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The other side of Chris Sutton

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Paul Fletcher | 16:27 UK time, Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Difficult and testy, sullen and surly; I heard plenty of descriptions of Chris Sutton before interviewing him, virtually all of them portraying a man you really did not want to sit next to on a long journey.

A brief browse though his career did little to suggest I had been misinformed. After all, this is the man that refused to play for England B in a match against Chile and never represented his country again.

It is the same Chris Sutton that incensed Arsenal by violating an unwritten rule of sportsmanship when he chased down a throw-in after the Gunners had put the ball out of play to allow an injured player to receive treatment. Rovers won a corner from which they scored and Sutton was unrepentant.

As a player he was England's first £5m footballer when he joined Blackburn from Norwich in 1994, cost Chelsea £10m in 1999 and Celtic £6m the following year.

To him the game was all about winning. He was not on the pitch to make friends and he certainly didn't do small talk.

Fast forward to January 2010 and Sutton, now 36, is in his fourth month as manager of League Two strugglers Lincoln City.

Lincoln City manager Chris Sutton Sutton claims to be genuinely enjoying life in management.

I couldn't say whether the years have mellowed him or made him more approachable because I have never met or spoken to him before, but the Sutton that willingly gave up an hour of his time was polite, open and happy to deal with any question put his way.

When I asked if he saw the dynamics and politics of the dressing room in a different way now that he was a manager, Sutton said: "It is a fair point. As a player you think you know everything.

"It is totally different when you are a player - you are part of a team but part of you is worried about your own performance. As a manager you have a million different things to worry about."

Perhaps number one in that list of a million things is keeping Lincoln City in the Football League.

The Imps are 22nd in League Two and results hardly suggest an improvement since Sutton and his assistant, former Blackburn team-mate Ian Pearce, took charge in late September. Of the 12 League Two fixtures during their tenure, Lincoln have won three, including his first two in charge, drawn four and lost five.

"We started with a couple of wins but I've been in the game a long time and I knew we were papering over the cracks," added Sutton.

He certainly could not be accused of entering management without realising what he was getting into. Sutton underlined the point that the job had become available only because Lincoln "fundamentally had not performed well".

He repeatedly talked about the need for him and his staff to work hard. It was the theme that ran through the entire conversation - that because Sutton does not have much money to spend in the transfer market, he is concentrating on improving his players on the training pitch.

Sutton has tweaked the dynamic of his squad so that he has more young and hungry players than when he took over. He was less than impressed with the fitness of the squad he inherited and has worked hard to improve that. The Imps boss also feels that the organisation of the team has improved.

He watches a match again on DVD in the hours after the final whistle, identifying problems and then working with his squad through the following week to find what he describes as "solutions". It is as though football is a puzzle that he can solve through hard work on the training pitch.

There is no greater problem for Lincoln that scoring goals. They have scored just 10 in 12 League Two games at Sincil Bank and five in 10 away from home.

"I feel we are now creating more chances and having more efforts at goal," said the Imps boss. "But I always knew that we wouldn't be able to turn on a switch and score five or six in a match."

I read one article that described Sutton's appointment as one of the most unlikely in this or indeed many a long season.

Some players think about their life after retirement long before they hang up their boots, picking up tips here and there for an eventual career in coaching. Sutton readily admits that he never thought about management at all until after he had retired.

An eye injury forced Sutton to quit at the age of 34. He has a big house in Norfolk with his wife and five children. Sutton played cricket for the local team, pursued his interest in game shooting and generally spent a lot of time with his family.

I was very curious to know what drove him to return to the game, knowing he would need to do so at a level way below that which he experienced as a player. Why not just enjoy a long and prosperous retirement?

It was difficult to ascertain an exact answer. To tell the truth, I'm not sure there is one.

I think Sutton just missed being part of a football team. Occasionally he joins in training and readily admits that he would still like to be a player.

For the first few games he was kicking and heading every ball from the touchline but he quickly realised that, half-time team-talk aside, his job is largely over by the time the team leave the dressing room and take to the field.

Chris Sutton celebrates winning the Premier League with Alan Shearer Sutton, a Premier League winner at Blackburn, misses playing

Analysis, preparation, scouting, tactics, spotting a weakness in the opposition or identifying a player that can be brought in on loan - this is the domain that Sutton now occupies.

When I spoke to him he was in south London, where he had been sorting out a few training sessions for his players at the David Beckham Academy in Greenwich.

The snow and subsequent frost had put paid to several training sessions in Lincoln and Sutton had not been able to find a full-size indoor facility any closer to home.

There had been plenty of gym work over the previous week but Sutton sounded enthused about the prospect of working with his players on a pitch once again.

