The Monday Profile: Dario Gradi

Posted by on Nov 7, 2011 in The Monday Profile | 8 Comments
The Monday Profile: Dario Gradi
The recent unveiling of the Elite Player Performance Plan has been met with a cacophony of complaint from footballer bloggers. For Gary Andrews of Two Footed Tackle, it was not so much the straw that broke the camel’s back, more a case of the straw being repeatedly driven into said back with a whopping great JCB -and as Jon Keenof The Tilehurst End pointed out, EPPP could allow acquiring clubs to be fork out as little as £12,500 in compensation for a player between 12 and 16 years of age – permitting our Premier League chums to gather kids like over enthusiastic fans of pick ‘n’ mix.But if one club stands to suffer the most from these new proposals, it must be Crewe Alexandra. Dario Gradi, a figure of such status that a local dance act were named in his honour, has already pointed out the potential pitfalls for the Railwaymen, albeit cautiously.For Gradi, upsetting the delicate balance of relationships with those he has entered into business with in the past may be something he is wary of. Crewe has always been a supply line foremost and first – that much will not change – but the sums received will surely dramatically alter.Look at the Gradi production line. David Platt – sold to Aston Villa for £200,000 in 1988; Rob Jones – packaged off to Liverpool for £300,000 in 1991; Danny Murphy, also to Liverpool and this time for £1.5 million in 1997; Robbie Savage to Leicester City, also in 1997, for £400,000; Dean Ashton to Norwich City for £3 million in 2005; Nicky Maynard to Bristol City for £2,250,000 in 2008.

Geoff Thomas, Seth Johnson, Neil Lennon, Luke Varney and David Vaughan are others who emerged from Gresty Road – indeed, in Ian Ridley’s recently published book, There’s a Golden Sky, Alex’s joint academy director James Collins claims you can tell by watching Vaughan that “he is one of our players. He does certain things on the ball.” As the near personification of Crewe Alexandra Football Club, Gradi creates that mould.

When an FA Cup tie between Chelsea and Burnley was postponed in Febryary 1978, my Dad and I decided to tarry in west London and make our way to Griffin Park for a Division 4 fixture between Brentford and Crewe. The Bees won 5-1 and it’s hard to overstate just how much the Cheshire club epitomised the word “unfashionable” in those days. Between 1894 and 1982, Alex finished last of the 92 clubs on 8 occasions – more than any other – and they applied for re-election more times than Vladimir Putin.

All that changed when Gradi took over in 1983. The Milan born gaffer led Crewe to the second level of English football three times between 1994 and 2003 – an extraordinary achievement for a club of their size but full vindication of the policy to nurture assets before chasing in and building again. The youth system at Gresty Road was developed far more keenly than at clubs of similar size and the ball was kept on the floor amid an atmosphere advocating an appealing football philosophy.

Gradi himself seemed to thrive against a backcloth of slow progress. It’s often forgotten that he started his managerial career as an assistant at Chelsea during one of their most storied periods, as well as enjoying top flight stewardship with Crystal Palace, albeit ending in relegation. He also took the old Wimbledon up and out of Division 4 and led Surrey non-league duo Sutton United and Tooting & Mitcham.

But it was up north that he was to really make this name and if a contract that reputedly allows him to take a cut of any sell on fee was highlighted by David Conn in The Beautiful Game?, it would be churlish to deny his positive influence. After stepping upstairs to the role of Technical Director in 2007, Steve Holland and Guðjón Þórðarson failed to set the blue touch paper on fire and the old timer was to return.

Continuity was quickly re-established and youngsters such as Nick Powell and Max Clayton are England under-17 regulars, even if Matt Lund and Ben Marshall were allowed to leave for local rivals Stoke for £110,000 – the latter has gone on to etch up over 80 league appearances on loan, many of them with Carlisle, although he now resides at Sheffield Wednesday.

But defender Carl Martin’s comments after the recent 3-1 loss against Aldershot set off some alarm bells and these became louder after Saturday’s 3-0 thumping by Torquay, with some fans voicing the unthinkable – that the septuagenarian manager should step down. Indeed, the result leaves Crewe in a precarious position just above the relegation zone and without a league win in their own building since September 10.

Gradi has said he has no intention of quitting and the Alex faithful should remember the lesson learned by Port Vale when a minority of their fans inexplicably felt they had had enough of John Rudge in 1999. Since leaving, he has enjoyed unparalleled success across the Potteries at Stoke. The new crop of academy graduates are still green and they – and Gradi – deserve another chance to build a new Crewe – whether EPPP will allow that cycle of excellence to continue is doubtful however.

