Monday 6 July 2015 22:56, UK
Liverpool’s decision to appoint Sean O’Driscoll as Brendan Rodgers’ assistant manager might be seen as a left-field decision. But those who know him believe it’s inspired. With their help, Adam Bate found out more about Liverpool’s new No 2…
“I know he’s excited about it but Sean always plays things down. If he won £100m on the lottery he’d probably just give himself a pat on the back and get on with it. But deep down I think he knows this is the perfect job for him.”
Steve Fletcher knows Sean O’Driscoll well. He played alongside him at Bournemouth, was coached by him, made captain by him and even broke O’Driscoll’s Cherries appearance record. Fletcher is also a Liverpool fan and is convinced his old pal isn’t the only winner here.
“I had a text chat with Sean and told him he deserves everything he gets,” Fletcher told Sky Sports. “The cream always rises. That’s all I could say because I do think he’s one of the best coaches around. He’s getting his just rewards at one of the biggest clubs in England.”
Fletcher and O’Driscoll were team-mates under Tony Pulis at Bournemouth but that might be a misleading indication of his football philosophy. “Sean is obviously a bit different in his ideas but that’s Sean all over,” added Fletcher, now head of recruitment at Dean Court.
“He likes to play a certain way and has stuck to his beliefs. A lot of Eddie Howe’s influences at Bournemouth have come from Sean and how meticulous he was in his training. I know that Eddie is good friends with Brendan Rodgers and has been up to see Liverpool train.
“Eddie would only do that if he liked the style of football. That tells me it will suit Sean down to the ground at Liverpool because everything that’s happening here at Bournemouth started from him really.”
He was always ahead of his time.
That’s part of the reason why it’s O’Driscoll who Rodgers has turned to following the departure of assistant Colin Pascoe in the summer. He has long admired the erstwhile England U19 coach but the decision might still have left Liverpool fans a little underwhelmed.
Perhaps the appointment of a 58-year-old from Wolverhampton who has spent much of his coaching career in the lower leagues won’t be seen as exotic enough for some. But Fletcher believes that would be doing a disservice to O’Driscoll and his innovative approach.
“He realised the influence of foreign managers early,” added Fletcher. “He used to put clippings around the dressing room from manager like Arsene Wenger about how their lifestyle should be off the pitch. He was always ahead of his time.
“I’d been playing for 10 years when Sean took over but some of the drills he would put on changed the way people thought at that time. He always thought about what he was doing. He didn’t just go out and put on a passing drill, there was a thought-process behind it.”
Former Everton and Wales midfielder John Oster was also an experienced player when he got the chance to work with O’Driscoll at Doncaster Rovers and he remembers a coach who didn’t just go through the motions on the training ground.
“He was always thinking outside of the box,” Oster told Sky Sports. “Instead of giving players instructions what to do in training, he’d call over a player from each side, explain the rules of the drill to them and they’d have to relay that back to their team-mates.
“Obviously, on a Saturday you can’t speak to every single player on the touchline. You have to call someone over and they communicate with the rest of the team. He was big on things like that because there’s no point doing something in training that’s irrelevant to Saturday.”
He was always thinking outside of the box.
It’s on the training pitch that O’Driscoll is happiest. “I enjoy being on the training pitch with players day after day, feeling like you’re making a tangible difference to their own individual improvement and the improvement of a team,” he once told a Nottingham Forest fan-site.
“Can I make a talented individual a more rounded team player, or can I help a player recognise what his real assets are compared to what they think they are to make him a mainstay in the team? That’s maybe more coaching than managing.”
In that sense, the chance to concentrate on working with players without the media distractions and the immediate pressure of delivering points that comes with being the main man would appear to suit O’Driscoll’s strengths. He impresses away from the cameras.
“He’s very quiet,” acknowledged Fletcher. “Sarcastically, we gave him the nickname Mr Happy because he wasn’t. He lets his coaching do the talking. He’s not a Jose Mourinho. In that respect, it’ll be a breath of fresh air for him to be out of the spotlight as an assistant.”
Whether life at Liverpool could ever be described as truly out of the limelight is debatable. But what’s not up for debate is the esteem in which O’Driscoll is held by those who know him. Naturally, results will dictate perception. But all the indications are that Liverpool have appointed a top-class coach.