Jim Bentley: Managing Morecambe

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If it wasn’t Morecambe, a club you love and were loved by, would you have gone into management so early?

I’d been there nine years. I’d been captain, but I was worried because I was out of contract. I thought I could still play, but if a new manager had come in, he could have seen me as a threat, or thought I was too old and moved me on. The chairman, Peter McGuigan, called me in and I was just expecting to discuss the position, thinking maybe he was going to pick my brains on who should come in.

The chat was an interview and that was it. It had been going around that I’d get it, but I always thought I had no experience and was too young. The fans wanted me to take over – they told me – but I never gave too much thought to it. The biggest thing was security. I could sense he was quite keen for me to do it and I was more than happy to accept it.

When did Jim Bentley the player start thinking about what Jim Bentley the manager would do?

All the time – it’s something I always wanted to do. I was one of them for the computer games and when I was about eight or nine, I played a game that came through the mail with a booklet. You would fill it in and make the changes you wanted then send it back. My dad was a manager and I could see how organised he was, no matter what level you’re at. He had a big Granada Estate which he went around and picked everyone up in. The day before he set off, he’d have his route organised, his starting XI was organised and he rung everyone up to make sure they knew.

It was always in me – my dad played professionally and I’ve always loved the game, and always wanted to be a player. Thankfully, I got that opportunity. While I was a player, Jim Harvey gave me opportunities to take a few teams, and I was club captain so anything that needed organising, I did it, whether it be lads’ holidays or nights out. The lads take the mick about when I write things on the board and there’s a spelling mistake, I rip it down and start again as I can’t abide the crossing out. I’ve always wanted to manage.

The transition from player to manager, how have you found it?

It’s been all right. I was helped by Sammy McIllroy asking me to take the reserves when their coach stepped down, which I was pleased to do. It gave me an insight into organisation and planning. The first six months of it, I was still with the lads in the dressing room, but the next season, I was in a different colour kit with the staff and Sammy said, “you get changed with us now.” I had that step over to the other side. Some people struggle with coming straight out of the dressing room into the manager’s office, so I like to think those 12 months put me in good stead on how and when to distance myself. As the reserve team coach, you have a foot in both camps, but a manager can’t.

Your first season was technically player/manager – how many did you play?

Never, and I hardly trained. I brought in a few players and there were a few ahead of me too. I was the type of player who had to push himself every day – I wasn’t naturally fit. I gave it a little go at the start, but I soon found out straight away I couldn’t push myself as it would have taken something away from the management.

My last appearance, as I always said it would be, was against Everton in my testimonial and in pre-season. They were my team and my dad’s team. Thankfully, I got on and scored, but while it was my day, I wouldn’t have done anyone any favours if I’d played as I wasn’t fit enough for our level, never mind a Premier League team. Lads needed to get fit, but I brought myself on for the last five minutes and went up front, out of trouble.

I was thankful to Tony Hibbert who asked me if I wanted to score and then backheeled me in. The keeper didn’t read the script and saved the first one, but thankfully, he was still scurrying across the box on the rebound. I had a split-second to think that it was going to be my last kick for Morecambe in front of the home end against my boyhood team, and I thought I had to just hit the back of the net! It was bobbling and I hadn’t been in that position for a long time, and I knew the ref was about to blow, so I got my head over the ball and it went in. It couldn’t have finished any better.

You’re the fifth longest-serving manager of all 92 clubs– is it fair to say you’re not a beginner anymore?

No, I’m not. It’s a strange career being a football manager. I’m the second youngest in League Two at 38 but I’ve been in the job for four years. In terms of experience, I’m second only to Paul Tisdale at Exeter, who’s second only to Arsene Wenger in the whole Football League. The life span of a managerial job is ridiculous and expectations weigh heavy. Boards have to be seen to be doing something about it and they hire and fire managers far too easily. I went from being a veteran to being a rookie, but now I’m experienced, and know this level inside out.

With the hiring and firing, is the appointment of someone like Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink a lost opportunity for young English managers or do you praise him coming down to his apprenticeship?

You want to see more up-and-coming English managers and there does seem to be more of them. Eddie Howe, who’s younger than me and doing a great job at Bournemouth, and Karl Robinson, who’s also younger than me is doing great. But frustrating when the big jobs come up and a big name or a big foreign name player gets the job and doesn’t succeed, and they have no experience.

