talking about celebrity and sportsmen they had the best, didn't they, in George Best? That's the least of our worries."
Best might be an odd exemplar for the occasionally wayward Cipriani. But Diamond, though he will make a 10-day trip to Australia in May to bond with his new signing from Melbourne Rebels, insists he is not giving Cipriani a licence to spill. The Sharks, he points out, have assimilated the Wales tearaway Andy Powell with no apparent problems.
"We have pubs round here where Premier League footballers have a drink on a Sunday night with no one asking for autographs or taking pictures of them," Diamond says. "It's a cool place in that respect. Things like [the Manchester City manager] Roberto Mancini saying the paparazzi are losing them the League because they're watching at the training ground are rubbish.
He added: "You create your own problems sometimes and I don't think Danny will be a problem. I think he'll be fantastic for us. The peer pressure runs throughout our team. They might think I'm an ogre but nobody gets a bollocking or steps out of line. This is a caring place and Danny will be embraced."
Cipriani has signed a three-year contract, joining with the outstanding Scotland lock Richie Gray from Glasgow, Welsh prop Eifion Roberts who is returning from Toulon, and a director of rugby with Premiership experience – reportedly Gloucester's former Sale captain Bryan Redpath.
It has been an exciting, eventful 13 months since Diamond came back to Manchester – coinciding with the end of coach Mike Brewer's short-lived stint at Sale – after coaching England Under-21s and Saxons, Saracens and Russia, being a scout for Northampton and keeping an eye on his financial and construction businesses.
Tony Hanks joined as first-team coach last July and was sacked following a 45-9 defeat at home to Saracens last month;
Diamond contracted septicaemia after an ankle operation and lost three stones – "A great post-Christmas diet... if you take away the septicaemia, DVT and pneumonia" – the day after his verbal rant at referee Wayne Barnes at London Irish that led to an 18-week touchline ban.
The appointment of the new DoR will complete his withdrawal from the coaching front line. He will oversee Sale's Premiership games against Gloucester and Harlequins, with Heineken Cup qualification to play for, and the move to a new stadium in Barton, shared with Salford City Reds, in the summer.
The switch from Edgeley Park in Stockport has led former Sale flanker Pat Sanderson to describe the Sharks as "transient". Diamond, who started at Trafford MV, counters: "We were at Heywood Road for 141 years, Edgeley Park for 10 and now we're going to be with Salford for at least 25 years according to the lease. We're moving into a bespoke 12,500 rugby stadium in the centre of Manchester. It's built in the shadow of the Trafford centre, one of the biggest retail outlets in Europe, accessible to 30 million people within 90 minutes. It's an ideal location."
Fylde's coach Mark Nelson has been supportive but it needs many more local clubs to accept the "vision" for the "northern super club" at the pinnacle of a pyramid for it to work.
Sale's fans have a chance to look round the Barton stadium today. Diamond predicts a crowd of 8,000 will be a break-even. "If you want to be a Saracens or a Bath and try and buy yourself a fantastic team, then great," he says. "You can't then go whingeing about the salary cap and getting knocked out of the Heineken Cup."
He is angry at Saracens over Gray. "Just recently [they] made a play to try to cut through our contract but he's a loyal lad and he wants to be with us. We'll be an organic club; there are a lot of avenues we'll look down.
"Potentially the best fly-halves are playing football. We'll be looking at kids of 13, 14, who are coming out of the eight professional soccer clubs within 50 miles of Manchester. Our training ground at Carrington is next door to City's and United's. And our academy is being guided the right way by Ray Unsworth, a legend of union and league. We've got to get right down into the grass roots and put a natural pathway to the top in place. I don't think that's ever been done and we need to employ 20 or 30 development officers in the region."
Sanderson was one of seven England captains in the past 20 years who were born or schooled in the north but moved south to play, a player drain Diamond wants to reverse. And how would Newcastle Falcons fit into the northern super club plan? "Between us we have the same problems," says Diamond. "If we create two super northern clubs, brilliant. But in my brain, there'll only be one."
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