Sutton firmly believes that he can be a success in management and made the reasonable point that he would not have bothered applying for the Lincoln job if he didn't think he could improve them.

Our conversation ended with Sutton noting that he doesn't expect any other job he has in management to be harder than the one he has now - as an inexperienced manager, at a struggling club with little money.

After I put the phone down I briefly wondered whether Sutton had been so pleasant and engaging because, as the manager of a struggling team, it was to his advantage.

Then I thought back to a piece of advice from my old man, who always said you should judge a person by how you find them and not by their reputation.

But ultimately his popularity in Lincoln will be judged on the results of his team and not on the merits of his personality.

You can follow me throughout the season at twitter.com/Paul__Fletcher

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Nice article Paul.

    CS is very well noted for his seemingly surly manner off the pitch, but I feel he's slowly but surely turning things around for us. We recently had a ten-game winless streak which we ended on Boxing Day which had some of the doom-mongers out (chopping and changing the squad every match probably didn't help), but the relief was clear to see on the players' faces at the final whistle.

    In addition to this, he's bought in some quality loanees obviously via his contacts who have done rather well for us. Eric Lichaj has just gone back to Villa, but is being tracked by Peterborough which shows just how highly regarded he is, Chris Herd also from Villa is looking very dynamic and influencial for us in midfield and we've recently bought in a few from Fulham that look promising too.

    I'm confident we can secure survival this time out, things are looking a bit more positive, and build for a vastly improved 2010/11.

    Up the Imps.

  • Comment number 2.

    chris sutton. super player, and a super guy. very good article, and i do hope him and lincoln do ok this season and things pick up- always look out their results every week. good luck.

    miss you in the east end of glasgow big guy

  • Comment number 3.

    Very good article and fully agree with comments by cheerio10inarow.We'll never forget Chris Sutton's skill and total commitment to Celtic. All Celts wish him and Lincoln well.

  • Comment number 4.

    As a fanatical Lincoln City supporter of over 40 years I desperately hope he saves us from relegation out of the Football League. I believe that one day in may years to come he will be a successful manager. However, so far in his reign as manager, Lincoln have declined both in league position and in the quality of our football.

    When Lincoln were in such a dangerous position, it was either a very brave OR an incredibly foolish decision of the Lincoln Board to appoint someone like Sutton with no management experience, especially when plenty of high quality experienced managers applied for the job. I hope the Board's decision turns out to be brave rather than foolish, but I can't help fearing the worse.

  • Comment number 5.

    Good article Paul, but I agree with the news hound. As a Lincoln season ticket holder I have to say the football is somewhat "Agricultural". Our position is precarious and I fear if we go down, we could stay down for a very long time. Worrying times. I just hope CS sticks at it and doesn't give up on us.
    It's nice to know we've got new friends in Glasgow though!!!!

  • Comment number 6.

    I think most of his surliness came after the media treatment he received through his time at Chelsea and his turning down the England B... It wasn't his fault Chelsea paid 10mil for him.. the tag brought the pressure and then obviously a dry season and the media were all over him..

    The England B was a farce too.. these days you have players pulling out of full England friendlies and playing 3 days later for their team and there is only whispers about being dis-loyal.. once again his reputation led to him being hung out to dry..

    Good luck to him is all I can say.. loved him at Celtic

  • Comment number 7.

    Saw Sutton playing a friendly for Celtic in Derry once. He was subbed at half-time but spent the entire second half outside the dugout signing autographs for youngsters. A complete gentleman. Question: is it true he's the only player ever to win a league title (with Celtic) and be relegated (with Birmingham) in the same season - 2006?

  • Comment number 8.

    I've always liked and had the utmost respect for Chris Sutton as a player. I've also had some fantastic trips to Sincil Bank, not all the long a go when Hull City were in Division 3. I always enjoyed my trips to the south side of the bridge, by all accounts back then Lincoln were not struggling at the foot of the football league. Chants of "The Imps are going up" would be shouted around the ground, I would hate to see them go the same way as York City and fall out the league.

    So wish him, and Lincoln all the best for the rest of the season.

  • Comment number 9.

    I may be wrong but wasn't that the England B International that Matt Le Tissier ended up playing in, scoring a hat-trick, and still not getting to the Tournament that followed soon after? Sort of proved Sutton's point for me.
    Good to hear his former managers O'Neill and Hodgson have been helping him out anyway.

  • Comment number 10.

    #9 Yes that is right.

    Chris Sutton was wrong in my opinion to refuse to represent his country but that was his choice I guess.

    It would seem that he was the type of player who excelled in the Premier League but just didn't make the leap to International player, see Andy Cole.

    Either way it is good to see a top player start in the lower divisions. Good luck.

