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Sheridan primed for toughest job yet

Former Ireland star won't take any prisoners as he attempts to steer Chesterfield to safety


John Sheridan is back at Chesterfield for his second spell as manager, and his immediate task is to ensure that they remain in the National League

John Sheridan is back at Chesterfield for his second spell as manager, and his immediate task is to ensure that they remain in the National League

John Sheridan is back at Chesterfield for his second spell as manager, and his immediate task is to ensure that they remain in the National League

At the turn of the century, their club on the brink of collapse as a result of financial mismanagement and broken dreams, Chesterfield FC received a call out of the club from former Republic of Ireland manager Jack Charlton.

As ever, Jack was straight to the point. "He had heard we were in trouble and wanted to help," club director John Croot recalled this week. "He rang the club switchboard and offered to do a dinner for nothing to raise some funds, which he did. He said he always remembered his time at Saltergate with great affection and he had very fond memories of the club."

When they were young boys, Big Jack and his younger brother Bobby were frequent visitors to the old Chesterfield ground, which was in the heart of the Derbyshire town centre, not far from the wonky spire which adorns the club shirt now.

Their uncles, Gordon and Stan Milburn, joined Chesterfield when the boys were still at school and their mother Cissie would often put them on a bus to the town so they could spend time training at a professional club, or at least enjoy kickabouts in the Saltergate goalmouths wearing the outsized first-team kits.

Today the finances of Chesterfield are much more secure, thanks to local businessman Dave Allen, but the team is in trouble. Big trouble. Relegated from the Football League last season, they are third from bottom of the National League and heading straight into the abyss of the National League North, where former league clubs like York City, Stockport County and Darlington have lingered for longer than they would like.

The saviour is a former Ireland international and a Big Jack recruit, who played every game in USA '94 and has since had a long and varied managerial career. John Sheridan is back in town. And Chesterfield are starting to believe again.

A delightful footballer, who caressed the ball like a mother with a new-born baby, Sheridan played more than 200 games for Leeds United and had a very brief spell as a Nottingham Forest player with Brian Clough before joining Sheffield Wednesday 1989 and notching another double-century of appearances.

He played 34 times for Ireland, the last in Charlton's final game in charge, the Euro '96 play-off defeat to Holland at Anfield. He was 31 when he was retired from international football under successor and former team-mate Mick McCarthy, although he still had more than 200 games to play for Wednesday, Birmingham City, Bolton Wanderers, Doncaster Rovers and Oldham Athletic.

Like Chesterfield, Oldham has become a recurring theme in management for Stretford-born Sheridan, who is now 54. After a couple of spells as their caretaker, he was eventually appointed full-time manager at Boundary Park in 2006 and lasted three seasons.

After spending a similar amount of time at Chesterfield and Plymouth Argyle, he has briefly managed - or extinguished fires at - Newport County, Notts County, Fleetwood Town and Carlisle United. He has been back to Oldham Athletic twice and now returns to Chesterfield following a surprise exit from Carlisle just after Christmas.

He has enjoyed considerable success with Chesterfield, taking them to the League Two title and the Football League Trophy win at Wembley in 2012, a season after the club had been forced to abandon Saltergate and move a short distance to their new home, the £13 million 10,000-seater Proact Stadium, as it is currently known.

However, after a difficult start to the season in League One, Sheridan was relieved of his duties. Since leading Plymouth Argyle to the play-offs four years ago, he has had the short-term jobs, with some degree of success, often without being paid.

Twenty-four hours before his re-introduction to the Derbyshire media this week, Carlisle United also held a press conference. David Holdsworth, the former Watford player, brother of ex-Wimbledon striker Dean and now their director of football, said he would not talk about Sheridan's hasty and unexpected exit. And then did exactly the opposite.

Carlisle, who appointed Sheridan as Keith Curle's successor last summer, had just won five on the spin and were making a rare appearance in the play-off places. But there were clearly problems. A disagreement between boss and board over finances and recruitment. Stories of a row with players, and particularly a heated disagreement between Sheridan and captain Danny Grainger during Carlisle's recent 6-0 win against Oldham Athletic.

Holdsworth said: "I am not prepared to go into what John felt because that is private, but certainly we conducted ourselves extremely well.

"Every manager has a man-management style. Some want to bark, some want to give you a cuddle. There is a balance sometimes. We know what went on but the players had our full support as always.

"John will never change. He is a very demanding man and demands a lot from players, so we got that and we would not want to change that with anybody. Yet the management style with the modern-day footballer has to be different to where we were before. We are happy with the players, and the way they have responded to John's departure shows they like playing for our club."

