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Meet Chris Sutton the manager - an unlikely man for a difficult job at Lincoln

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30 Oct 2009 19:04:14

Meet Chris Sutton the manager - an unlikely man for a difficult job at Lincoln

As the rain lashes down and the boots begin to sink into the mud, there is a tall, familiar figure with a stopwatchencouraging a group of tired players, their glazed eyes apparently pleading for mercy. 'One more lap. That's good. One more ... come on!' This has to be the most unlikely appointment of the season. Believe it or not, Chris Sutton is the manager of Lincoln City, whose highest-ever finish was fifth in the old Second Division in 1902. The last time they had a decent FA Cup run was more than 100 years ago. They're not exactly flushed with success. By comparison, Sutton was once the most expensive footballer in Britain when he signed for Blackburn for £5million. He was later to cost Chelsea £10m. The Scottish record was broken when he moved on to Celtic, again for £6m. The deals bought him a beautiful sweeping estate on the Norfolk coast where his charming wife, Sam, now presides over her own horse sanctuary. So what is he doing here? And why did they appoint him? As a player, Sutton was rarely one for small talk and couldn't suffer fools. Surly is one word to describe his demeanour. And that was to his friends. He thinks over the accusation. 'Yes, you can say I was surly. I won't argue with that. I could be that way, at times. Only sometimes. Alright, quite a lot of the time.' New start: Chris Sutton, once the most expensive footballer in Britain, watches his Lincoln squad train On England duty, he would avoid Kevin Keegan's manufactured team-bonding race nights and card schools to read a book, and, when he didn't think he was getting a fair crack of the whip from Glenn Hoddle, he went home. He often took a sense of devilment on to the pitch, where he once slapped David Beckham during a testimonial. Reminded of some of his scrapes, he looks up from his desk and says: 'I've never liked losing... I had to learn how to deal with that.' Which brings us back to life at Lincoln, where he might get plenty of practice, though in his first four games his team have conceded only one goal and lost just once, to a late goal at Northampton. Their 36th and highest-profile manager of the last 109 years at least has some influential friends: Martin O'Neill is something of a mentor (O'Neill's first job was up the road at Grantham), and Steve Bruce and Roy Hodgson both granted him private access to their training-ground secrets in recent months. It's clear Sutton has been using his time away from the game to reinvent himself. He has taken to the job and seems at home in his tracksuit, but the idea of Sutton turning to management still takes some getting used to. 'I think I have a lot to offer,' he contests. 'I've got fire in my belly. I am really loving this. This is a brilliant opportunity for me. They are nice people here and I have something to offer them.' Fire in the belly: Sutton shows a lighter side As a battering-ram centre forward who could play a bit, Sutton scored for five different Premier League teams, but there remains a suspicion that he could have made more of his talent. Is one cap enough for a player of his pedigree? 'Did I have missed opportunities as a player? How long have you got? Walking out on England wasn't wise. I could have had more caps, but would I have been picked in major tournaments? There were others in front of me in the pecking order.' Others who were better? Such as Alan Shearer, Les Ferdinand, Robbie Fowler, Andrew Cole. 'You can say that, but I will say others who were ahead of me in the pecking order 'Look, I have regrets, but who doesn't? You can't sit there and say that you don't. I think I made the most of my ability. Looking back, I could do nothing wrong at Norwich, then played under big pressure at Blackburn and we won the title and played in the Champions League. 'I didn't do well at Chelsea, but Celtic was the best, most enjoyable football of my career. Every day I would wake up looking forward to training, looking forward to working with Martin, John Robertson and Steve Walford. Their sessions were inspirational. If I take anything from them, it is the wish to be fair. Disciplined, but fair. You have to be fair to your players. Others might say different, but, as a player, I would argue that my attitude and application were spot on. 'When I wasn't injured, I was fit, really fit. I loved to run. Iwould run on my own, especially when I was older and I began toappreciate more what you need. 'Fitness and trust in your body give you confidence in your game. I am trying to get that message home to the playershere now.' Hoops dreams: Sutton scored in Celtic's 4-3 win over Juventus in 2001's Champions League group stages. The result saw Martin O'Neill's side qualify for the UEFA Cup, where they lost to Jose Mourinho's Porto in the final He slips effortlessly into manager-speak. I still can't believe he has taken this leap, but he doesn't do things by halves. Behind his desk for 8am every morning, he has moved to an apartment close to the club, which he shares with assistants Ian Pearce and Scott Lindsey. Pearce, once a team-mate of Sutton's at Blackburn who also appeared for Chelsea, West Ham and Fulham, is also registered as a player and has already turned out as a substitute. Maybe Sutton's early retirement, because of a bruised retina following a Premier League defeat for Aston Villa against Manchester United, aged 34, has made him realise what was passing him by. 'When I had to pack up at Villa, I took a while out getting different medical opinions on my eyesight. The central vision in my right eye is blurred. I can't take part in contact training, even now. 'The time away did me good. When you are in football, you never really have a holiday. Even when you're on holiday, you are working at staying fit. So I took time out, played a bit of cricket, but I missed the game the usual things, the banter of the dressing room and being part of a team, the adrenaline of a match day. I realised how importantit all was for me. 'I worked for some good managers, some really smart people, and they had an influence on me. Yes, someone likeMartin O'Neill, but also people like Kenny Dalglish and Roy Hodgson. 'I spoke to all of them before coming back in. I wanted to be as prepared as I could be. I am not in this to fail. 'Steve Bruce is another manager who has given me time. That man has a great knowledge of the game and it is no surprise to see him doing well at Sunderland. 'But getting my own chance was difficult. It is very competitive out there. It's hard to get your first crack at it, because clubs will often employ those who have been around the management game, even if they have failed. Here they had over 70 applicants well, that's what they told me, but perhaps it was to make me feel better!' Deadly duo: Sutton and Shearer formed a title-winning partnership at Ewood Park in 1995, with the pair - dubbed the SAS - notching 56 goals You could ask, how have Sutton's experiences at the top level prepared him for life in League Two? He responds: 'It's the same game with the same ball and the same two goals and the same pitch dimensions. 'Whatever level you play at, or manage at, it's about winning matches. And to do that, we have to take it back to basics. Hard work, fitness, discipline. There are no short cuts.' Today's training session is an easier one, but the players are still breathing hard, while their new task-master studies the back markers. Sessions are well-drilled and organised. The sort he might not always have appreciated as a player. He denies this is a risky strategy for him. 'I had no pre-conceived ideas when I applied. I thought it was a good opportunity. I could have sat back and thought, 'I'll wait for a job in the Championship', but that's not going to happen, is it? 'It's a gamble for them and for me, but I am hungry and I have something prove. I've taken my time and I have learned from some good people, but I won't be a clone. I'd be a fool not to have learned from my mistakes. 'Now we have contracts for two and half years and it's a wonderful opportunity. I will work hard for this. We need to make progress and improve. That is how you define success.' He even looks as if he might be enjoying himself.  Lincoln City 1 Aldershot 0: New boss Chris Sutton celebrates first winSutton appointed as the surprise new manager at Lincoln with Pearce as No 2THE LIST: Top 50 football kits of all time - Nos 10-1You can't kid us, Robbie: Spurs are on the march, but Arsenal are still top guns


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