VFTN’s Gareth Baker recently spoke with former Bluebird Greg Halford, who is now – after a long time without a club – at Aberdeen in the Scottish Premier League. Greg had a very interesting perspective on Cardiff’s promotion season, how one of our players performing well in the Premier League surprised him and so much more.
So, Greg, you’ve found a new club, a new league and a new challenge with Aberdeen after spending a bit of time as a free agent. Are things going well?
It’s not too bad. Obviously at the minute, I’m not playing. I’m still trying to get to that fitness level where I need to be able to compete in this league. It’s all so new for me and we’ve got the semi-final against Celtic coming up, which will be good as well. At the minute though, it’s just a new part of the world. I’m still trying to get my bearings and get to that fitness level where I want to be and where Aberdeen want me to be.
How do you find Scottish football in comparison to the Championship? Is there much of a difference for you?
In terms of quality, I would say that there’s still a considerable amount of difference. Other than the top four, including us, the league is quite a way out, but the league in general is very competitive. It’s a hundred miles an hour all of the time and you have to fight for every single ball.
Well we all know you’re okay with a 50/50 challenge!
(Laughs) Yeah, I’m alright, yeah. I mean if you have an off-day in this league, you can get punished for it. It’s something that I need to get to grips with very quickly. There’s some great players in this team who have played in the Scottish League for a number of years, so I just need to strive to make myself better.
I, like many other Cardiff fans, were really happy for you when you signed for Aberdeen. I couldn’t understand how it took so long for you to find a new club given your reputation as a utility player. What is it like being a free agent? Do you approach clubs or do they approach you? How do you keep fit and motivated?
That was the toughest thing, trying to stay motivated. You speak to anyone who’s close to me, I’m not that type of person to go into the gym or go for a run by myself and work my nuts off. I have to be around other people to be motivated. I guess you could look at that as a downfall in my personality.
I had to employ a personal trainer to push me, so I could still go in to training and compete. You need a good pre-season behind you and even then it takes 10-15 games for some players to get up to speed in any league. Luckily, I was at West Brom for 4 months, which kept me fit. I can’t thank Darren Moore and the staff for letting me do that.
Well, that’s all credit to you because a lot of people would just think “Screw it, I’m packing it in” after that long, but you put all that effort and you’ve now signed for one of the biggest clubs in Scottish football.
Yeah, definitely. It’s really helped having Derek McInnes there because he’s tried signing me on a couple of occasions at Preston and Bristol. You can keep the Bristol bit out if you want though! I was a little hesitant at first coming up here, but his knowledge of my playing career helped me make my decision.
Let’s talk about Aberdeen. It’s a big club that finished 2nd last season. You’re currently 4th with six games to play and you have the chance to play European football next season if you finish 3rd. Does this excite you, going from the Championship to the prospect of those European nights?
Yeah, that’s massive. Again, that was another big influence of going to Aberdeen. I’ve always wanted to play in Europe. My first season with Reading in the Premier League, we missed out on Europe by a single goal! We finished sixth that year.
I’ve said to people close to me that I’ve always wanted to go out and play in Spain. In my younger days, I always wanted to go out and do that sort of thing because I felt the player that I was back then sort of fitted into that kind of league where it’s more technical.
As my career’s progressed, I’ve had to sort of mould myself around my clubs to try and compete, which is what I done at Cardiff, who wanted me to sort of be that player to see out games. I believe we never conceded a goal whenever I came on as a substitute.
Well, whatever it was that you were doing it was definitely effective. Neil Warnock at one point even described you as a Swiss army knife, didn’t he?
(Laughs) Yeah he did! I think he sort of got that reference from Kevin Blackwell, who was my manager at Sheffield United and signed me as a right back, but I ended up playing further up the pitch. When they both came in at Rotherham, I was training for the U23’s, but Warnock saw my potential as a defensive midfielder and started playing me there.
If you could start your career all over again, but you can only play in one position, which would you choose? I mean, you were at one point known for scoring some goals at Portsmouth as a holding midfielder and you played up front for Nottingham Forest!
I think it would be more as an attacking midfielder. When I was coming through the ranks at Colchester, I always scored a lot of goals. I remember when I broke through to the team as a right-back, I scored four goals in seven games. So, attacking-wise has always been a massive thing in my play, I always want to get into the box to score goals. Then I went to Forest and literally played everywhere. It’s so strange. If you speak to every manager I’ve had, everyone would have a different opinion on what my best position was.
That must have been a bit frustrating for you, surely? Do you ever envy other players who stick to one position throughout their whole career, or do you relish your reputation as being versatile? It must help to break into a squad quicker.
Five or so years ago it was easier getting into squads being a utility player because teams didn’t have the depth that they do now. Whereas now everyone has their position set. They train day in, day out in that position. Last season training with Cardiff, I trained in every different position you could think of.
I think not training and playing in one single position has hindered my career and I did not get to where I wanted to go or where people thought I would get. But then managers have their opinions and I’m not that type of person to say; “I only want to play there, and I won’t play unless I do,” which is what some players are like. I regret it to a certain amount, but at the same time I can’t complain with the career I’ve had.
Some people would say that playing for 16 different clubs makes you a journeyman, but the flipside of that is that you’ve also attracted the attention of 16 different managers. One of those being Warnock, who had you at Rotherham as well. You might want to clear the air with this, but was it true you got a bit of a ribbing from your teammates for apparently being his ‘Love-child’ receiving, and I quote, ‘Special treatment’? (Lee Freklington)
I don’t think there was! At that time, I’d fallen out with a couple of managers. You’d have to ask them why, I don’t know. They just wouldn’t talk to me, but Warnock brought me back from the dead. It was funny because when Warnock got announced, I was a bit hesitant because I actually turned him down a couple of times when he was Sheffield United manager in the Premier League, when they got relegated by Mascherano and Tevez!
Without actually speaking to him, I turned him down. I said I didn’t want to play for that team and I was with Colchester at the time. He said something I didn’t like in an interview when we played them in the cup and I was like, “Nah, I’m not gonna go play for him.” It was probably one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. He has laid so much respect on the line for me and I really can’t thank him enough.
Warnock’s reputation is warranted then, because he’s known to have done that with many different players. What is it about Warnock that he’s able do this?
I’d love to know how he does it as well. It’s just one of those things. He just knows what players to put an arm around and what players to have a go at. He knows how to motivate his players. He’s looked after so many players in his career and taken a few around different clubs with him. I’m fortunate enough to put my name in that bracket. I’m really surprised he didn’t try and sign Phil Jaglielka for Cardiff in the summer.