Passionate Stevenage boss Darren Sarll issues rallying cry: We’re here to win for our club, our town and our fans
- Credit: Archant
It may seem strange to be discussing Stevenage Football Club’s prospects for next season during a July heatwave and before the Second Test has even started, but Boro manager Darren Sarll’s infectious positivity is uplifting – despite the sapping heat.
The experienced football coach whose elevation helped steady the ship after the managerial experiment that was Teddy Sheringham failed to gel last term is bullish about his team’s prospects for the forthcoming 2016/17 season.
It may be sweltering out on the club’s manicured training pitches at their impressive Bragbury End base, but Sarll is relishing the pre-season experience – even if his players may not have appreciated the gruelling but vital fitness work required to ensure their year gets off to a bang.
Sarll may be as passionate as they come, and certainly not someone to get on the wrong side of – but time spent in his company also convinces you there is far more to his leadership than the lower league equivalent of Sir Alex Ferguson’s infamous ‘hairdrier’ treatment.
“I don’t see the objective of a pre-season without looking to win every game. And when the season starts how would I – as a leader – look if I came in and said to my team: ‘Our objective is to finish 12th?’
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“We’re here to win, we’re paid to win, we have a duty to the football club and the town to win – and we’ll do everything in our power to win.
“We might not win them all, but it won’t be for the want of trying – and it won’t be for the want of not preparing enough.
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“It’s an important message to send out because after the shock and disappointment of last season the players are probably more motivated to ensure we won’t have a repeat performance of last year.
“The players are far better than they showed last year – and I want people on the outside to recognise the quality I see every day.”
The disappointment of last term’s underperformance is not far from the surface. For a side like Stevenage to fall through the Football League trapdoor would have severe repercussions for everyone associated with this homely club.
And it was this fear that prompted chairman Phil Wallace to bravely part company with Sheringham as results started to slide out of control in the new year – with the leadership duo of Sarll, and the vastly experienced Glenn Roeder installed. It was a brutal introduction to the managerial rat-race for the former Manchester United man – but one that reportedly saw him return the week after he was sacked to watch in a game incognito – such is the lure of our national game.
Perceptive thinker Sarll concurs, saying: “I’m very lucky in terms of having Glenn Roeder. And whatever I need to fill in terms of a void on my experience he is there to help me and steer me in the right direction.
“We were able to retain so many of last year’s squad. They may admit they under-performed last year but I felt they had enough there for another year to put the wrongs right.
“Continuity in the team and the personalities in the team are an important reason why our pre-season is positive and upbeat.
“We do seem to be pulling in the right direction and our unity is a strong point, and our togetherness is really excellent.
“There’s a different dynamic to us. In the way we’re using different players such as Jake Hyde and Rowan Liburd who provide a completely different dimension to our play.”
Sarll may have the air of a sergeant major about him, certainly when he confides the first couple of weeks back in pre-season was horrible – for the players – not him, explaining: “I enjoy it as a manager putting my players through their paces. But now we’re at the back end of pre-season there’s a lot more football involved and we’re doing our work on football pitches.
“There’s an excellent vibe around the place and training is of an excellent calibre. And it’s the intensity of our preparations that will stand us in good stead for the next ten months.”
However, there is more to Sarll than meets the eye, as he becomes as thoughtful as he is animated when we discuss different leadership styles and the psychology of getting players to perform. He says: “Being organised doesn’t cost anything. I’ve been a professional for 14 years now. It’s my trade. It’s what I know.
“I love the management side of things. I’m a people person. I like knowing what motivates people, how they like to receive information.
“Are they someone who needs the size nine boot up the proverbial or do they need an arm round the shoulder? That side of things also interests me. I think that aspect is something that is not given enough time and attention to these days.
“The way information is received differs from man to man. For example me saying something calmly to a player may not actually be received calmly by the player on the other end of what I’m saying.
“Sir Alex Ferguson learnt and understood the art of human behaviour from running pubs.
“I’d rather be renowned as a good football manager than a good football coach – and that means adding different traits to my skillset which will improve it - and allow this football club to improve with me.”
As he looks forward to Brighton and Hove Albion visiting on Saturday he also sizes up the new rule whereby players can and will be sent off for swearing at officials.
Sarll’s deadpans: “I’m in trouble! I’m in big trouble!” He then thinks long and hard about the consequences of the new regulation which will sure to be controversial next season, before adding: “I think it’s going to be hard. Very hard to retain a consistency to that.
“It’s got to be a two-way street. Referees have to help us by talking to us more. And also by realising what is at stake for us as managers and players. And equally players have to show more emotional control at times. But it does seem that people are trying to take away every last piece of emotion we have left in the English game. We are very emotional as a nation in the way we want football played. We are passionate and aggressive. I also thought the Watford head coach showed great passion the other night both in disappointment and in praise.
“And I don’t think we should kick that out. I think it should be controlled. I want my players to remain on the pitch, and with such a small squad I can’t afford to have my players not to be playing.
“If we all share common sense then we’ll all be fine.”
Common sense is something Sarll has in spades. Not to menton passion, a tactically astute brain, organisational skills and a charisma which will hopefully take his Stevenage Football Club to greater heights next season,
And if he does, then his engaging ebullience will have had a lot to do with their longed-for resurgence.