Former Hartlepool United manager Craig Hignett discusses signing Ben Killip and his 'Brian Clough' recruitment process that saw him secure some bargain deals
Former Hartlepool United manager Craig Hignett feels he deserved more credit for successfully trimming the club’s wage bill while simultaneously strengthening the squad.
The 49-year-old claimed his budget for the 2019-20 season was roughly £200,000 less than it had been for their previous season in the National League. The current figure that has been spent is believed to be around £700,000.
But the fact Hignett was able to keep together the core of last season’s squad while also bringing in seven permanent and two loan signings over the summer had many believing he’d been well backed by the club once again.
This led the former United boss to take issue with that argument as he insisted on RedArmy.TV: “People kept saying I was being backed, but I had no backing in the summer.
“Because of the squad I built, people thought we’d spent a fortune, I hadn’t.
“I’d just worked really hard in the summer going around to people’s houses and convincing them what a great project Hartlepool was and where we were going.”
Hignett’s point is understandable as he did have to trim the wage bill significantly. But a £700,000 playing budget is still a substantial backing at non-league level regardless of whether things had to be cut or not.
It’s a contentious point raised by the former manager which will have no doubt disappointed chairman Raj Singh, who made the admittedly difficult decision to relieve Hignett of his duties almost exactly a month ago today.
Still, the fact Hignett was able to assemble a large squad which, at least on paper, looked and continues to look more than capable of challenging for the play-off places despite having a fairly modest budget in comparison to other clubs certainly deserves some credit.
The work and effort that was put in to convincing players to come to the club despite having better offers elsewhere could prove crucial in the long run for the club.
The likes of Gime Toure and Gus Mafuta have been standout stars for Pools so far this season while young goalkeeper Ben Killip has shown glimpses of being a top shot-stopper despite a couple of shaky moments.
Despite having several offers from elsewhere, midfielder Mafuta revealed Hignett driving down to his house to ask him to sign for the club was enough to convince him to move up to Victoria Park after achieving promotion with Salford City.
Hignett’s recruitment method was not too dissimilar from that of legendary Teesside manager Brian Clough.
“I was [doing a Brian Clough] but I had to because I didn’t have the money to compete with the other clubs in the league,” he admitted.
“I needed to make players think this manager really wants me. If you speak to the lads who I brought to the club who are at the club, some of them could have got more money elsewhere but the reason they didn’t is because I took the time to go and tell them how much I wanted them.
“There was a manager on the end of the phone for them who wasn’t willing to go 50, 60 miles to see them whereas I was going 150, 300 miles to go and see them.”
Hignett pointed to the signing of Killip from Braintree Town as a prime example as Pools had to fight off stiff competition while also convincing the 23-year-old London native to move 300-miles up north.
He added: “When you go to see them it makes a massive difference and I’ll give you an example, Ben Killip, England C goalkeeper, we were losing Scott Loach because he was on too much money and we needed to reduce the wage bill.
“We’d identified him as the best young ‘keeper in the league so I set a meeting up at Kings Cross Station, we were going to get the train from Darlington and I was going to meet him and his agent at Kings Cross Station.
“I took Ross Turnbull with me because I knew Ben was a Chelsea fan and had been at Chelsea and Ross is our goalkeeping coach.
“As soon as he sits down and sees me and Ross there and Ross is telling him how good a ‘keeper he is and how he’s going to work with him, that was done.
“It didn’t matter whether he was going to get 200 quid a week more elsewhere, he just wanted to work because I’d been down and seen him and told him how much I wanted him and Ross, who was one of his idols, he was going to get to work with him.
“That’s what you have to do, you have to be smart and it’s huge. For someone to sit there with someone who played for Chelsea, won the Champions League and what have you to say I want to work with you and I think you’re the best ‘keeper in this league and this is how much we want you, it’s huge.
“Rather than a manager saying [on the phone] we’ll give you this and you can come up here.”
Despite Hignett moving on, Pools will continue to reap the potential rewards of his signings with his permanent successor Dave Challinor officially unveiled on Monday afternoon ahead of the daunting Tuesday night trip to Yeovil Town in the FA Cup first round (7:45pm kick-off).