As you may have heard, I missed our FA Cup tie against Birmingham City last week because of illness. As far as I can recall it is the first match I've missed since I was managing Notts County 20 years ago, which shows you how bad I felt. It takes a lot to keep a manager away from his team, but for a few days last week football was the least of my worries, I was only interested in my health. I'm glad to report I've been back at training this week and will be at Barnsley today, but the fact we've had a couple more lads go down shows the bug isn't out of the camp yet.
You forget how important good health is until you feel really unwell, and you don't really appreciate how illness takes over until you are suffering yourself. I certainly realise now why a couple of the lads had no chance of playing last weekend, and why a couple have no chance of being at Oakwell. It was absolutely strength-sapping. I know I'm always saying that we men are softies and women would plough on through our illnesses, but I can tell you this was a lot worse than the usual man-flu.
Fortunately, I was well enough by last Saturday to follow the match on Yorkshire Radio via LUTV on the computer and have some input. It was hardly ideal and agony to listen to, but Eddie Gray was commentating and he knows what he's talking about. I spoke to Mick Jones and Ronnie Jepson on the phone and decided we should make a couple of changes at half-time. We were losing so I decided to be positive and luckily we got a goal back and are still in the Cup.
Everyone says we don't want another game but I'd rather a game than be knocked out, especially after the draw gave us a cracking tie at home to Tottenham. What an incentive come Tuesday's replay.
My only concern is Mick is unbeaten in matches I've missed, winning the previous two – he was my assistant at Notts too. When I spoke to Shaun Harvey, our chief executive, on Friday and said, "If I feel like this I've no chance of making the game", Shaun replied, "Don't worry, I've checked with Mick and he has a 100 per cent record." What with Liverpool winning 3-0 at QPR when Brendan Rodgers was sick I'm concerned directors will start thinking they don't need a manager.
2. Wolves have appointed a stand-up manager
Wolves have made a very good appointment in Dean Saunders. Like Michael Appleton, who has joined Blackburn, he has great potential as a manager. Though Dean played at the top level as a player he has skipped his apprenticeship as a manager, working as a coach then at Wrexham and Doncaster. Along the way he will have picked up a lot of experience, which will serve him well at Wolves. I had a good chat to him on the phone on Thursday. I think we made each other laugh. I was on a high, having signed Tonge and Barkley, and I could tell how excited he was at becoming manager of such a great club. Dean's a very funny man, put him on a stage and he'd be up there with Peter Kay and Michael McIntyre (whose DVD, a Christmas present from the kids, kept me going when I was bed-ridden). That will help him as you need a sense of humour as a manager, especially at Championship level where the bulk of the players are British. No disrespect to foreign coaches, but most of them don't understand English dressing rooms. Humour eases pressure and is instrumental in building team spirit. I am convinced it is a core ingredient for a successful manager.
3. Oakwell trip's tricky
Our opponents today don't have a manager, but that didn't stop them getting a very good win over Burnley last week, which must have given them a confidence boost. It was in the Cup so they are still bottom of the league, but I'll be telling the players to ignore that. The last two years we've been annihilated at Oakwell, losing 4-1 and 5-2. We were very lucky to beat them at home this season and I'm told even the great Leeds teams of the past never did well at Barnsley. Local derbies are like that, especially in the Championship. So when the press asked me if it was good or bad for us that they don't have a manager I had to reply, "I'll tell you after the game."
4. My window's open
Transfer windows are a nightmare for managers. You can't turn the phone off yet you don't want to answer it most of the time, as it is usually an agent offering you this or that player who you've never heard of but is the best thing since sliced bread and is bound to win you promotion. And if it is not an agent it could be someone asking for one of your players.
I'm glad I answered it on Thursday. I'd made numerous phone calls without success then managed to acquire two players in four hours. First we signed Michael Tonge, who's done really well for us on loan, on a permanent deal from Stoke, then David Moyes rang to offer me the chance of taking Ross Barkley on loan from Everton. I've rated him highly for a number of years and have been chasing him all season.
With the Championship so open it looks like being a busy window. Most teams have signed someone already and I'm sure there will be a lot more activity before the window shuts as we all look to strengthen our teams for the promotion push.
5. Old boys done good
It was good to see two of my old players in the news this week. Bradford goalkeeper Matt Duke was with me at Sheffield United. I had other options at the time so let him go to Burton Albion as a favour to my old chairman there, Ben Robinson. I knew it would be a good club for Matt and he got good experience there before going on to Hull, who he played for in the Premier League. He's also survived testicular cancer so it is good to see him having his day in the sun. He made some fabulous saves on Tuesday to give the Bantams a good chance of reaching Wembley.
Bradford showed just what cup football is all about. They had 11 players who fought for everything, played football when they could and generated a fabulous atmosphere. They were well prepared by Phil Parkinson, who's one of the brightest young managers around and is rebuilding his career well after one or two disappointments.
I gave Paul Cox his debut, against Manchester City in the old First Division, after he came through as a YTS lad at Notts County. I didn't really see him becoming a manager but there he was on Sunday, inspiring his Mansfield team to give Liverpool a fright in the FA Cup. It must be a case of "don't do as I did, do as I say". It was quite a weekend for him, with getting married as well. Congratulations, Paul.
6. The nickname game
It was interesting to hear some Mansfield players were unhappy at the ref calling Liverpool players by their nicknames and Mansfield players by their numbers. I can tell them that happens at the top level too. I remember a certain ref when we played Manchester United with Sheffield United saying, "Giggsy, Scholesy, Sheffield No 6".
It wasn't a good match for the officials. I felt they should have spotted Luis Suarez's handball if only from his body language, the way he kicked the ball in it was obvious he expected the whistle to go. I don't think ESPN should have rapped Jon Champion over the knuckles for calling Suarez a cheat, commentators ought to be allowed to say what they feel at the time.
Another controversial decision was Demba Ba being booked for diving against Swansea. Are refs not being educated that there are occasions when a player goes down and it is not a dive and not a foul? I thought Ba was very unfortunate to be given offside too.
I imagine both Howard Webb, at Old Trafford, and Mike Dean, at the Emirates, will be hoping there won't be any contentious decisions tomorrow in what promises to be a fascinating afternoon's viewing. Howard's got the more difficult match, he'll have to try and strike the happy medium of letting the game flow without too many bookings while retaining control of a no-holds-barred match.
7. It must be catching
William's off school. He was sick on the bus on the way into school this week and is confined to bed.
Guess who's getting the blame? Yes, me. Apparently I must have been carrying this bug for weeks as the last time I was in Cornwall I left germs down there.
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