You started your coaching career in the youth system at Crewe Alexandra while still playing football with Bala Town in Wales before taking over as first team manager of Crewe in 2017. Was it always an ambition to work in first-team football as a manager?
“The crazy thing is that one day going into first team management was not something that I immediately gave much thought to.
“I first went into Crewe as a player in 2010 and I quickly realised that I had not been coached like I had been under Dario Gradi.
“Working with him was an education for me because he was the first manager who expected me to do more than just head it and kick it.
“He improved me as a footballer and opened my eyes to a different way of playing and to what it was like to be taught about the game.
“That made me realise that I wanted to start coaching and I was given that opportunity within the academy at Crewe and quickly caught the coaching bug.
“I wanted to give something back to the game and I started coaching the under 10’s side and that was an education.
“Things then progressed from there to becoming the academy manager at Crewe while still playing part-time at Bala.
“I was in charge of the academy audit and leading coaching and I knew then that I had an important input within the club.
“We had the 11th best academy in the whole country in terms of minutes on the pitch for players and overall player development which was an incredible achievement given our resources.
“Then, three years later, I was called in by the chairman of the club who said that we are making a managerial change and we want you to become our new first team manager.
“I was unsure at first when he asked because I had never thought about it but there were tell tale signs that I was highly regarded within the club because I was gradually being given more responsibility.
“I was asked to attend fans forums with the board and the manager of the first team which no academy manager had done before. I did not realise it at the time but they were preparing me for first team management.
“So, when I was offered the job, I had to speak to my wife and she encouraged me to go for it and before I knew it, I was the first team manager of Crewe Alexandra.”
How do you reflect back on your five years at Crewe Alexandra as first-team manager?
“I am very proud of my time as a manager because we achieved success as a collective.
“We won promotion from League Two with the third-lowest budget in the division then followed that up by finishing 12th with the lowest budget in the division.
“I believe that we played the best football in League Two at the time and then to follow that up with mid-table in League One after selling five players and losing our head of sports science meant a lot.
“I also did not have a head of recruitment or a chief scout at Crewe. I was doing all of that myself and eventually, you run out of development.
“The pandemic did not help with that as every club had to adapt and we had to restart our cycle again.
“Everyone knows that football works in cycles and that is what culminated in last season’s performance.
“That was a disappointment for me and for everyone but I am immensely proud to be the only person in 30 years or so to win promotion as a player and as a manager.
“I am also immensely grateful for the opportunity that I was given at Crewe and I have used the time since my departure to reflect on things and what I would do differently in future.”
What do you hope to achieve going forward as a manager?
“You need to believe in yourself and I know that I am a good coach and a good manager.
“When I receive an opportunity that is right for me, I will take it and do my utmost to succeed.
“I am open to working outwith England in other areas of the UK or abroad. I have turned down a few opportunities since leaving Crewe.
“This is the first time that I have been unemployed in my adult life at the age of 41. I am of the belief that I will get a feel for what is right for me next. When that is the case, I will carefully consider it with my wife and my children and go from there.
“It is important that the next opportunity has the right feel and is the right fit to give me the best chance to prove that I can be successful again because that is the ultimate aim of every football manager.”
You started your playing career at Rotherham United and won successive promotions from the old Division 3 to Division 1 with the club. What was it like to be part of such a successful side?
“I look back now and I realise that the club gave me a strong grounding on many fronts.
“You don’t realise how lucky you are at the time when you are in the moment to go from what is now League Two to the Championship so quickly. It takes some doing.
“So, to see and be a part of success like that in my first two years as a professional, which does not half help you in defining what success is.
“The ingredients of success are the same at all levels such as the will to win, a desire to work hard every day at training and maintaining high levels of professionalism.
“Those behaviours have to be exhibited to be successful at any level of the game,
“Knowing what it took to succeed so early in my career helped me take that attitude on to wherever I went next.”