Rob Langham
Rob Langham (pen name: Lanterne Rouge) is co-founder of the defiantly non-partisan football league blog, The Two Unfortunates, a website that occasionally strays into covering issues of wider importance. He's 47 and lives in Oxford while retaining his boyhood support of Reading FC. He tweets as @twounfortunates and has written for a number of websites and publications including The Football Attic, The Inside Left, When Saturday Comes, In Bed with Maradona, Futbolgrad and The Blizzard as well as being nominated for the Football Supporters' Federation Blogger of the Year Award in 2013.

8 Comments

  1. unclemonty6
    November 7, 2011

    Nice profile. Fair and balanced.

    It's arguable, however, that Crewe may not stand to lose as much as other Football League clubs from the EPPP. Generally, Crewe don't lose their youngsters before they get to the first team as often as other smaller clubs. If Crewe can continue to keep them until they've had a couple of years as a professional, then they'll still get decent prices for them.

    Of course, the new rules are going to mean PL are going to try even harder to tempt under 16 players away, but Crewe have always had to deal with them doing this.

    Reply
  2. Lanterne Rouge
    November 7, 2011

    Yes – that's possibly true. I just wonder if they will keep the players quite as long as they have done in the past – as is evidenced by Lund and Marshall upping sticks to Stoke.

    The 90 minute rule – that players need to be within a 90 minute drive of where they are based – was never a good one for Alex either as almost every club in the North West and West Midlands must be within 90 minutes of the town.

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  3. unclemonty6
    November 7, 2011

    Yeah, Crewe have always had a lot of competition from other clubs, so it's not like that has changed much. Although clubs like Everton, Stoke and many others have been behind Crewe in terms of youth development but have poured a lot of money in to it over recent years.

    Lund and Marshall were probably special cases – I think the main reason they left was that Gudjon Thordarson, who was not giving young players much of a chance, was manager at the time. They're not the only two to have left prematurely though – Eddie Johnson and Lee Simms left for Manchester United a few years ago, which did not end well for them. I believe that Crewe do lose about one younger kid a year at the moment too. I think that the best under 12 left for Everton last season, for example.

    It definitely will get more difficult to keep youngsters under the EPPP, although I don't think anyone really knows for certain what will happen. As Dario recently said, a lot of it is down to the parents of the young players. It's up to them to keep their feet on the ground when the big clubs come calling. What Crewe can offer – first team football, proper dedicated one-on-one training and the guarantee that the club won't stand in their way when they're ready to move on – won't ever change. In most cases, it's in the best interests of the players to stick with The Alex, I'd say.

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  4. unclemonty6
    November 7, 2011

    I've just noticed that you did actually link to an article with many of Dario's comments anyway, which made much of what I just said redundant…

    Reply
  5. John McGee
    November 7, 2011

    Marshall will be the next of their men to break through in the top flight. Amongst many, many excellent loanees Carlisle have had over my time as a fan and follower he is bested by only two:

    – Leon Osman has made 250 PL appearances for Everton.
    – Tim Krul is this season suggesting that Shay Given and Steve Harper, not Fab Coloccini and Steve Taylor were to blame for leaky Geordie backlines.

    He is better than Leeds United's marauding midfield maestro Adam Clayton and better than the one of the most gifted youngcentre backs I've seen – James Chester.

    That Carlisle's season collapsed after his early April injury last year is little coincidence. It's that injury and Pulis' nervousness around it that sees him setting Hillsborough alight right now. Any Owls fan who feels they have a chance of keeping him beyond January is clutching at creative folly. The boy is, to coin a phrase, bound for greatness.

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  6. unclemonty6
    November 7, 2011

    Marshall is highly-rated by the fans of every club he's been on loan to. I hope Crewe managed to get a decent sell-on clause in the transfer settlement – they certainly didn't get much of an initial fee.

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  7. Lanterne Rouge
    November 8, 2011

    Some great comments fellas. Looking forward to seeing Marshall in the flesh at some point.

    Reply
  8. Lloyd
    November 8, 2011

    As I've commented before on these pages, I saw Crewe back in september and wasn't taken aback by any of their current crop (it was a horrible game, though).

    I think they should just be about ok given the presence of Plymouth, Barnet and Hereford around the nether regions but Alex fans may worry about the possibility of a nosedive in the manner of their Championship exit a few years ago after Dean Ashton left for Naaarch…

    Reply

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