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Gary Bowyer interview: Blackpool manager and university student
Last Updated: 02/01/18 3:09pm
Blackpool manager Gary Bowyer is studying a university degree and doing his dissertation on the lack of opportunities for English coaches. Adam Bate caught up with him to discuss that, the need for sporting directors, and battling back with Blackpool…
Gary Bowyer knows a thing or two about working for controversial owners.
After two-and-a-half years as Blackburn manager under the much-maligned Venky's regime, he has spent the past 18 months working for the Oyston family at Blackpool. Off the pitch, it has been a period of turmoil with high court battles, supporter unrest and the proposed sale of the club. On the pitch, Bowyer nevertheless delivered an unlikely promotion in May.
It is no wonder that the 46-year-old has become accustomed to shutting out distractions. "In the very first meeting, I just made it perfectly clear to the players that we were not going to have any excuses at all," Bowyer tells Sky Sports. "It is very easy to hide behind those things. We just focused on what we could control and that was the football."
Even so, Bowyer is a smart man and he is far from oblivious to the problems that engulf the club. Instead, he hopes to learn from them. Strategy and leadership were subjects that came to fascinate him during his years at Blackburn. So when he was sacked from that job in late 2015 he soon signed up to study a master of sport directorship degree at Manchester Met.
"It was no secret that when I took over at Blackburn there was a lot that needed to be done off the pitch as well as on it," he explains. "Being involved in those conversations with the board and the owners motivated me. So when this opportunity came up it was something I wanted to learn more about. It has certainly taken me out of my comfort zone."
Fellow ex-players Dietmar Hamann and Kevin Davies are also on the course as well as the Manchester City goalkeeper Karen Bardsley. But it is an eclectic bunch. They are joined by former rugby union player Phil Winstanley and ex-England cricketer Vikram Solanki. "It is fascinating to listen to their stories," says Bowyer. "We lean on each other for support."
He adds: "It is a two-year course, part-time. There are four modules and then a dissertation on top of that. You have assignments that are 4000 to 5000 words long so it is demanding and it's not something I have done before. It can be late nights when there are assignments due so that's a challenge. But I am learning from it and it has been invaluable to me."
Bowyer is a man steeped in football tradition. As well as being a former player himself, his father Ian was a double European Cup winner under Brian Clough at Nottingham Forest. So it is perhaps a little surprising that Bowyer is a convert when it comes to the role of the sporting director. His studies of leadership models led him to that conclusion.
"In Europe, it is considered the norm and, in my opinion, with the way that the game is going, it will become more and more prevalent in this country too," he explains. "It is not quite viewed in that light just yet but you are seeing more and more clubs taking that on board with Arsenal just the latest to recognise that.
"For the old-fashioned manager who manages the whole football club, the job is a lot bigger now. There are the pressures that come with it too through the media. To have somebody who acts between the manager and the board or the owners is a god send because it allows the manager to concentrate on what he's best at - working on the grass with the players.
"There's many a time as a coach that you are looking for someone to work as a buffer between the manager and the owners. You are talking about a whole vision here. What is the strategy for the football club? What are the values of the football club? That is a lot for the manager to take on board as well as his job."
In a sense, Bowyer already appears to have the mentality of a sporting director. Recalling his time at Blackburn, it is reflected in what he regards as his main accomplishments. He talks with pride about the career progress made by Shane Duffy and Tom Cairney but also the money that their subsequent sales generated for the club. That was always the plan.
"The model that we implemented at Blackburn was common sense for me," he says. "We have tried to do the same here at Blackpool. You make in-roads on the pitch but you also focus on developing players to ensure there is a return on investment. Whether people like it or not, it is a business and you need to produce results on and off the pitch.
"It is all about balancing those two things. As long as that is clear to the fans and it is communicated to the manager then everyone knows where they stand and you work to that model. It is something that I am passionate about and I believe in. I hope it can be another string to my bow if football clubs decide they don't want to employ me as a coach."
This subject of opportunities for British coaches is one that fascinates Bowyer. So much so that it is the topic for his forthcoming dissertation. He is planning interviews with sporting directors, fellow coaches, agents and journalists. His concern is that, like young British players, the country's talented young coaches are having their progress stifled.
"I would be really interested to understand the criteria on which clubs appoint managers," he says. "I look at Sean Dyche and Eddie Howe. How did they get their chance in the Premier League? They had to win promotion from the Championship to do it. Would they ever have been given that opportunity in the Premier League if they had not done that?
"It is the opportunities they don't get. Even when a job comes up in the Championship now they are given to left-field people. Foreign owners will naturally have a bias towards foreign managers, I understand that. But I worry that there are good managers in League One and League Two who are being bypassed. These coaches should have the opportunity.
"It is often said that we don't produce good young players but the success of the England youth teams proves that theory wrong. Managers need to have the confidence to let these young players blossom and it is a similar pattern with young English coaches. They need owners to have the confidence to trust them, give them a pathway and let them blossom."
Back at Blackpool, Bowyer knows it is a big window for the club but he is excited about the progress of Curtis Tilt, a defender plucked from non-league who is now thriving in League One, and he still enjoys the job despite its strains. "Blackpool itself just puts a smile on your face," he says. And with that our chat is over. There's a game to prepare for. A club to run.
And an assignment due.