  • Comment number 11.

    Always had a healthy amount of respect for the player - there's nothing wrong with a winning mentality. Wish him well in his managerial pursuits, but worry that the task at Lincoln will be a hard one for somebody with no prior experience. Perhaps Sutton would have benefitted from a stint as an assistant - it seems to be that if you don't excel in your first appointment, your prospects for the future are restricted to punditry.
    http://sportales.com/soccer/english-premiership-correct-score-predictions-week-19-160110/

  • Comment number 12.

    I think Sutton will keep us up. We have Barnet away next (in very poor form) and Bradford at home likewise I can see us getting 4 points from those games :). I don't think we have a very good side but it's not his fault what he's inherired. Lichaj was very good and Herd may be a little inexperienced and tries to do a little bit too much with the ball but when he gets the ball he always looks like he'll do something positive. So I give him credit in bringing some decent players in. Only thing he needs to work on for me is defensively all goals we concede seem to happen when full backs get beat then centre halves rush out wide to cover em there's nobody in the middle and opposition pass it and it's an easy goal. If he can cut them mistakes out we'll be fine :)

  • Comment number 13.

    Wish Sutton all the best! It's hame Hoddle didn't capitalise on the SAS partnership for England. Sutton and Shearer were arguably the best English strike pairing of their era when at Blackburn and it's mind boggling why they were never played together for the country.

    Missed something huge there in my opinion.

  • Comment number 14.

    TheNewsHoundLtd and Phil Markham - I agree with both of you when you say that there was a large element of risk in appointing Chris Sutton. Results have hardly improved and the club remain in a very dangerous position.

    On the other hand you could say that Lincoln should be applauded for appointing a different face, someone who hasn't had and eventually failed with managerial posts at several other clubs.

    I think Sutton himself would tell you that he is learning all the time and he is confident the team have improved over the last month to six weeks. As supporters who watch the Imps regularly I wonder whether you would agree?

    As for walking out on England - I think that is something Sutton himself would admit was a mistake. I get the impression that seeing the game from the other side of the fence has given him an insight that has allowed him to look back and reflect on some of the things he did - and didn't during his career.

  • Comment number 15.

    "To him the game was all about winning" - this seemed to sum the man up perfectly. He's best remembered up here in Scotland as someone lacking in grace. His antics where he constantly haranged officials and showed no respect to beaten opponents were a common feature of his approach to the game. Hopefully getting beaten week in week out with Lincoln City will teach him some humility.

  • Comment number 16.

    "I read one article that described Sutton's appointment as one of the most unlikely is this or indeed many a long season"

    in?

  • Comment number 17.

    Interesting write-up. Any signs that working with MON both at Celtic and later (and limited) with AVFC has made an impact on his own management style/approach?

  • Comment number 18.

    DjR_606 - Sutton said that before landing the Lincoln job he spent a fair amount of time with Martin O'Neill at Villa and Roy Hodgson at Fulham, watching and learning, both in terms of their training sessions and the way they dealt with and handled players.

    He obviously has a huge amount of respect for both men.

  • Comment number 19.

    "Our conversation ended with Sutton noting that he does expect any other job he has in management to be harder than the one he has now - as an inexperienced manager, at a struggling club with little money."

    "does not", surely?

  • Comment number 20.

    Bottom line with Sutton and Pearce, one Grimsby Town revival and Lincoln City are relegated. I think irrelivancies like personalty, changing or not, have no baring on whether you can manage (which your throw-away last line hints at). Sutton has been at Sincil Bank long enough to have made a impression on the league table and he has failed to do so. The gamble is not just this season but for next also if he scrapes by. Whilst encouraging young managers is fine perhaps he should have cut his teeth lower down the scale first. This article was only written due to his "profile" you would have been better off going to Rochdale and talking to a real manager.

  • Comment number 21.

    We have been struggling a lot but we don't have much money for players it's only cos of his contacts that we have decent players like Herd coming in. Fair point a Grimsby revival and where in trouble but atm I can't see that happening and where close to a fair few sides after the Chesterfield win. I think people are being a bit harsh on Sutton. Are managers not allowed any amount of time these days?

  • Comment number 22.

    Clarkeonenil - the article was written because I think it is a good story. Sutton's profile is part of it but is in no way the sole reason. Are you saying I should not write any articles featuring someone who has a "profile"?

    Furthermore, look at the articles I have written over the last year or so and you will see (hopefully) that plenty concern people with hardly any profile, but who have an interesting story to tell nonetheless.

    However, you are quite right to suggest that Rochdale are well worth a piece - it is just that you wouldn't believe how much trouble I am having getting hold of Keith Hill.

