The other side of Chris Sutton
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.
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.
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.
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.