Steve Stone: Milan Mandaric wanted my advice on replacing Velimir Zajec at Portsmouth, so I told him to get a British boss - he didn't listen

Steve Stone has revealed he was consulted by Milan Mandaric over a replacement for struggling boss Velimir Zajec.

Wednesday, 22nd April 2020, 12:00 pm
Updated Thursday, 23rd April 2020, 11:21 am
Steve Stone was a member of the triumphant Pompey side which defeated Southampton 4-1 in April 2005. Picture: Steve Reid

However, despite pushing for the appointment of a British boss to galvanise the relegation-threatened Blues, the midfielder was ignored.

Instead Pompey's owner opted for Alain Perrin, naming the Frenchman at Pompey’s helm in April 2005.

In a 2017 interview for Played Up Pompey Too, Stone admits it was time for Zajec to depart Fratton Park following an unsuccessful four-and-a-half months in charge.

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Yet he identity of the new boss surprised the former England midfielder following his Mandaric chat.

‘Velimir Zajec was another problem, following his appointment as executive director eight days before Harry Redknapp quit,’ he told Played Up Pompey Too.

‘How that role works is he becomes a block between the owner and the manager. The manager wants a player and is demanding big money is spent, but Milan would be thinking “I can’t get away from him here”, so the director of football or executive director deals with it.

‘Suddenly Milan hasn’t got contact with Harry, a barrier has sprung up between the pair.

Steve Stone made 80 appearances for Pompey after arriving from Aston Villa

‘Zajec was a lovely fella, a gentleman and really nice guy who I liked a lot, yet, following Harry’s departure, was now manager, a role he was never brought to the club to fulfil.

‘His English wasn’t great either, it could be difficult understanding his team talks, while his tactics were all over the place in terms of what English football demands.

‘In November 2004, we played at Watford in the Carling Cup and I was playing right-back but instructed not to be right-back and instead act as a midfielder! When the Hornets had the ball I was right-back, when we had it I was a right midfielder, yet the drawback was there was often a big gaping hole behind me and we were getting tortured.

‘It was a formation I had never before come across, Zajec had tried to overcomplicate matters and ended up losing 3-0 to a Championship team. It turned out to be their only win during a run of 10 matches.

Steve Stone was a popular Pompey player during three seasons at Fratton Park. Picture: Matthew Ashton

‘In saying that, it wasn’t his fault, he had been thrown into the job and not even handed his own staff.

‘Joe Jordan was there with him, yet was Harry’s man and it must have been very difficult for him also. Joe’s a great bloke, I loved him to bits at Pompey. He was deadpan and able to have a fight with himself in a telephone box, but a really good guy and an honest bloke.

‘Then, in April 2005, I was called to a meeting by Milan at the Solent Hotel and Spa in Whiteley. “Zajec doesn’t want to be the manager, it’s not working, what do you think?” he asked.

‘Now this never happens, it was the first time a chairman or owner had asked for my observations on the team and how the dressing room was feeling. Presumably he had also spoken to other team-mates of mine. When he mentioned about contemplating changing Zajec, I had no problem, we required some kind of catalyst.

‘I told him “You need to bring in a British manager to understand the British team we have. There are seven games to go, you need someone to hit the ground running and get an instant improvement.”

‘He responded with: “What about a foreign coach?”

‘I replied: “No, don’t bring a foreign coach in, maybe next season or whatever, but don’t bring one in now because of the timescale and tactics. An English manager knows the game over here and will sort it out until the end of the season, then you can do what you want.”

‘Within a week, Alain Perrin was in charge!

‘I believe Milan already had his guy in place before seeking my opinion, although never mentioned anything about Perrin. As it happened, we did stay up, finishing 16th.’

Steve Stone made 80 Pompey appearances and scored 10 goals from October 2002 until May 2005.

Played Up Pompey Too, released in 2017, is still available from Amazon. While Played Up Pompey Three, which contains more of your favourite Blues players, is out in September.

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