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Kevin Phillips happy to take the path less travelled in management

The former Sunderland striker took his first job in the seventh tier of English football.

Damian Spellman
Friday 16 February 2024 09:00 GMT
Former South Shields manager Kevin Phillips is now in charge at National League Hartlepool (Will Matthews/PA)
Former South Shields manager Kevin Phillips is now in charge at National League Hartlepool (Will Matthews/PA) (PA Archive)

Kevin Phillips has no regrets about launching his managerial career away from the limelight in which contemporaries Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney have operated.

The former England striker is currently in charge at National League Hartlepool having started in the seventh tier of the pyramid with South Shields, whereas Lampard and Rooney were both handed their first big chance in the Sky Bet Championship by Derby and Gerrard took up the reins at Scottish giants Rangers.

Phillips had expressed frustration in the past about the lack of opportunities which came his way as he looked for a first managerial job but has sympathy for Lampard, who is out of work after bruising spells at Chelsea and Everton; Rooney, sacked by Birmingham after less than three months; and Gerrard, currently rebuilding his career in Saudi Arabia after being ditched by Aston Villa.

The 50-year-old told the PA news agency: “When you go to that level, you’re so scrutinised. If you don’t get it right straight away, the media are on you. I’m not saying we don’t have that here, but it’s not Championship, it’s not Premier League.

“There’s still pressure, don’t get me wrong, because you still need to win football matches no matter where you are – and don’t forget, those guys are high-profile names.

“I think if you asked Wayne Rooney what went wrong at Birmingham, he’d probably say, ‘I don’t know’. He tried everything, he had good players, it’s just one of those things.

“Frank did well when he went in at Derby first, and so did Rooney, keeping them in the league. It can be tough. I just think you’re more scrutinised.”

If you get offered a big job, it's hard to turn down, I would imagine.

Kevin Phillips

Phillips, who had worked in coaching roles at Leicester, Derby and Stoke, was unsuccessful after putting himself forward for the Sunderland job after Phil Parkinson departed in 2020, and ultimately took his first step on the ladder at South Shields.

Asked if he would rather have travelled a similar path to the likes of Lampard, Gerrard and Rooney, he said: “It’s always a difficult one, isn’t it, because if you get offered a big job, it’s hard to turn down, I would imagine.

“That’s a question for those guys, but I’ve certainly enjoyed the route that I’ve come.

“I suppose it was a slight gamble going in at South Shields because if it hadn’t worked out, you could probably say that my managerial career would have finished there and then.”

Phillips, who guided the Mariners into the National League North at the first attempt but left by mutual consent weeks later, took on the challenge of attempting to drag Hartlepool back into the Football League last month.

He continues to learn on the job, and some of the lessons are difficult.

He said: “The hardest thing as a manager is leaving a player out. I’ve heard (Manchester City boss) Pep Guardiola saying it.

“We’re human beings. When you have to tell a player at the end of the week, ‘You’re not playing’, it’s hard to see the disappointment in their face.

“I’ve had to learn very quickly to deal with that and there’s a way of doing it, but for me, no matter how you address it or how you try to get round it, it’s still the toughest thing to do.”

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