Steve Morison has stepped up from a very successful Under-23 side and has managed to instil some of the academy methods with some success. You played with Steve for Wales. How did you find playing with him and was he someone you expected to move in to coaching and management?
I played with Steve and liked him. I thought he was very honest and a nice person that would always ask for advice. I remember when he was going to move to Norwich, he called me and asked me what I thought. He was very respectful and was an honest, hard-working pro. In terms of coaching, you never know. I actually spent a bit of time with him recently. He came around mine and I had a good conversation with him. One thing I really like is that he’s got a great work ethic and wants to succeed. You’ve got to have that if you want to be successful. He’s inexperienced and people worry about that, but I never do. You only get experience when you’re given an opportunity and sometimes they’re better because they’re fresh, and not bitter! He’s probably surprised he got given the opportunity and probably wouldn’t have got that opportunity with anyone else. It’s up to him to make the most of it. Avoid relegation this year, and it’s going to be a battle. For me, for the club to be successful, I think there’s going to be a bit of pain first. If you do it right, you’ll come back stronger and won’t look back.
I’ve sat in on a few of Steve’s press conferences and spent a bit of time in the company of Neil Harris. They both share certain similar qualities. They both have a fierce work etic and want to make a name for themselves, but the flip side of that is that they can be thin-skinned and that feels like a modern manager trait. They seem to take criticism to heart and get a little bit chippy in response, when you have to and need to take ownership of your mistakes.
I think players that have played at the very highest level understand it. When I was at Liverpool, they have like 500 million fans worldwide. They’re a monster. West Ham, Newcastle, massive clubs. Some of them have four or five newspapers writing about them. At Newcastle, there are radio stations talking about them every fucking night! Criticism is normal and you’re going to get it, but it’s all noise. Your highs will be high and your lows will be low, but you’ve got to find a middle ground. People see the game differently, but that is the beauty of the game. We’re not all right and we’re not all wrong. You’re lucky to be involved in this game, but you have to enjoy it. Don’t believe the hype and don’t believe the drama.
Steve wasn’t expected to get the job and Mehmet Dalman stated as much at the time, but he filled in and made the most of his opportunity. It feels like he has followed the pathway that was once in place for you. Was the plan for you to eventually work your way up the ranks?
I never looked at it that way and it was never spoken about in those terms. I wanted to find out more about me. If it was something I could do and something I would enjoy. I love this game and always want to be involved in it, but I’m not a politician and I despise the politics of football. I always want to be as honest as I can and if I’m wrong, I’ll be the first one to tell you I’m wrong. It’s not my way or the highway though. If you’ve got a view, I want to hear it and if I think it’s correct, I will tell you. I’ve only once come close to taking a job and that was at Oxford. I backed out at the last minute because I was 50/50 and I need to be more sure than that. I still had more to learn and I could have learned on the job and got away with it, but I thought that my shortcomings would come back to bite me.
It was too early in my coaching development and I was lucky enough to see that. If I do something, I want to do it for a long time and be successful at it. In order for that to happen, the structure has to be in place because I’m a rookie. I learned a lot at Anderlecht because I’ve seen a club in a massive financial mess. That’s why Vinny went there. He loved buying players that no one knew and getting rid of the players that cost a lot. They finished third last season with the youngest team in the league. That’s exciting. I watched him restructure the club and make the money count because he’s got a business degree and he’s not your normal footballer. He audited his own club, so watching that, I realised that’s what I want.
I guess the reason Vincent was afforded that amount of control is because he’s a club legend and I think one of the main reasons why people want you back at Cardiff in some capacity is because they need that sort of overhaul and you may be the only one equipped with the respect and authority to do that.
You’re only ever afforded so much control and patience! Vinny got so much stick and there was uproar at times. They will still boo you at home for not winning. It was a mess and there was so much unrest, but the club really connected with the supporters. They brought them on board and let them know what was happening. Once the fans know and are kept in the loop, they will give you time. They want to know where the club is going and if you give them the big picture, they will put up with anything. I watched the Anderlecht game yesterday and the fans were singing Vinny’s name because they know he hasn’t got any money, but he’s playing the way they expect to play.
To finish, looking ahead, do you have any plans? Are you keen to remain close by and is your aim to continue coaching, have a crack at managing or even try being a Director of Football?
I still have the option to go back to Anderlecht. I had a conversation with them two days ago and they were trying to get me to go back there. I have a huge affection for Vinny and learned so much from him. In football terms, it feels strange to be anywhere without him. How do you leave someone that’s great?! To be honest, I haven’t thought about much apart from being a father and this is the happiest I’ve been in a while.
Football is amazing for me and we’ve just talked about football for two hours! The way my brain works and the stuff I can remember, that’s my gift. My curse is all the other stuff, so it works both ways. I needed to get my wellbeing back. I know people get concerned, but I was completely fine. I wasn’t about to jump off a bridge. There are levels to people’s happiness, but I became unhappy at being alone. I was missing my children and you can do pictures or Facetime, but it’s not the same.
I’m a very loving person and people think that’s insane because of the way I was as a player, but ask the players and managers I’ve worked with and they’ll tell you how much I care. If you give me everything, I will love you to death, but if you cut corners or drag everyone else down, I will distance myself from you. If you caught me when I was out in my younger days, I didn’t care. I rarely went out and I always felt like everyone was looking at me, so I would get drunk because I couldn’t handle it. If you were rude to me, I would be rude back, but if I’m rude, I’m the bad guy.
Very few people know me, but being back home and allowing myself the chance to breathe and being around the people that are the most important to me makes me happy. As much as I love football, that is more important to me. I’ve been beyond lucky to find something I love, from a young age and to actually be OK at it. Not many people get that opportunity. There are times when its not easy and I’m not used to having as my time on my hands as I do now, but I made the right decision.