Official press conference over, local TV and newspaper interviews done, along with the customary scarf-holding pictures on the pitch, John Sheridan returns to the bar in the Proact with its montage of images of the club's great players and moments. His Football League Trophy triumph features heavily.

Sheridan and his chairman have referenced his "demanding nature" several times over the last hour. There is no apology for it and never will be.

Sheridan, who came on as a substitute against Italy in the 1990 World Cup quarter-final defeat, said: "The best manager I played under made me a better player by being demanding, and that was Ron Atkinson. Big Jack was exactly the same. They knew when to relax, when to have a laugh and a joke but you always knew what was expected when you went on to that pitch.

"If you were not doing your job, they would tell you. Jack was hard as nails and if you didn't listen to him or Maurice (Setters), you would not be playing in the team, and that was genuine. He was always straight with that so you understood you had to do your job or he wouldn't pick you.

"Jack did brilliantly for Ireland and I don't think there was a better time to play for them. He was as honest as the day is long but it helped that he had some brilliant players in that team too.

"Luckily, I played at a high level with good players and I have managed at a lower level but I would like to think the standards are the same. I want players to demand of each other because if you do that, you will win more games.

"Unfortunately, you don't get those type of players anymore. We used to have five or six lads in every team who would shout more than the manager and get in lads' faces demanding performances if their team-mates were falling short.

"I do understand that you cannot manage in the game like you did years ago, but I played with big demanding characters like Mick (McCarthy), who has had to adapt over the years as a manager and it is no great surprise that he is well known for his man-management skills, is it?

"He has achieved that wherever he has been and he knows how to handle players and get the best out of them. I think managers like myself and Mick know that you can't do the things you did years ago but there are certain ways you can still get your message across.

"Hopefully players understand it a bit more too, and realise you are not picking on them just because they hear your voice so much.

"Unfortunately, you do hear managers a lot more now because not a lot of players talk on the pitch, so that has changed. The game is quiet, but good managers adapt. That's the way I manage it anyway. I might be wrong.

"All players are different and with Jack and Ron, they knew what you were good at and expected you to go out in every game and do it. They also knew your deficiencies and if you were not dealing with those properly, you would be told in no uncertain terms to do them better.

"I am demanding in that you should want to win games. I have been a manager for 12 years now and I reckon 95 per cent enjoy playing for me. During the week I am very quiet, I make sure they enjoy coming in. We can be the players' best friend but we will want things to be done properly and I reward them when they are doing well. They can ask for anything and I usually give it, as long as they go out and perform to the best of their ability on a Saturday.

"And if I see some players who are slacking, I am not frightened to say it and that is just being honest. I have played with players and for managers who have been like that and it has been successful.

"Today's football, don't get me wrong, is totally different, and it has moved on. But I know I would prefer a manager telling me to my face what I am doing wrong. I don't like people whispering in corners or going behind your back and that won't change. The best managers I played with were the most honest ones."

It wasn't really politics, finances or players which forced Sheridan to reconsider his position at Carlisle, and leave the League Two job for one so perilous in non-league football. It was the gruelling journey up and down the M1, A1 and M6. Chesterfield is closer to his home and chairman Allen knew that when he approached Sheridan after the sacking of Martin Allen.

Chesterfield played Bedford Town in Sheridan's first game back in charge but it is in the league where he has to make a difference. Allen, who like most chairmen at this level is regarded by fans as either a brilliant benefactor, or belligerent bum, knew who he wanted.

"I have done that journey every day and I know how hard it is so I gave John a call," Allen admitted. "This is the last-chance saloon for us. If this is not right it never will be and I will help John all I can and back him. I am sure he will get the team right."

The difficulties of the Proact Stadium are a long way removed from the Giants Stadium, where Sheridan rattled the bar in the famous win over Italy 25 years ago. But he knows what is needed to get Chesterfield out of the mire.

He says: "This is probably the toughest challenge I've had. They are not in a healthy position but if I didn't think I could get them out of it I wouldn't have come. The fan base, club and ground are fantastic but it is a tricky challenge. I am hoping my instincts will prove right and it ends up a good move.

"It is important we stay in the league, no matter how. People tell me my sides play terrific football but where we are, it is all about making sure we win games as quickly as we can and get points on the board. I am under no illusions but staying in the league is the priority, then we can dream about next season. I have not come here to stay in this division, but to get back into the Football League."

Sunday Indo Sport