I take my hat off to someone like Nigel Clough, who I played against at Burton Albion. He was a big name, especially with his dad, and he started with them and got them promoted before moving on to better things.

With Jimmy Floyd, he’s obviously played at the highest level, you’d think that when a big job comes up because of the size of his name, he might be tipped for it. It’s a total different way of life, playing and managing, and not everyone can do it as you’ve seen recently with Sami Hyypia at Brighton, and it didn’t work out.

I met Jimmy when we played them and he knew his stuff. He’s done his coaching badges and coached in different countries, and he’s taken on a job at our level to serve his apprenticeship. That  promotion will help him show he’s capable of doing the job and Burton will do well to keep hold of him. He will go on to bigger and better things, and to talk to him after our game was great. He didn’t turn up and have that big-headed attitude. He’d done his homework and knew everything about us, which was refreshing. I have heard stories in the past of bigger name managers not being bothered with it.

Is it stopping English managers getting work? That’s down to English managers. Even if Eddie Howe didn’t get Bournemouth up, there will be a Premier League club coming knocking for him. If MK Dons don’t go up, Karl Robinson will go to a Championship club. Everyone has to make their own path and their own way, and yes, there’s bigger names than us, including bigger foreign names, but if you’re good enough, you’ll get on.

You’ve got a great stadium, but what are the rest of your facilities like? 

We’ve got the second lowest attendance in the league and the biggest income is bums on seats. That’s your lifeblood. There comes a time when someone says I can’t keep throwing money at it and it has to run itself, and that’s why they built the new stadium. The old ground was open for 26 days a year for home games, but the Globe Arena is open for hospitality and weddings, and that’s starting to pay for the other side. It’s geared up for making money and that’s what we need.

We have a 3G pitch at the back of the ground, which we hire out to the public, but that’s not ideal for professional footballers. They play on grass and you have to get on grass. We’re not blessed with our own training ground. Not many clubs do – Burton train at St Georges, Bury train at Carrington. As a player, we used to train at Preston Sports Centre, and if you were signing players to move to the area, it wasn’t great travelling to Preston. It was a cost, so we did away with that. I believe the football club had to train in Morecambe. We looked at Lancaster University, but their pitches were more for rugby.

We ended up at Morecambe High School, with an area big enough for two pitches, two grids and a goalkeeper area. They had one pitch with drainage installed, so it was a case of improving it. When  we got there, it wasn’t fenced off and there was loads of kids playing on it. People took their dogs for a walk on it and there were barbecues all over it. Every time we went down to training, you had to check for cans and everything.

The biggest problem was dog poo. I couldn’t have players sliding through dog poo so every morning, me and the staff set up then scoured the area just to make sure there wasn’t any. I remember doing one session where a dog ran on the pitch and starting getting its teeth into the ball while we were trying to use it.

It’s not just that. We had a fella living in a tent in the corner of the ground for three or four days. He’d get out and watch us on a deckchair, then get back into his tent. It was weird.

We’ve had used condoms, bits of metal and glass. It only takes one person to have slid through that and the whole group would have downed tools. We were lucky we didn’t have anything like that. In time, the board and the fans did a lot of fundraising to get a big fence put around it. Kids can still get on it, but you can’t get a dog on it.

I remember doing a double session in pre-season, and we went back for lunch for an hour. When we got back, there was a 50-a-side on the pitch with bottles of Lucozade everywhere, with kids all over the place. You want your pitch in the best condition it can be, and you don’t want to 50 pairs of feet messing it up between sessions. You could go down there on a Monday and you could see where people had done quick feet or doggies on it, and we heard rumours Sunday league teams were training on it. The goals are left out, so kids are swinging on them or using the nets as a hammock. Luckily, we’ve got the fence and year on year it’s got better. We feel much better going on it. For me, that’s the biggest thing – it’s your office.

How do you scout?

I have myself, Ken McKenna, my assistant, and occasionally we send out  Stewart Drummond, our reserve team manager. But we don’t have a scouting system at the club – we don’t have a chief scout, or any scouts. I do it myself with Kenny by speaking to people in the game. We use the Scouting Network, with regards to our next opponents, and we use Wyscout. I’d love to have a chief scout but we can’t afford one. We’ve got one of the smallest budgets.

