‘Pep, Rafa, Jose – they are just normal guys’: Inside the inner sanctum of management
As thorough as the Fifa Pro Licence is, some aspects of management no seminar could cover. For instance, take Tony Pulis’ office at The Hawthorns where the world’s finest would visit after the full-time whistle to talk football. Nearby sat Darren Moore, taking it all in, seeing up close the characteristics of those at the top of their game.
It was Pulis’ idea to have his Under-23 coach in the room when Sir Alex Ferguson or Pep Guardiola were there, having seen the manager inside Moore when he made him captain at Portsmouth then took him to West Bromwich Albion as a no-nonsense centre-back. “He’d say to me ‘take as little or as much as you want’,” remembers Moore. If he wanted to learn about management, the platform was there.
“It taught me that outside it’s a circus but inside you get the real person. No coaching course could have given me that experience,” said Moore. “These iconic figures in the game and there’s me sat in the room with Sir Alex, Pep, Rafa Benítez, Ronald Koeman, I could go through so many names….Jose Mourinho.
“What I liked was how he [Pulis] captured the room for the opposition manager and there was never a dull moment, no matter the result. They had such an aura but they are also just normal guys who are good at what they do. One of the top, top managers, I won’t say who, said:
‘I’m doing exactly the same as you, but the only difference is that I’ve got a player at the top off the pitch who is worth £70 million and that’s what will hurt you’.
“When I got thrust into that world, I had a calmness in my approach and I was able to stand on my own two feet and direct traffic because I was reciting all those experiences I’d been through.”
Moore is now in a manager’s office of his own. At Sheffield Wednesday’s training ground just down the road from Hillsborough, he is sat at his desk, which has well-wishing cards from supporters displayed. He overlooks the main pitch where the work is done. Now it is Moore who has the managers’ aura.
His team’s win against Newcastle in the last round of the FA Cup earned headlines but the work over the last 22 months has completed one of the biggest turnarounds in English football.
Wednesday were a crisis club when he arrived in 2021. They were under a transfer embargo, suffered relegation from the Championship and had eight professionals on their books for pre-season ahead of the last campaign.
There was no overnight cure. It was down to Moore to work on his squad, reaching the League One play-offs last season and chasing automatic promotion this term. Their owner, Dejphon Chansiri, has gone from being outspoken on all matters to fading into the background as the club rebuilt, starting from a team meeting last summer when Moore addressed his players and staff.
“I have to be consistent with it and set the tone from pre-season,” he said. “There is a circle and you are all in the circle. Within that circle there is trust, humility, honestly, hard work and nobody will put you outside that circle but yourself, if you choose to be step out of it. The only difference is, when you step out of it, you’ll stick out like a sore thumb.
“The biggest thing for me in every club I’ve been in is the culture, the values within the club. The only way to achieve is the togetherness approach and that respect, that humility and those values and respect for one another for their values, that is important.
“When we used to come here to the training ground, players used to bicker. You’ve got to stamp that out at this training ground. We were getting stupid bookings for dissent to referees. You’ve got to stamp that out because it is only going to hurt ourselves. There is that discipline element that has to come into it.”
'After the Sunderland game there was a real pain'
The turnaround has seen Wednesday win the most points in 2022 among the top four divisions, a record Moore was unaware of until two games before the end of the calendar year. “It was a marvellous year,” he said. “We had Covid and there was a segregation and a loss of time where fans lost that contact with the team. It is about putting an identity back.”
Their football has been attacking, which is something else he learnt from Pulis, who asked his young protégé to pick a team of attackers to break down his two banks of four in training sessions. “I think we only did it two or three times but I was thinking: ‘how do I unlock and break this down?’” he said.
His attacking instincts as a coach also came from being a guest of BBC Five Live’s 606 phone-in when he noted, with some surprise, that fans were identifying more with a Cardiff team losing in style compared to a Brighton team grinding out results. He may have been a hard-tackling centre-back but his team is focused on offence, pinned together by the passing of Barry Bannan.
Moore felt his team would have snatched a top-two place last season with a few more games, such was their form. Yet when they lost to Sunderland in the play-offs, his job was to ensure the hard work from the season did not go to waste.
“After the Sunderland game there was a real pain that hit me but I had to get away from everybody,” he said. “What I did was run in, poured myself a coffee while everyone was on the pitch and I went into a room on my own. When everyone came in I was nowhere to be seen.
“I had to dust myself down, position my thoughts and let everyone see that this one minute isn’t our season. It’s not a disappointment. It has actually been a successful year. When we started the pre-season in Wales, we had eight pros. We had all the bits and pieces that we had to settle down and put some solidity in it and we did that. For me, that was progression even though from that one moment it could seem like a negative.”
Moore mentions in conversation that he will text a new manager to the game after landing his first job, suggesting he will learn quickly how 24/7 life will be. His own escape from the whirlwind is cycling in the peak district. Moore has moved to Sheffield and is a few minutes from countryside.
As one of the few black managers in the Football League, he says he feels the responsibility to encourage others to take their badges. “To talk about 2023 and Darren Moore being a pioneer? In terms of a manager? It shows where we are really,” he says.
“There is work still consistently being done. What you want to be looking at is Darren Moore being just a young British manager representing all. But we are still talking about it so it shows there is work still to be done.” Judged on his work done at Hillsborough, he is heading towards being among the group of managers he used to see in Pulis’ office.