Select Page

The new season is getting ever closer and, for a number of former Wolves players, that means fresh and exciting challenges in the world of coaching and management.  And that particularly includes a quartet who once played together across the back four.

*

The Molineux fixture between Wolves and Queens Park Rangers on March 22nd, 2008, isn’t one that fans would readily remember.

And that’s even though it finished in an entertaining 3-3 draw thanks to Andy Keogh’s 95th minute equaliser.

Wolves went on to miss out on the play-offs by just one goal of goal difference – the title triumph would come a year later – and QPR finished 14th.

But within the back four selected by Mick McCarthy that day, now lies a quartet of coaches and managers heading into a big season on the next stage of their respective post-playing careers.

Because lining up in front of Wayne Hennessey that day, from right to left, were Kevin Foley, Rob Edwards, Neill Collins and George Elokobi.

Edwards is now heading into his first Premier League season as a Head Coach with Luton, and Foley, his first as transitional coach at the same club, back where he came through the academy and won the Young Player of the Year award three years in succession.

Talking of transition, Elokobi is preparing for his first full season aiming to change the fortunes of a Maidstone side who have been on something of a downward spiral, whilst Collins, after just over five successful years as Head Coach of Tampa Bay Rowdies in America, has landed his first opportunity back in England with League One promotion-chasers Barnsley.

Four different defenders. Four different challenges. But four characters who will certainly relish what lies in store.

Of course, every aspiring coach and manager will have taken parts from their own former bosses to take into their roles, utilising experiences – good or bad – as part of shaping their own respective approaches.

That so many, including that quartet, speak so fondly of the time spent and knowledge gained under McCarthy and his Wolves coach Terry Connor, suggests it is no coincidence that such a substantial group from that era have stayed in the game in various capacities.

Some, including ex-captain Karl Henry, are just setting off on their journeys, in his case in implementing a possession-based style of play at grass roots levels within the junior set-up at Boldmere St Michaels and his own Academy.

“I think it can happen with certain groups of players, where a lot of them go into coaching and management,” says Henry.

“With the type of players that Mick McCarthy recruited, there was a certain mentality and the leadership qualities among the players who wanted to try and affect things for the better – and would back themselves to do so.

“There were a lot of strong characters, and Mick was never afraid to bring players in who had something to say.

“While the kind of players Mick recruited was one thing – on the other side was the influence of Mick and ‘TC’ themselves.

“I look back on all my different managers and coaches and I took a lot from them but Mick had the biggest impact on my career.

“Mick and TC were both good people, first and foremost, and Mick was also a force to be reckoned with.

“He was such a presence that his coaching style and his man management was always going to have an impact.

“Some might have felt Mick ruled with an iron fist, and I remember some older players coming to us from different clubs who felt there was little room to manoeuvre!

“But we were all ok with that, and I am sure a lot of the values that Mick showed will be reflected on those managers and coaches who worked under him who are now coming to the fore.”

The roll call of those from the McCarthy era – both before and after the Championship title – who are now aiming to make their mark, is considerable.

On top of the aforementioned quartet, Henry’s former midfield partner David Jones is well into an exciting challenge as coach at Wrexham, Matt Hill is heading into a third season as manager of Stafford Rangers, Christophe Berra is between jobs having been coaching at Livingston, Roger Johnson was boss at Brackley Town last season, Andrew Surman is working at Bournemouth’s Academy, Richard Stearman has his badges ready for when he eventually hangs up his boots.

The list goes on.  Stephen Ward has recently been appointed Director of Football at Solihull Moors, Keogh is Head of Recruitment in Australia with Perth Glory, and so many others have stayed in the game whether as agents or within the media.  

But what of the man himself? Or more the point, manager. Could he ever have envisaged that so many under his charge at Molineux would have the appetite to try and follow in his footsteps? Is there a sense of pride that some have spoken about using what they learned from working under him?

“Well that’s nice to hear,” says McCarthy, a manager with over 1000 games under his belt at club and international level.

“I think we all take bits from managers and coaches we worked with – and probably sack some bits off as well – I’m not sure which bits of me they have all sacked off!

