Dickov puts the buzz back in Oldham
Paul Dickov had several nicknames during his lengthy playing career. The Wasp and The Pest were two of them.
I think they accurately convey the image many of us had of the feisty Scottish striker whenever we watched him in action.
Dickov was never afraid to throw himself into a challenge or let an official know if he disagreed with a decision. He might not have been to everybody's taste but nobody could accuse him of lacking energy, commitment and desire.
Perhaps best known for scoring Manchester City's vital equaliser in the last minute of their then Division Two play-off final against Gillingham in 1999, the 37-year-old is now attempting to impose the template of hard work and effort that shaped his career upon Oldham Athletic, where he is in his first season as player-manager.
"I told the players on my first day that it does not cost anything to work hard," Dickov told me. "They are lucky to be doing the job they have, training four days a week before playing for 90 minutes on Saturday. If their starting point is not working as hard as they can, then I do not want them here."
Dickov has brought a vibrancy and energy to his role as Oldham manager
It is obvious that there is a lot more to the softly-spoken Dickov than the snarling figure that was prepared to tear around the pitch chasing down lost causes.
His desire to see his team play with spirit and determination is not only because he believes it can make the difference between his young squad falling short or challenging at the right end of what looks like being a fiercely competitive division.
It also shows his understanding of the club he manages, the area it is in and the impact on the town of the recent economic downturn.
"Oldham is a working class place and I am wary that not everyone can afford to pay £20 every Saturday," said Dickov. "I have said to the fans that I want to give them a team that they can relate to. We might not win every week but we will have given them everything we have got. "I constantly tell the players it is up to them to get the fans going."
Oldham supporters have had precious little to excite them since the heyday of the first Joe Royle era, which ended with his departure months after the club's relegation from the Premier League in 1994.
The Latics have been rattling around the third tier of English football since 1997, with two failed play-off campaigns to their name but plenty of skirmishes with relegation, and now play at a ground that has only three sides.
The only direction the fans were going towards the end of last season was out of Boundary Park - and with very little intention of returning. The relationship between former manager Dave Penney and supporters had become non-existent and it was widely reported that the club had sold only 14 season tickets by the start of June.
Dickov realised immediately upon taking over that morale was an issue and decided to hold fans forums and open training sessions to bring back disenfranchised supporters.
Season ticket sales had reached 1,800 by the start of the campaign and there is no question that supporters have responded to the infectious Dickov.
"This season bears no comparison with the last," said bafanabafanaboundary on the 606 messageboard. "Dickov has been absolutely brilliant at bringing the best out of these players, the team are together, try to play football, are always looking to win and never give up - it's fantastic. He deserves a huge amount of praise."
Oldham currently sit seventh in League One, two points behind leaders Huddersfield. It is a very tight division, with only four points separating the top 13 sides, and Dickov is realistic enough to acknowledge that his team could easily slip down the table.
Having said that, the Latics boss took great encouragement from last Saturday's 2-1 victory over Bournemouth, which came seven days after his team were thrashed 5-2 at Peterborough in their only league defeat so far this season.
"It was a great result for loads of reasons," said Dickov of the victory over the Cherries. "It was a good reaction to defeat and it showed the players that we can win even if we are not playing that well as long as the attitude and desire is fantastic.
"I have also been told that Oldham went behind 17 times last season and did not win any of those games. To win from behind against the Cherries indicates that the management team does know what it is talking about."
Dickov was a feisty and combative striker, always keen to speak his mind
Dickov, who started his career at Arsenal, brought former Leicester team-mate Gerry Taggart in as his assistant, Paul Butler as fitness coach and, confusingly, another Paul Butler - the former Sunderland, Wolves and Leeds defender- as chief scout, while coach Lee Duxbury remains at the club.
Like most managers, Dickov tailors the bulk of training towards a forthcoming match. He often coaches from the touchline but also finds it advantageous to join in a session so he can get his point across from the thick of the action.
"I want the players to see the benefits on a Saturday afternoon of all the work that we do during the week," said Dickov, who has made only one substitute appearance so far.
"People talk about expectations but ours have got to be that we apply everything we have learnt during the week during the next match."
Dickov spent the final years of his career observing different types of training sessions and watching how managers prised the maximum effort possible from their staff. He applied for the vacancy at Oldham with the intention of gaining some much-needed interview experience and was both surprised and delighted when he was offered the job.
It is early days but he seems to be thriving on the all-round role of management, from coaching the side to board meetings and budgets.
Dickov is carrying a bloated squad of more than 30 professionals and described telling several players during the summer that they are surplus to requirements as the hardest part of his job so far, while he joked that part of the learning process has been working out when to ignore phone calls from agents.
I thought his appointment was one of the few that really caught the eye during the summer. It was a bold gamble by chairman Simon Corney, who has a business unconnected with his role at the club and is often asked by Manchester City-supporting colleagues about Dickov's famous goal at Wembley.
Corney is growing weary of discussing it but, as the season rolls on, it is increasingly clear he made an excellent choice in giving Dickov his first taste of football management. And you never know, Oldham fans may soon have something to shout about.