How do you step up to compete at the top level?
Martin: We’ve talked about moving from the first office, to the second and so on. I’ve got milestones. I know what I want to achieve and the steps I need to take to get to that vision, but sometimes you just can’t feel it.
As a player, and also a manager, who climbed from the second division to the premier league, how difficult is it? How did you deal with it and how did you do it?
Kevin: Well I did it both as a player and a manager. As a player, you’ve just got to go out and play and the management has the worry. When you’re a manager, a leader, you have to convince these players to keep going.
I think it’s quite simple. We won the championship with Newcastle by quite a few points and we were an outstanding team in that division. We already knew from the cups we’d played in, with teams from the Premier League, we’d do okay.
People know that if you put the bottom half of the Premiership and the top half of the Championship together you’d get different winners every year. There’s not a lot of difference. What we had to convince our players was that we weren’t just going up into the Premier League, we were trying to win it. We set the bar high, we didn’t plan to consolidate.
I think consolidate is the one word that should be banned in footballing terms. If a chairman comes to you and says ‘lets consolidate’ – I had this at Man City – it means you’re going backwards. While you consolidate, everyone just jumps over you. It means you want to stay where you are, but you won’t because of the ambition of other teams. You’re settling for mediocrity.
At Newcastle when we went up we convinced the players by looking at the league, how we’d dominated teams from it in the cups, and knowing that we weren’t your normal, newly promoted, team. We were a very good side. A Premiership side playing in the Championship for one season. We believed that and I think the players could see what we were talking about.
My programming notes on the first home game we had was “Watch out Sir Alex we’re after your title”. I remember one of the directors coming to me before the game and saying “What is this? You’ve put us all under unbelievable pressure.” I couldn’t believe it! I honestly believed – and wanted my players to believe – we could go up and win the league, even if we end up finishing second or third. We actually ended up fifth.
Everyone else expects the teams to come up and try to survive. Survival is not what we wanted. We wanted to push the players to aspire to be right up the top of that table. With your Manchester United’s, Tottenhams, Arsenals. We did it. And we did it because we sowed the seeds in their minds that we were good enough. If we had to convince them of that, that’s what we were going to do.
In terms of setting targets, the chairman was okay but the board member wanted the pressure off. I wanted my players and staff to not think we were just in that league to make up the number but that we were going to have a very good go at it.
Martin: The big word that came out for me there was consolidation.
Kevin: Here was a guy saying “lets just go in there and if we stay up, that’s good”. Now if we’d said that to the players, I don’t think we’d have ever finished near the top. But we set the target.