“My biggest strength was my attitude towards training and being better. I have to have everything right. If a coach hasn’t lined everything up on the pitch, I’ll notice and I won’t be happy with that. Attention to detail has to be spot on because I’m driven that way. If you told me to do five minutes on the bike, I would have to do 10 otherwise I wouldn’t sleep well. Those little things can really irritate me.
At Cardiff, it was a different world to the professionalism I had seen. There were a lot of very good players, but then you realise why they’re here. That’s why you can’t get to the highest level. Turning up 20 minutes before training, travelling overnight and training with no sleep. I saw loads of lapses in mentality, but there were also a lot of good ones that were getting the best out of what they had.
Take Kevin McNaughton for instance. As a footballer, he didn’t have great ability, he was limited, but he had a great attitude to training and he got the best out of what he had. For me, he was a massively successful player. We had a lot of players that had the ability, but didn’t have McNaughton’s attitude and that’s why they were at that level.
A lot of this conversation is about Michael Chopra! I like him a lot, but I remember saying to him that this can’t happen. I had to be careful because I didn’t want to be seen as the big player from the big league, telling everyone what to do, but I can’t buy in to this sort of mentality. This idea that by changing him, you’ll take that little bit of devil out of him. He would be a better player! This is what’s stopping him because he’s not living his life right. He could have been way, way more.
I was always around players that were outstanding, not just in ability, but also in attitude. Their professionalism was frightening. Steven Gerrard, Vincent Kompany, they’re on another planet, but its not a coincidence that they are where they are. First in, last to leave. I had to compete with them and I didn’t have the same amount of ability, so I had to train even more. Come in even earlier, leave even later to give me an edge.
At Cardiff, the building was shut down at 1 o’clock! The physios went home. I could not get my head around the mentality of so many players there. You’re going to get caught out. If someone didn’t track back in training, it was OK.
I didn’t want to be the one to say this or that, but I did towards the end. I remember we played Barnsley and we lost a goal because someone didn’t track back and after the game, I lost it. I had enough. I think we drew 2-2 and it was a game we should have won comfortably.
Chopra would look at his phone at half time and I was astonished. So a physio stole it because he had clocked it too and had enough of it. We were losing and he was looking for his phone. Before we can even have a team meeting, he’s screaming ‘where’s my phone?’ I didn’t have a clue, until he refused to come on second half until his phone was given to him. I played the second half nearly in tears. I come out of that game thinking I’m not sure I want to play here anymore. I’ve never seen anything like that.
I knew Chopra as a young kid at Newcastle and he was only ever going to be that way. Jay Bothroyd was massive too and honestly, I loved him. I knew him as a kid at Coventry too and he was his own worst enemy because he had the ability to be a top player. He couldn’t sustain it because sustaining it is hard work.
How many of the top players at Cardiff, apart from Earnie and a few others from the area, went on and done well at other clubs? We fell in love with their ability, but they fell short of what they could have been.”