Should Darren Murray one day achieve his ambition of becoming a football manager, his first “thankyou” call will be to Sinisa Mihajlovic of Sampdoria. Murray spent a week at the Centro Sportivo Gloriano Mugnaini earlier this month and revelled in daily involvement at Samp’s training ground.
The insight left the former Hearts youth coach enthralled as he aims to complete his UEFA Pro Licence in a few months. Murray is currently youth coach at Coventry City but harbours a strong desire to become a manager in his own right. Bouncing questions off a European footballing legend like Mihajlovic, right, and studying Sampdoria’s coaches is yet another stage in his own progress.
“Sampdoria gave me access all areas,” he told the Evening News. “We went right through their academy structure from under-8s to under-19s. I watched training sessions and spoke to all the coaches and some ex-players like Paolo Annoni and Claudio Bellucci. I had a brilliant meeting with Giovanni Ivernizzi, the academy director. We talked about their philosophy and how they develop players.
“I spent 40 minutes with Sinisa Mihajlovic. I watched him shape up his team for the match against Napoli on the Sunday. I spoke to him before his training session and directly after it and the whole thing was so educational for me. One-to-one, he was very open about his philosophy.
“I asked him what he thought Napoli would do in the game, the shape of the team and the footballing aspects. I asked him a number of questions after his training about how he was going to play against Napoli and he was excellent with me. He was very open with his answers, although there is a steely side to him.
“The last part of the trip was watching Sampdoria v Napoli, which Napoli won 5-2. You could see how they tried to put things into practice in the game – things like shape and switching the play.
“The one thing I noticed at Sampdoria was that all the coaches worked together so well. They do a lot of 11 v 11 training games, even at under-13 and under-14 level. I’m a great believer in that because I think the game is the teacher for young players.”
The Scottish FA is criticised by many for their coaching development but Murray’s first-hand view is nothing but positive. In fact, he believes their delivery of the Pro Licence course leaves some other countries trailing.
“The Pro Licence group I’m with went over to Nyon in Switzerland and met up with groups from the Republic of Ireland FA, the Northern Irish FA and the Polish FA, who were also doing their Pro Licence. It’s not until you speak to these guys that you realise the Scottish FA Pro Licence involves so much more work than the other associations’. It is such a hard-working course. Although everyone gets the same Pro Licence in the end, I think the Scottish one covers more.
“We’ve been able to fire questions at Gordon Strachan, Roy Hodgson, Lars Lagerback and guys like that. Jim Fleeting, who runs the SFA’s course, really takes you out of your comfort zone. Some of the work has been tough but it certainly gets you ready for the next step.”
Murray took a huge amount from questioning Ray Kelvin, the entrepreneur behind the Ted Baker fashion label, as part of the course. “His man management and how he manages people I found very helpful,” he continued. “Ted Baker is a worldwide brand and it’s great to learn about dealing with different types of people because that is a massive part of football management.”
The current plan for Murray is to continue working with Coventry manager Steven Pressley and his assistant Neil MacFarlane. However, sooner or later he intends to go it alone as a manager. “Going down to Coventry has been a big part of my development,” he said. “I’m involved with the under-18s, the under-21s and the first team. I feel I’m getting towards where I want to go now.
“I want the partnership with the gaffer and Neil to continue but there is a burning desire within me to be a manager. In the future, that’s something that’s got to happen for me. I can’t go through all these processes and not try it.
“I must give it a try, but my first job has to be the right job. I’ve got a vision of what I want to do and if I have some options I will have to choose carefully.”