  • Comment number 23.

    Well keep trying PF. I am suggesting that with 24 managers in L2 to profile the fact it was Sutton given the limited impact his tenure has had does suggest it played a bigger role than you admit to yourself. As new managers go Paul Peschisoldio (spelling) at Burton has a more impressive story to tell (admitidilly he has a "profile" of his own). Apols if you have done him.

  • Comment number 24.

    Chris Sutton lost any respect he may been entitled to when he accused Dunfermline of cheating to allow Rangers to win the league in 2003.

    I believe his comments were, "Dunfermline have lay down against Rangers, but we knew they would". Given Chris Sutton was playing for Celtic against Kilmarnock at the same time as the Rangers Dunfermline game I find it difficult to know how he could possibly judge the performance of the Dunfermline players?

    Bitterness, maybe another trait he learnt from MON?

  • Comment number 25.

    Distinctly remember seeing this game and applauded Sutton for his actions and goal. Arsenal were under pressure, doing nothing, had a player down whether injured or not. They chose to gain advantage and put the ball out of play. The sportsmanship bit would come under same action when an opposition player is "down"
    How often do we see feigned injuries when looking for some advantage.
    Well done Mr Sutton.

  • Comment number 26.

    Having seen Chris Sutton a few times now at Sincil Bank I would say he was shy rather than surly. He never looks comfortable when making his way to the dug out.
    I must admit that I was against his appointment at the time because I felt our football league status was too important for "brave decisions". If we get relegated I feel that will be the end - we won't get back into the football league for a long time. However, I dont agree that our football since his appointment is "agricultural" - we try and keep the ball on the ground and play properly. It is not his fault that we are toothless in attack because it was absolutely obvious in August with Peter Jackson's pre season signings of diminutive forwards that we would struggle to score. Furthremore, he has signed some quality loanees and the formation and performance against Chesterfield have given me hope.
    If we can survive the forthcoming glut of rearranged fixtures without too many injuries, reintroduce Paul Connor without him succumbing to further injuries then I believe we will be fine. I am cautiously optimistic that CS will succeed and position us for push for promotion next season.
    If not then the board will have a lot to answer for!

  • Comment number 27.

    "He's best remembered up here in Scotland as someone lacking in grace". 60000 of us here in Scotland who were privileged to watch Chris Sutton can speak for ourselves thanks, ParSoup, and our view of CS is quite different. How typically magnanimous to carry your grudge against CS to the lengths of wishing Lincoln ill! As for NelsonRFC82, Sutton accused Dunfermline players(ParSoup's team I'd guess) of being unprofessional by not trying against Rangers - call that cheating if you like. MON, with 3 titles in five years, 3 trophies in his first season and a UEFA cup final, had no occasion to show bitterness during his time in Glasgow.

  • Comment number 28.

    CS seems a perfect example of 'don't judge a book by its cover'. He has obviously fought for everything from early days at Norwich to idolitry at Celtic and hasn't been too fussed what people think about his actions or his manner. He's just kept on doing the best he can with the talent he's been given. Just because he doesn't smile at everybody or fill his interviews with platitudes doesn't mean he's not going to succeed, look at Sir Alex Ferguson.

    From all the activity at Sincil Bank he seems to be maintaining this work ethic and I wouldn't bet against Lincoln finishing the season mid table. They've got two matches in hand, have had a good break because of the weather, played a great first half against Bolton in the FA Cup and continue to develop the squad.

    Lets hope he can prevail because it would be so dull if money alone became the only determining factor between success and failure

  • Comment number 29.

    A couple of weeks after the article was written and things have perked up a bit in Lincoln.
    He has had time to bring in some players and instil how he wants to play. Defence is a bit more secure and we are playing a bit more football. The players he has recruited have a good first touch - noticably absent in many he inherited. We are still a bit fragile, but we look like a football team now.
    Has this affected how he is percieved by fans? A good number had reserved judgement either way until Christmas, to give him time bed in and have an impact before heaping on abuse or praise. They are voicing cautious optimism. Others have been won over in the last few weeks by the marked improvement in performances.
    There is a small core of anti-Sutton feeling which mainly stems from their anti-Board mentality. Their complaints include that his press interviews are too negative and that he doesn't sound interesting - the same people were complaining his predecessor was too optimistic to the press.
    Overall I have been impressed with his preparation (spending a year looking at other clubs) and being prepared to start his career at Lincoln. Was a bit nervous he would expect too much from Lg2 players, but his solution was to get in better players - who'd have thought it.

  • Comment number 30.

    As a rangers fan I never could stand Chris Sutton. But he was a very good at what he did, wind up defenders and score goals. Great in the air, very underrated.

 

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