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Reflecting on a successful playing career spanning over almost 20 years, Chesterfield Assistant Manager Tommy Wright revealed what he thinks makes a top manager, why young players don’t make it and shared his career highlights so far.
Wright, scorer of 86 goals in 455 professional appearances, was born into a family with an impressive background in football; his father, Tommy Snr, was a Scottish International, highly regarded at Sunderland and his uncle, Jackie Sinclair, spent a period on loan at Saltergate in 1973 from Sheffield Wednesday after a successful spell at Newcastle United.
With such a strong background in the sport, it was inevitable Wright would emulate his father’s achievements. Of his family’s influence on his career, Wright said: ‘To be fair I think sometimes it’s in the genes when you follow in your parents’ footsteps. I was never forced to play, but from the earliest stage possible I remember that’s all we did in Scotland.
‘It was basically football everyday, nine to five. It was something I just wanted to do.’
Wright’s passion for football continued to flourish, and he was spotted by Leeds United’s senior Scottish scout as a 16 year old, moving to Elland Road in 1982.
The 47 year old recalled his fortune in being at Leeds at a time when the Yorkshire club possessed so much young talent. ‘Fortunately I was at Leeds and we had a lot of young players who got in the team at the same time; John Sheridan, Denis Irwin, Scott Sellars, Neil Aspin, there were about four or five of us who got in in the space of a 12 month period.
‘We worked under a great manager in Eddie Gray, he gave us a chance and luckily enough I took the chance.’
The goal-scoring winger was handed his first team debut by Gray at the tender age of 17 in front of almost 25,000 at home to Fulham in 1983, and soon gained popularity amongst the fans at Elland Road as leading goal scorer in ’84 and ’85.
Wright attributed his desire and that of his dig-sharing young teammates, most notably John Sheridan and Denis Irwin, to breaking into the first team; an element which he believes has diminished slightly in the young players of today.
Having worked as youth team coach at Oldham during John Sheridan’s tenure at Boundary Park, Wright has a wealth of experience in dealing with the transition of youth players.
‘I think it’s a bit more easy now [for young players], we used to be treated a bit harsher at times and it was a bit more regimental; we had to do a lot more jobs.
‘Has the desire changed? Sometimes I think the desire maybe has changed, a lot of the young players I look at now don’t seem to have that desire.
‘The ones who do seem to have that desire like the Tendayi Darikwas and the Craig Clays are still playing professional football, that’s compliment to them, I do notice sometimes that the desire in younger players now is not as great as it was when I was younger.’
After a prolonged absence from Leeds side due to a hernia injury and the introduction of former captain Billy Bremner as manager following Gray’s controversial dismissal, Wright was sold to Oldham for what many considered to be a bargain £80,000 in 1986.
In what some may perceive to be a set back in a career, Wright recalled his delight in the interest from Oldham under manager Joe Royle, where other players from Leeds had been sold to as Bremner looked to build a team of more experienced players.
‘No it wasn’t really [a set back], I’d had a bad injury and sometimes as a player you can tell when you’re not wanted or rated. There were a couple of my friends who had gone that way, Andy Ritchie, Denis Irwin and Andy Linighan and they had a wonderful manager in Joe Royle’
‘It was an opportunity that came along and I wanted to be somewhere where I was wanted and Joe Royle made me very wanted, it was a good move for me.’
After a three year spell at Boundary Park, scoring 23 times in 112 appearances, Wright moved to Leicester during manager David Pleat’s tenure at Filbert Street. ‘I went to Leicester and I had a good time there. The first year I went there I didn’t do so well, it was difficult but the second season I came through and scored a lot of goals.
‘We just missed out on the play-offs at Wembley to go into the Premier League, but on the back of that I got a move to the Premier League with Middlesbrough.
‘I had good times at Leicester, they’re a fantastic club with fantastic support and I had a good relationship with the people there and I did enjoy my time there.’
Working under well respected managers – notably Gray, Royle and David Pleat, a manager he gave particular praise for having ‘a fantastic knowledge of football’ – Wright was able to discover what really makes a top manager, and interestingly claimed that the best are not necessarily those who played to a high level.
‘You look at the top managers in the world now and you take probably Guardiola and Capello out of that equation as they are the only two who have been top players.
‘It’s because they [top managers] had to educate themselves. They had to go there because they weren’t great players; they had to take the time to watch how people train and how people think, the psychology of football and the fitness of football.’
The desire to further educate himself has contributed to Wright’s own managerial ascent. ‘I think, over the last four or five years, I’ve really studied, I’ve worked extremely hard – obviously you have to get your coaching badges -but in other ways such as watching DVDs and reading books.
‘The best coaches now are probably the best educated coaches, not necessarily the best as players in their careers but they are the best educated.’
Wright has spent just under four years at Chesterfield since arriving with John Sheridan in 2009, and his stint at the club has delivered a league-winning promotion and a Wembley cup win, with another trip to Wembley in the play-offs still a slight possibility.