Claridge: Mandaric’s bonkers handling of Pompey sacking

Milan Mandric, left, with Steve Claridge during his unveiling as 'manager' in 2000
Milan Mandric, left, with Steve Claridge during his unveiling as 'manager' in 2000
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This Christmas sees Played Up Pompey Too hit the shelves.

Written by The News’ chief sports writer, Neil Allen, the book contains fresh interviews with 23 of the Fratton faithful’s favourite players.

Continuing a series of extracts is Steve Claridge, who made 124 appearances and scored 37 goals for the club.

We won five out of my 22 matches – I don’t count West Brom – and lost seven, but almost every one of my squad sustained injuries at some stage during my time in charge. It was a horrendous period for injuries.

When Milan got rid of me, I was already planning for the following campaign and organising our pre-season. I could have easily demanded to get players in, but knew I wouldn’t be able to recruit the right players at that stage. Besides, we weren’t going to get relegated.

I remember playing Bolton at home and Sam Allardyce pulled me to one side and said ‘You have got to look after yourself, you cannot run a team with this amount of injuries and not get players in. Stop looking after the club and look after yourself because you will be the victim’.

But I didn’t want to bring in the wrong player, I didn’t want to just fill the team with average footballers who were the same as we had. That Bolton match would be my last in charge.

I had Steve Guppy, Marlon King, John Aloisi and goalkeeper Jason Brown all lined up to come in at the season’s end. There were another three or four other good players I had sounded out.

Yet I never received any inkling the sack was coming. Admittedly, Milan’s mood changed and his attitude altered, that was all. He wasn’t in England as much, he was difficult to get hold of, when I did speak to him he was quite curt, quite abrasive.

But I thought I would get to the summer and probably Christmas the next year with my own team.

Never at any stage was it said I was caretaker. The first time he uttered ‘caretaker’ was when he sacked me and I heard about it in the press.

In February 2001, Guy Whittingham and myself were summoned to Fratton Park after training and that was it, out after four months and 14 days. Rix had been appointed.

I genuinely believed I wasn’t caretaker, in everything he said he led me to understand I was the manager.

Jamie Vincent was signed for the money we received from West Brom for Russell Hoult, if I was caretaker why would he let me get rid of players and sign others? It was bonkers, it just didn’t make sense.

Pompey’s finances meant the club were cutting costs left, right and centre, even down to scrapping buying bottles of water. I was trying to save money, attempting to firefight areas I shouldn’t have been getting involved in, seeking a training facility which meant the club were back in the city, which I felt was important.

I was also managing the football club.

n Played Up Pompey Too is priced at £17.99 and available from Waterstones in Portsmouth, Fareham and Petersfield and local newsagents.

It can also be ordered from Amazon.