How 'totalitarian' Alain Perrin lost Portsmouth's dressing room - and never again reached Demolition Derby heights
Alain Perrin’s finest Pompey feat was coined ‘The Demolition Derby’ – a fitting tagline for an accomplishment which resides in Fratton folklore.
Remarkably that 4-1 top-flight humiliation of Southampton, which occurred 15 years ago today, represented one of only four victories during the Frenchman’s 21-game reign.
A combustible seven-and-a-half month spell ended in November 2005, with Pompey separated from the Premier League relegation zone by goal difference.
At that stage, Perrin possessed few allies in the dressing room, while had instigated acrimonious splits with popular stalwarts Arjan De Zeeuw, Steve Stone and Shaka Hislop.
Certainly Andy Griffin possessed little sympathy over the fate which befell his third manager in 18 months at Fratton Park.
Recruited by Harry Redknapp on a free from Newcastle in May 2004, the right-back had also worked under Velimir Zajec before Perrin’s entrance.
Ever the straight talker, the 41-year-old has revealed how the former Marseilles boss’ dictatorial approach swiftly led to his downfall.
Griffin told The News: ‘I think Perrin lost the dressing room quite early on, creating unease around the place.
‘There was one moment which happened on a Wednesday, with our day off having been cancelled to do running, despite having had a hard game on the Saturday.
‘Now footballers love a little moan. We’ve got nothing to moan about by the way, but we all moan, it’s part of being a human being, isn’t it.
‘Maybe, on that day, there were one or two having a little moan and Perrin said something like “You are scared of your own shadow”, which doesn’t help a group fighting for the same purpose.
‘Well, you are talking absolute rubbish there, you shouldn’t be accusing me of that. If anything, the likes of myself, Dejan Stefanovic, Arjan De Zeeuw, David Unsworth and Steve Stone were as tough as old boots.
‘You should not be pointing the finger and saying “You are scared”. Well, I’m scared of spiders, but I’m not scared of hard work. You can’t be saying that, so he didn’t do himself any favours.
‘Now I’ve never been a manager, but I imagine there’s a balance you must get right.
‘It’s not just “I am the boss, I am the captain of the ship and it’s my way or the highway” – you must at least let a player think he has a say and his word has meaning.
‘That is even more the case nowadays, when you have to fluff the feathers of these players. Yet Perrin was almost totalitarian in his approach.
‘He shifted things very dramatically. Sometimes he’d have us in on our Wednesday off just to run you. Now some players don’t like that, some like routine, they don’t like change, and at times it was a little too much.
‘We were trying to voice our opinion saying “Look, we’re going into games a bit fatigued, you need to listen to what the dressing room is telling you”.
‘I understand where he is coming from to a certain degree, a fit footballer is a better footballer. The fitter the team means you aren’t getting tired on 85 minutes and potentially shipping a goal.
‘Perrin was very hard working and big on fitness. That’s fine, but sometimes you have to listen to the players, particularly when you have a decent dressing room.
‘When you have eight, nine or 10 good lads in there who aren’t afraid of hard work, who aren’t spoilt little brats, then you really should be paying attention.
‘When the players are on the pitch, there’s nothing a manager can do, his hands are tied. So it’s about getting that balance between manager and the team correct.
‘I’ve had managers who had that balance down to a tee, such as Bobby Robson and Harry Redknapp.’
In April 2005, Perrin inherited a Pompey side which had slumped to 16th in the Premier League under Zajec.
Milan Mandaric decided to act with the Blues positioned just four points above the relegation zone – and seven fixtures remaining.
Perrin possessed an eye-catching record, having steered unfancied Troyes into the French top flight following three promotions in six seasons.
He then spent 18 months at Marseilles, before joining United Arab Emirates club Al-Ain for a brief spell – then the Frenchman arrived at Pompey.
Griffin added: ‘You need to be fit and the training session schedule must be 100mph to replicate the tempo of a football match.
‘Then you should hit the gym and, following that, it’s all about your recovery, such as nutrition, hydration and yoga. Your recovery is as important as training, but under Perrin it seemed as if there was no time to recover.
‘We were heading into a Saturday game where we wouldn’t have the majority of the ball, so you had to be in peak condition. The energy levels needed to be 100 per cent because you were required to shut players down and get back into position.
‘At times we were playing against some great teams and chasing chickens. However, on occasions, we’d approach matches a little fatigued
‘Normally with lines of communication, you voiced your opinion, maybe to the manager or his coach. That didn’t seem to go down well.
‘Perrin wouldn’t listen. Whether that’s a manager stuck in his ways and not wanting to give any power over to the dressing room, I don’t know.
‘But you can do it in a very clever way where you are not necessarily losing power because, ultimately, you are the one who picks the teams, gets rid of players and brings them in.
‘But at least listen to your players.’
Perrin’s April 2005 arrival signalled a 4-2 success over Charlton in his opening match.
That heralded a haul of eight points from six fixtures to ensure Premier League survival with a game to spare.
The start of the 2005-06 campaign yielded just two wins from the opening 14 matches in all competitions – coming at Everton and Sunderland.
And Griffin, who totalled 48 games during three seasons on the south coast, is adamant the players were not motivated to underperform in an attempt to unseat the deeply unpopular Perrin.
He said: ‘Sometimes when the manager loses the dressing room, players down tools. For me that is disgusting and you see it quite often nowadays.
‘The players we had in that Pompey dressing room wouldn’t know how to down tools, it’s not part of who they are or in their DNA, so that certainly wasn’t the case.
‘We had some very, very good characters, some good players and some not so good players. We didn’t down tools whatsoever. Maybe it was a case of us not being good enough.
‘We couldn’t have downed tools because we stayed up that first season and were professional.
‘Yet there was a dark cloud, an uneasy environment, which can’t have been good for anybody. You want players to come into training and not want to leave because everyone is bubbling.
‘Having said that, despite our thoughts on the manager, not an awful lot should change because you are still getting paid and have pride in your performances. Surely you must always give your best whether you like the manager or not.
‘Unfortunately things didn’t work for Alain, but sometimes you have to look at yourself and not point the finger, because he did have a team of triers at that time.’
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