“Whether I have influenced them I don’t know, but all those lads – Rob, Neill, George, Foles, Karl – all of them, they had a character and work ethic where they wanted to succeed.

“I put the rules and standards down but they all adhered to them, there was a strict regime in terms of how we trained and what we did so it was the dog wagging the tail and not the other way around.

“But that was all about doing things properly, wearing shin pads in training, timekeeping, doing everything right, but also doing it with a smile on our faces as well.

“There was a period of time, when we were struggling in the Premier League, when it got a bit too much – we were crossing every ‘t’, dotting every ‘I’, and being a bit of a pain in the arse!

“Was it bad management to get too intense? Or good management to recognise it and change? A bit of both probably.

“Those lads though, they bought into everything, they were proper good lads, and they all ended up improving themselves and being better than they were.”

One player from the McCarthy era who hasn’t gone on to coaching – at least at professional level – is Jody Craddock, who also skippered the team prior to Henry taking the armband.

Craddock was actually a very early substitute in that six-goal draw with QPR, replacing the injured Edwards, for whom it would prove his 111th and final Wolves appearance.

He too sees plenty of managerial qualities in those Wolves defenders that he lined up with.

“To be a coach or manager I think you need a good understanding of the game, which comes with experience, but it’s also about you how interact with players,” says Craddock, who ‘went with my heart’ when deciding to pursue a career in art rather than coaching after hanging up his boots.

“So much more goes into it than just, ‘this is how I want to play’ – you need a good rapport with players to get them to play for you and need to be a good communicator in presenting what you want to say.

“Those lads were all good lads who got on well with everyone, and they also forged careers from playing at different levels, which gives them that experience and understanding of what needs to be done.

“They were lads who took everything they were told on board and got on with it, but were always confident to speak up and say what needed to be said.

“It doesn’t surprise me that these boys have gone on to do what they are doing in coaching and management – that’s the type of people they are.”

Craddock has spent over a decade coaching in junior football with teams involving his sons Joseph, Luke and Toby, and is actually now – for the first time – preparing for a role at adult level as Luke’s Dudley Kingswinford side heading into the West Midlands League.

There is always plenty of preparation to be delivered, whatever the status, and, returning to those moving into such major new challenges, Edwards probably sits at the top of that particular tree.

His crack at the Premier League is very well deserved.  As a young coach he effectively worked on a voluntary basis with Manchester City, shadowing the staff and learning within the Academy, later enjoying spells with Wolves Academy as Under-18 and Under-23 boss having, in between, operated as first team coach under Kenny Jackett, Walter Zenga and Paul Lambert.

“We all need that backing and encouragement when we start, and opportunity,” said Jackett, who first promoted Edwards to the senior ranks.

“You see something in someone and back them and encourage them, and Rob certainly took his chance.”

Edwards actually had two games in caretaker charge at Wolves, and would later work both for AFC Telford and within the England junior set-up, before finally landing a break with Forest Green, leading them to the League Two title.

He then moved to Watford where he was barely given a chance, dismissed after just ten league games, restarting at Luton shortly afterwards and, rather ironically as it turned out, leading them to Championship play-off glory.

“I remember playing against Rob’s Forest Green team in a friendly when I was at Cardiff,” says McCarthy.

“We beat them but only because we had better players – Rob had got them extremely well drilled and well coached and they went on to get promoted that season.

“Watford must be kicking themselves now, letting him go and he then ends up with the unpopular near neighbours and gets promoted to the Premier League.

“Of course, he is now going into a situation where the disparity in budgets is even bigger than when I was with Wolves and Sunderland in the top division, but it’s a great achievement and a challenge I am sure he is looking forward to.”

“What a job Rob has done,” adds Craddock.

“The Championship is one seriously tough division, but he clearly has a fantastic relationship with his players and now they will take that into the Premier League.”

“What Rob did so well was to go into a team that was firing and doing well, and not changing too much,” Henry insists.

“You see plenty of managers go in and want to change things in those situations but Rob has put his stamp on it in a measured way and made the most of an opportunity which he really deserved.”

