by Andy Robinson

If I had a fiver for every time I have heard a coach or a manager utter the words “nothing compares to being a player” or “I really miss the banter of the lads in the dressing room” then  I would be a rich man. So, after a season of listening to all 20 – actually 25 if we include the ones who have been sacked for being rubbish – of our Premiership managers moaning about refereeing decisions or a lack of investment from their chairman I have decided to cater to their greatest wish. With one wave of my magic wand I am sending each and every one of them back 10, 15, 20 years to their playing days; or in one case 44 years back to the summer of 69 when he was at his physical peak. Say hello to the 21st team in the Premiership; The Managers XI.

In goal we have got Nigel Adkins. Not many keepers turn into football managers – the only other one I can think of was the 1990’s flavour of the month Mike Walker (Norwich and Everton) so Nigel gets in by default. A fairly unremarkable career in the lower leagues first for his hometown club Tranmere Rovers and then Wigan Athletic until a back injury ended his career.

Full Backs. Now we are talking and we have a really good pair here. Not quite Ibramovic and Cashley or Zabaleta and Clichy but not far off. On the right is Chelsea legend Steve Clarke who was voted in to the Chelsea fans all time Centenary 11.  An FA Cup Winner and European Cup Winners Cup winner and probably the only player who went from the average era at Chelsea to share in the early days of their recent glory.  My only surprise is that he only got 6 caps for Scotland. On the left is Chris Hughton. The first black player for Ireland for whom he won 53 caps and played at the Euros in 1988 and another FA Cup Winner and a EUFA Cup winner. Probably a better player than his counterpart on the right and certainly better than any of the three left-backs I have seen at Spurs this season.

Centre Backs. Well due to limited numbers we have one good and one both bad and ugly. The decent one is Mauricio Pochettino. As Guillam Ballague once memorably  said – “Argentinian defenders, every Premiership side should have one”. A career beginning with Newells Old Boys led to stints in Europe with Espanol and PSG. This is the defender who little Mickey Owen ran into to gain England the most dubious of penalties in the 2002 World Cup game in Sapporo, Japan. He went on to win 20 caps for Argentina. Mauricio does though have his work cut out as his partner in central defence is Big Sam Alladyce. Peter Reid, Fat Sam’s best mate in football once said Alladyce couldn’t do more than 10 “keepy uppies” or trap a bag of cement. Rugged, slow and brutal he gets in the side on account of playing more games at the top level than David Moyes, another rugged, slow and brutal centre half but at a lower level and I once saw Fat Sam score a blinding header for Bolton on “The Big Match”.  Whoever gets to manage this side would I imagine hope that the next manager’s job that becomes vacant is filled by Gareth Southgate.

Holding Midfield.  It’s back to the Eighties for the first one and the very much forgotten playing career of Martin Jol. A journeyman career in Holland with Den Haag and Twente Enchede in Holland came to life when he moved to England, mainly with West Brom but also for a short time at Coventry where apparently he used to kick a very young Stuart Pearce all over the training ground. On his return to Holland in his later career and back at Den Haag he managed to win himself the Dutch Footballer of the Year award and three caps for his country. His partner is the very impressive Paul Lambert. A 20 year career where the highlight must be becoming the first British player to win a Champions League Winners medal for Borussia Dortmund. In the semi-finals he didn’t give Roy Keane a kick and this was followed up in the final where Zidane never got much of a look in either. In his first season back in Britain with Celtic he helped them to the Scottish title ending a run of 9 straight title wins for Rangers. He also captained the Scots on 15 occasions.

Attacking Midfield. An unusual choice for the starting birth on the right side but I have gone for Harry Redknapp. My memory has played tricks with me here because I had always thought he was part of West Ham’s famous Cup Winners cup winning side but he wasn’t – his career began the following season. The late sixties and early 70’s were graced with talented, fast, skillful wingers such as Charlie Cooke, Eddie Gray and Mike Summerbee. Harry though was ahead of his time and got by with persistence and a quality to his passing and crossing. Someone at West Ham was providing the service for Clyde Best and Sir Geoff Hurst at Upton Park and it was Harry. The fact that he isn’t Paolo Di Canio and the arrival in the post this morning of a strange brown envelope with cash in gets him the gig. Imagine if you will a downgrade from James Milner.

On the opposite side to Harry we have one of Europe’s greatest ever in Michael Laudrup. Word on the street is that even now he is the best footballer at Swansea’s training ground. A European Cup Winner for Barcelona and the star of Cruyff’s “Dream Team”, a title winner with Juventus and Real Madrid and Ajax, the greatest Danish player who ever lived and one of two players in this side to be called “Sir”. Denmark also have a monarchy and he is in fact “titled”. The only dark cloud in such an illustrious career was his two years in the International wilderness after falling out with the Danish manager Richard Nielson. Sods law meant this coincided with Denmarks dramatic victory at the Euro’s in 1992.

Playing just behind the striker and the second jewel in the crown is Roberto Mancini. Over 200 goals in Serie A and 36 caps during one of the great periods of Italian Football where his contempories included Baggio and Vialli and then in his later career Totti and Del Piero. As a player he was a manager’s worst nightmare and only Sven apparently could keep him in check. Souness said as a kid Roberto didn’t listen to anybody and he had training ground bust ups with amongst others Trevor Francis and Juan Sebastian Veron. Roberto at one point had so much power at Sampdoria he was involved at boardroom level in discussions over player’s contracts and potential transfer targets.

Striker. The second “Sir” in the side is Alex Ferguson. A career spent entirely in Scotland but this was when Scottish Football was if not exactly a power certainly held in high esteem. Two Second Division titles as a player with St Johnstone and Falkirk were little reward for a career which saw 171 Goals in only 317 games for six clubs. He never managed a full cap for Scotland but since the International retirement of Ally McCoist not one Scottish International forward has been fit to lace his boots as a goalscorer.  All of course, depending on him staying on the pitch. He was sent off 9 times as a player. No surprises there then.

Looking through this side now and I remember all of them as players it’s a pretty decent side. Better than Everton maybe and a possible run at the Champions League places wouldn’t be out of the question or a trophy. Unusually I have decided on joint coaches to take charge of the side and I have gone for Arsene with his 56 appearances for FC Mulhouse in the French Fourth Divison and Benitez who was a winner of the Tercera Divison; Spain’s Division Four with Real Madrid’s Reserve side in 1981. I couldn’t deny either of them the opportunity of dragging Taggert off at half time when he is having a stinker or fining him his £45 wages for another sending off now could I.