Henry Winter: Leeds United's Simon Grayson thrilled by Manchester United challenge

02 January 2010 05:49
It generates funds and publicity for those outside the privileged few. It's showcase time.

The Cup provides a chance to remind everyone there is talent downstairs as well as upstairs: how much is that underdoggie in the window? Players earn transfers from Cup exploits.

 Related ArticlesFerguson stays with his youth policyPremier League: transfer window guideMan Utd-Leeds classicsCarrick eager to experience Leeds clashLeeds United then and nowRio Ferdinand nears Manchester United returnManagers like Simon Grayson, the highly regarded supervisor of Leeds United's burgeoning fortunes, relish the Cup for the chance to improve, pitting their tactical wits against the legendary likes of Sir Alex Ferguson as Grayson will on Sunday.

"I'll shake his hand before the game and hopefully when we shake hands at the end we'll have earned a lot of respect from him and his team,'' said Grayson. "It is an opportunity to test myself against a great manager, the most successful manager in a very, very long time. To be next to him is something I wouldn't have thought could happen when I was first starting out in management. His desire is unbelievable.

"I've just turned 40 and been in the job four years and still to be doing it in another 28 years (like Ferguson) beggars belief.''

Those British managers climbing the managerial ladder take inspiration from Ferguson, a man who served his apprenticeship on the provincial circuit, learning his trade before ascending the heights. Yet when ambitious souls like Grayson look at the Premier League they worry about the foreign invasion of dug-outs.

"We would all love to have all British-born managers,'' reflected Grayson, "but it doesn't often happen and it never will.'' The Yorkshireman's best chance of becoming a Premier League manager comes through making the journey with Leeds. Grayson's commitment to positive, well-organised football, his 4-4-2 system spiced with the wing-play of Robert Snodgrass and cutting edge of Jermaine Beckford, has swept Leeds eight points clear in League One and made the manager one of the most-admired outside the Premier League.

"I always thought I'd go into coaching,'' added the former full-back who spent the prime of his career at Leicester City, inevitably assimilating the ideas of Martin O'Neill. "I started doing my badges when I was 30 and playing in Blackpool's first team, taking the reserves.''

Deciding to seek experience as a No 2, Grayson asked permission from Colin Hendry, Blackpool's then manager, to leave in November 2005. "That's fine,'' said Hendry. So Grayson popped in to see the chairman, Karl Oyston, to explain his plans. "No, you can't go,'' said Oyston. "Why not?'' Grayson replied. "Colin's getting sacked and you're taking over,'' Oyston said.

"It was not easy because I was a friend of Colin but I was given the opportunity on a caretaker basis for half the season, kept them up, and the following year got them promoted (to the Championship). I wondered whether I could be bothered with all the hassle that comes with being a manager but I seem to have rather thicker skin than I realised.''

Leeds beckoned in December 2008. "I could quite easily have stayed at Blackpool and had a comfortable job but this was a massive challenge. I was prepared to take that challenge, because I have a lot of confidence in my own ability.

"This club is one of the biggest by name in the country and in Europe, but football-wise we're not. Someone will eventually take this club back to where it belongs and that's the reason I'm here because of that potential. I realised that in my first game a year ago when there were over 30,000 on Boxing Day against Leicester.'' Grayson has proved an inspired appointment by Ken Bates, Leeds' chairman.

Respect flows between the pair. "We have a strong relationship, I think!'' smiled Grayson. "So he tells me anyway! We speak regularly, have a bit of a joke at times, but the seriousness of it all is that we have to be successful and he's helped me in everything I've needed to do regarding players.

"He's obviously a very successful businessman, fantastic knowledge of football, and still has the enthusiasm as if he were just starting out. At this moment in time we are a good combination. Hopefully that will continue when things don't go swimmingly as at this moment.'' So who was tougher? Ferguson or Bates?

"I don't know how he (Ferguson) would outdo our chairman!'' Grayson laughed. "He and Sir Alex are both very driven by success.'' Grayson grinned at mention of "Fergie time'', the added minutes when Manchester United often inflict such damage. "We've scored most of our goals in the last 15 minutes and that's probably a determination to make sure we keep going and get results.''

He sounded ready for Sunday's test. "The adrenalin will be flowing but we have to play with our heads as well as our hearts so we don't go chasing around. We genuinely feel we have players who can hurt them. Players like Beckford, 19 goals this season, can score out of nothing. Snodgrass can do things. There's no doubt Old Trafford is a special place and it can make or break you. I hope it makes my players.'' And Grayson himself.

Source: Telegraph