Henry is also delighted to see close pal Foley, who had previously worked as assistant to Collins with the Rowdies, returning to Luton to work as a transitional coach helping young players bridge the gap between the Academy and first team.

“To be at a club where he came through as a young player is massive for Foles, and he gets on really well with Rob, so to go back with Luton in the Premier League is a dream come true,” says Henry.

Having returned from America 18 months ago, Foley had helped assist Edwards at Forest Green on a voluntary basis and Johnson at Brackley Town, but joining the Hatters was one of several opportunities he was suddenly presented with.

And Collins’ arrival in Barnsley is also the result of having been considered for other EFL jobs in very recent history.

He has also very much earnt his chance after over five successful years in Tampa Bay, including winning the Eastern Championship and having the Rowdies consistently challenging for honours throughout recent seasons.

McCarthy first signed Collins for Sunderland having spotted him at Dumbarton, then taking him to Wolves, and is now hoping he proves a shrewd appointment for his own home-town club where he launched his career.

“I remember first seeing Neill play for Dumbarton, and from the start I said I’d take him,” says McCarthy.

“He is one, like so many of those Wolves lads, who has made the very best of himself and gone on to have a great career.

“I was in Sarasota a few weeks ago, not far from where Neill was, and it’s a lovely place.

“He has been successful there, he was popular, had a lovely lifestyle but was prepared to give all that up to come and try and take Barnsley into the Championship.

“For me that’s quite a big sacrifice, but at the same time it says a lot about him and what he wants to do to progress his career.

“You have to make those sacrifices, and Barnsley is a great opportunity for Neill if he can build on what Michael Duff did last year.”

Elokobi’s challenge meanwhile, is stark.

Just as he was at Wolves, Elokobi was a popular and successful figure as a player at Maidstone, and having started coaching within their youth ranks, he landed the manager’s position back in March but was unable to avert a seemingly unstoppable slide out of the National League.

With a pre-season behind him, and the chance to reshape the squad, the former Wolves defender will be looking for better times ahead in National League South.

“From speaking to George, I know there was a lot he felt he could improve, and he will certainly back himself to do that,” adds Henry.

“He will have been working hard during the summer to get his team together and focus on a plan, to make sure everybody can hit the ground running when they get started.”

In terms of getting started, the four Molineux musketeers, and all of those with a former Wolves influence, will be eager to get going in whatever footballing roles they pursue, with the support of former team-mates and coaches.

“I wish them all well,” says McCarthy, who knows that start-of-season buzz of excitement all too well.

And so too Henry, still in close touch with so many of those former team-mates, and willing them on from the outside.

The example of all of those now looking to continue to make a living within football, is that there are so many different pathways available to reach a goal. One size certainly doesn’t fit all.

“There are so many different routes in coaching in the same way as there are so many different philosophies,” says Henry.

“Everybody’s journeys are shaped by different factors and circumstances whether that be financial, families, geographical location, the nature of an opportunity.

“So much goes into it, and so while there are always going to be similarities, no two coaches travel on the same journeys.

“One thing is for sure, there is a lot of ambition in that group of former Wolves players, which is great to see, and I’m really excited to see what happens.

“And this time of year is also exciting isn’t it?  That build-up towards a new season.

“Everybody is doing the same thing at this time of year – coaches, players, we all do it – looking at the gains that can be made and thinking ‘this is going to be our season’.

“With all the pre-season preparations, the recruitment, the training, pre-season trips, friendlies – it’s all about trying to make gains and all with the anticipation of hitting the ground running in that first game of the season.

“What I have learned in grass roots football, is that the lower down the system you go, the bigger the gains you can make, whereas in the Premier League you are looking for the much smaller gains that can still make a difference.

“But that buzz around pre-season, and fans as well, wondering what is going to happen, is another factor that makes football great and gets everyone excited as another season comes into view.”

For Edwards, Foley, Collins and Elokobi – and all those other Wolves alumni in their many different roles – there is not too long to go now.  Just over a couple of weeks for the EFL and National League, another week on top for the Prem.

So many preparations, so much work, so many dreams, all on the line once again.

Let the games begin!