You swapped Rotherham for Mansfield in 2003 and nearly win another promotion under Keith Curle. How did it feel to be on the other end of what playoffs and promotion can exhibit on a team?
“Whenever you lose in any game, it is tough to take but losing on penalties is even harder to take especially in a play-off final.
“You are left with feelings of what if which remain until this day. Liam Lawrence who missed the penalty for us was amazing in that season to get us to the final and I don’t think he has missed a penalty before that one.
“Getting so close but so far leads to a period of reflection which is difficult when your emotions are high. However, it is important to get over that as quickly as you can and face reality head on to go again.”
I have to ask you about your time at Chester City because you played under former Liverpool defender Mark Wright and with former Everton manager Roberto Martinez. What was it like to work with both of them at that time?
“We had a good team at that time initially under Keith Curle then under Mark Wright.
“We lost two of our key strikers in Jon Walters to Ipswich – who we lost out to in the FA Cup in round two – and Gregg Blundell to Darlington which changed things for us.
“We went on a poor run after losing them and Keith ended up leaving and Mark came in.
“He was different to Keith and it was a tough time at Chester in those days as the ownership were not running the club properly and it affected the manager.
“The chairman’s two sons were playing in the team which I doubt made things easy for the manager.
“However, we still had a core of good players like Roberto Martinez who I still speak to today. He has had an unbelievable career in management as we know.
“I am fortunate to have worked under Keith and Mark at Chester who both played for England and under Sammy McIlroy later in my career who was an international for Northern Ireland as a player and as a manager.
“The most important thing is to take what you can from these guys as well as remaining authentic to yourself and what you believe in particular when you enter coaching yourself.”
You played international football with Gibraltar. How proud a moment was that for you and your family?
“It was the pinnacle of my career. I was 34 when I was called into the team and probably over the hill in all honesty.
“However, it was an unbelievable opportunity for me and felt like a reward for being a dedicated professional in my career.
“International football felt quicker than what I was used to playing against at club level. The speed of thought meant that you had to be on top of things at all times. There were not many moments to rest.
“We played against Germany three months after they had just won the World Cup in 2014. They had just hammered Brazil 7-1 on their home patch at the World Cup and we had to go to Germany to play them.
“Imagine how we all felt at the prospect of rocking up in Nuremberg with our squad that contained a customs officer, a hospital porter and a police officer among others to take on their superstar players (laughs).
“At the hotel on the evening before, we thought it could be one long night. We lost 4-0 in the end and as strange as it sounds, that felt like a good result because we frustrated them for long periods of the game.
“We did the best that we could do and it is great to see Gibraltar making progress now. They won promotion in their nations league group last time around and had a team in the group stage of the Europa Conference League in Lincoln Red Imps.
“Football in Gibraltar is getting better and they are football mad. I loved every minute of playing for them and the passion is there to keep developing the game.”
Finally, David, I recently interviewed Lee Casciaro who was one of your teammates who is known for scoring the winning goal against Celtic in Brendan Rodgers’ first game in charge of the Glasgow club. I bet that he loved bringing that up with you?
“Lee was a policeman who did sea patrols across the region to monitor who was entering the country.
“Lee was one of the funniest guys that I ever met. However, it was difficult at times to get across what he was missing in terms of footballing professionalism as he was not a full-time footballer like myself or say Danny Higginbotham was.
“That is not me having a go at Lee or the other players because that was where they were on their journey in football as was the country as a whole. They had just been granted UEFA status and playing at such a level was new to the players and the nation.
“Things take time to develop and I have to say that the attitude of Lee and the other players was also refreshing in the sense that football was a love of theirs while they had other priorities in everyday life away from the game as well due to their circumstances of being part-time.
“Lee was definitely not shy in telling us about his goal against Celtic and Lincoln Red Imps famous win. We used to wind him up and say that Celtic were only back into pre-season and were rusty that night but he was insistent that they were better than Celtic that night and that is the reason they won, nothing else.
“It was a good laugh because he loves his football and the country is built on good people like Lee who have a passion for the game.”