Terry Pierce - Gradi achievements rightfully recognised

22 March 2011 02:26
The great and the good from across the Football League came together on Sunday evening to celebrate the best the game can offer. From programmes to apprentices, plenty of clubs received a timely and unexpected addition to the trophy cabinet.

The most pleasantly surprising award of the evening went to Crewe boss Dario Gradi MBE, who was awarded the Contribution to League Football Award. The honour is presented annually by the Board of the Football League to an individual who has given a lifetime's service to the professional game. And Gradi is most certainly a worthy winner.

Italian-born Gradi has enjoyed a near-30-year association with Crewe Alexandra, and shows few signs of giving up any time soon. The 69-year-old first took charge at Gresty Road in the summer of 1983. The Alex were a lowly Division Four side, and had to re-apply for election a number of times previous to his arrival.

Under Gradi the club progressed, slowly but surely. They finally left the basement league - in the right way - six years into Gradi's reign, prompting the offer of an unheard-of 10-year contract offer. Their subsequent relegation was merely a blot on Gradi's copy book, and he had soon guided them to the second tier.

The Railwaymen yo-yoed between the middle two tiers on a shoe-string budget for eight or nine years before slipping back to the bottom division. With life catching up on him, Gradi finally made the decision to take a backwards step, and relinquished control of the first team in 2007.

The plan was for him to move upstairs, joining the club's board and adopting a position of Technical Director. But replacement first-team coach Steve Holland, and Icelandic manager Gudjon Thordason after him, failed to fill the vast void left by Gradi, who has been back in charge of first-team affairs since October 2009.

The club may be back in the basement, but no right-minded individual could deny that without Gradi's arrival all those years ago, they would probably have fallen into the non-leagues and possibly even out of existence. While the sheer length of his reign is more than impressive, it is the way in which he has done it that is the real story.

Crewe are never going to have a big budget, but Gradi placed huge importance on the development of youth. He and his team unearthed and developed a stream of players who went on to enjoy careers at the top level.

Neil Lennon, Robbie Savage, Geoff Thomas and - most notably - David Platt spent time under Gradi during the early periods of their careers before reaching the very top. And Gradi also discovered the likes of Dean Ashton, Danny Murphy, Seth Johnson and current Wales international David Vaughan.

The list goes on and on, and the club are still producing talented young players under the eye of Gradi, such as Derby County duo John Brayford and James Bailey, who recently left Cheshire for a combined fee that could rise beyond a million pounds. A lesser-known plaudit, his side also won the PFA's Bobby Moore Fair Play trophy 12 times in 15 years.

It was a fitting tribute that it was former England internationals Murphy and Platt who spoke so highly of Gradi during Sunday's ceremony. And the late, great Bobby Robson once said Gradi had become one of England's best managers.

Who are we to argue.

Source: DSG

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