I have never spent money on a player. I’ve never gone to a club and offered x amount for this player. I’ve had clubs bid for my players  – Jack Redshaw being one. We had two £50,000 bids, two £100,000 bids and one £250,000 bid. That was great for me as I took him from non-league and nearly sold him for a quarter of a million quid. He turned down the move as he didn’t think it was right at this stage of career.

How did that work out for you? On the one hand, you want to look after the player, but on the other, £250,000 allows you to not just invest but build a team for promotion.

It’s tough. You can’t force out the player out the door because if it doesn’t happen, the relationship can sour. We’ve had bids in the past where I’ve advised players that it’s not the right club or manager for them. We’ve had bids where we’ve said to the player it’s not enough but the move is good for you. This move in particular was good for everyone as it was a League One club with a great record of developing young players and moving them on. But he didn’t want to move out of the area – I advised him that it was a good move, but if he didn’t want to go, then I’d be happy to have him back. If it happens, then it happens and you see where you can re-invest the money, on and off the pitch, but if it doesn’t, then you welcome the player back. You can’t spend money you don’t have.

Do you still do the day-to-day coaching and will you do it for all of your career?

Yeah – it’s not often I won’t be on the training ground. Sometimes I’ll leave it to Kenny, or the goalkeeper and fitness coach, but I do like to be in among it. I’ll delegate what I expect, but I like to get my hands dirty. I have a good relationship with Kenny, and we run our own departments. I always say what I want, they deliver and I watch over, but when I think I have to deliver it or there’s a certain aspect of play, I’ll step in a do it as well.

Are there times when you delegate that you still have to do everything?

I know as a player, when the manager is not there, the standard is a little bit lower than what it usually is, in everything that you do. The top managers like Jose Mourinho are there on the sidelines, watching what’s going on. I trust my staff and my players, but  everything seems to be better, whether it be 1% or 2% if the manager is there, and that can’t half make a difference.

How do you motivate?

We name the team on a Thursday and do our preparation on that morning, and then we’ll do what think we need to train on for the following game. Friday is prehab, which is about injury prevention before training again to make sure no stone is left unturned.

On match day, the lads are in at 1.30, latest and I’ll stay away from them. All our set-pieces and scenarios are up ready for them, including our ‘what if’ if we need to change. Then they’re getting their strapping done and the music is on. I might dip in and read the programme with them. The team sheet is in to the ref at 2pm, then it’s everyone sat down at 2.02pm. Then, the chat is ten minutes maximum before the warm-up starts at 2.15, and now I try to watch over them.

Some players like the arm around them and a quiet word. I always try to speak to the group, depending on what game is or the stage of the season we’re at. It might be a quiet word or a raised voice. I am loud – I like the music on, and I like the up-and-at-them mentality, though I can switch it.

I can be adaptable – the days of throwing tea cups and shouting all the time at the players doesn’t really get you anywhere. I have done that in the past, where I’ve brought players into the club and said win, lose or draw at half time in the last pre-season game, I’m going to launch into them so the new lads get on their toes for the big kick-off the following week. You need to have that adaptability from calm to aggressive in your approach, but to the right person.

I am motivated by success. Yes, I’m paid well, but if someone said to me do it for a hundred quid less, I would. I want promotion and to do it with a club of this size would be an unbelievable achievement. Every year they say we’ll finish in the bottom two, but over the last two years, we’ve just flirted with it, and we’ve had times at the top too.

My dad motivates me too – he’s my biggest influence. He died just before promotion so I’m motivated to make the family proud.

What constitutes career progression for Jim Bentley?

I want to manage at the top. If I could manage Everton, that’s my biggest ambition and dream in life. How do I get there? I continue to work hard and to try to learn. I take my courses, speak to people in the game and learn from my mistakes. The biggest thing is work hard and have belief in my own ability, which I have. 

I have a great relationship with the club and it’s been a perfect grounding because I’ve been there so long, with a great relationship and no great expectation so I have served an apprenticeship.

If we do have a sticky patch, the fans aren’t calling for my head, they get behind me. Would I leave to go and join someone in the same division for a few extra hundred quid, but I have to move my family away? Probably not, no. Would I do it with another club with better facilities who would give me money for better players? Possibly, but it would have to be right and I would only go anywhere if I had the Chairman’s blessing. 

You can follow Barrie White on Twitter (@barriewhite1980)

Jim Bentley: Managing Morecambe
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