Hartlepool United manager Craig Hignett's remarkable 10-minute response to the attitude of modern footballers

The attitude and desire of the modern professional footballer has been a topic of much discussion for Hartlepool United manager Craig Hignett.

Friday, 23rd August 2019, 06:00 am
Updated Thursday, 22nd August 2019, 13:47 pm
Hartlepool United manager Craig Hignett during the Vanarama National League match between Hartlepool United and Bromley at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on Saturday 17th August 2019. (Credit: Mark Fletcher | MI News)

Folloiwng last Saturday's 3-2 defeat at home to Bromley, the former Middlesbrough forward let loose with an an eye-opening and passionate deconstruction of professional footballers.

The Mail has published several articles this week featuring some of the comments made by the Pools boss - here is his full 10-minute response...

With the current injury situation, you must welcome having a week before your next game?

Peter Kioso on the ball during the Vanarama National League match between Maidenhead United and Hartlepool United at York Road, Maidenhead on Saturday 10th August 2019. (Credit: Ian Randall | MI News)

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CH: “I’ll welcome the next week but I would have welcomed the next three weeks off to get some of them back.

“We’ve talked about desire and I want them to have the desire to come back and get fit like Ryan Donaldson has.

“Ryan’s played the last three games all in a short space of time with no training and no games and he’s been unbelievable and that’s what I want the others to be like, I want them to want to play and do everything they can to get back on the pitch. I don’t want excuses and I don’t want to hear any excuses from any of them.”

Peter Kioso is another who has played through the pain barrier so far, is that also an example of the attitude you want to see?

CH: “Peter has had a knock, he’s a great lad with a good attitude who wants to get better.

“He missed the [AFC Fylde] game because of his calf but then said his calf was just all right and he played again [against Bromley] – so why’s he missed a game? That’s what I’m thinking.

“In my day, if I was ready to play and if I half had a chance of playing, I’d be strapped up and I’d be ready to play, it’s different now and it’s a different mentality.

“The players want to be 99, 100% fit before they play. Peter’s last game against Maidenhead, he was smashing, really good but then he misses the next game on the Tuesday night and we haven’t trained or done anything.

“Then you see him play again on Saturday having missed the Tuesday and it’s another super performance from him.

“That’s what I mean about people wanting to do it, you’ve got to want to do it because if you don’t and you’re looking for an excuse, you can make up any excuse that you want.

“I just think it’s the breed of players nowadays, I think it was Grant Leadbitter who said something about players wanting more likes on social media now than actually doing it on the pitch and he’s 100% right, it’s all for show.

“No disrespect to us as a club but why do you want to stay here all of your career? Why don’t you want to go and play as high as you can? Why don’t you want to use us as a stepping stone and rather than be happy being here push on and do everything you can in terms of performances and looking after yourself?

“So you’re thinking well I’m not going to be here for long, I’ll have a great season then I’ll go higher.

“I’m not seeing a lot of that, I see a lot of people happy to be professional footballers, with that title but not putting the graft in to be better footballers than they are.

“They get to a level and are happy with it. I’m sure the goals of some of the lads is just to be professional footballers, no matter where it is.

“When they do that, they’re happy and content. But that’s never been me, I’m not like that and I can’t understand it when anyone is.

“You’ll ask them and they’ll all tell you everything, the right answers like ‘no I don’t want to do that’ and ‘I want to be playing there’ but how are you going to do it without actually putting it in? It doesn’t just happen for people.

“People are where they are because they’ve worked really hard and they’ve deserved it by doing everything they can to get there. “I’d hate to be one of those players at the end of my career thinking ‘you know what, I should have played higher’ but they didn’t because they couldn’t be bothered to do the work that they should have been.

“I pushed myself, I didn’t have anything that half our players have got. I could run and I was pretty quick but I was tiny, I was small and technical.

“People thought I wasn’t physical enough and I had to grow up with that and I always had that accusation that I was too small to be a footballer. But I played in the Premier League with what I had.

“I can’t think of a player not having that desire to go and do it and play in the Premier League. Imagine what it’s like to play in the Premier League? It’s the best feeling ever, oh my god.

“You’ll be earning 60, 70, 80, 90 grand a week for a bang average player in the Premier League and that’s without being a superstar. You score 10 goals a season in the Premier League now and you’re suddenly earning 180 grand a week, it’s nuts!

“But I don’t know if that seems that far away from these lads now where because of the money and that and they watch it on telly, I don’t know if they think ‘I’ll never get there, I’m happy here’ and subconsciously stop themselves from doing it.

“I know we’ve got players here who could play in the Championship, who could potentially play in the Premier League if they put their minds to it, graft and improve.

“They’ve got to realise that they’re not the finished article here, nowhere near. But this is a massive step for them to become a finished article.

“I remember playing at Crewe and it was tough, my first men’s game was really tough. My debut against Wrexham, I must have touched the ball seven or eight times and I played centre midfield.

“But I got better and better because I thought, ‘I don’t want to be doing this every week, I need to be better’.

“In the end, I remember before I left thinking that the level was too easy and I’d probably score every week if I stayed at that level and I did, I think I had 22 goals before I moved from League Two I think it was then with Crewe to Middlesbrough.

“That’s you improving and getting better, not just because you’re growing up, it’s because you’ve worked at it and you’ve put your lot in.

“I don’t know, it’s hard for me to watch it sometimes, I get really disappointed with some of it and I think it’s the level that we’re at.

“I don’t want to coach here all my life, but I know for a fact if I don’t get better I’ll lose my job so I have to be better as well.

“I have to do more and have to work hard. I don’t just go home gutted and then on Monday I’m all right again.

“I’ll have a [rubbish] week this week, I will and I’ll get it from all over but that’s being a manager and that’s what you do.

“I’m better equipped for it now than I was the first time, 100% and it’s about not panicking as well when things are going against you because if you panic then [the board] will panic so you’ve got to be constructive with what you do.

“Gone are the days with the hairdryer because they’ll wilt, they’ll all wilt, there isn’t one in there that wouldn’t if it was constant.

“I’ve got some strong characters who’ve been there before, Raynesy [Michael Raynes] is a strong character, Ryan Donaldson is a strong character but there’s plenty the other way.

“So you’ve got to be really careful but I’ve got a really good staff around me and we look at ourselves first and foremost and ask if we’re doing everything that we can.

“If we are, then is it the tactics, is it personnel and we go right down and see, is it the player’s mentality? Is it players who don’t want to do it or can’t do it but I know they can because I see it every day in training.

“But in football you get that, training ground players. Mark Hughes was the worst player I’ve ever seen on a training ground but you put him on a pitch on a Saturday and he was unbelievable.

“You get the other way as well, I got accused of being a training ground player when I first started at Boro and it took me a bit of time to get going.

“On the training ground, there’s no one shouting at you really and there’s no pressure, it doesn’t matter if you make a mistake.

“Here, you go from our training ground to The Vic, with our crowd especially and you can see who have got a bit about them and who hasn’t.

“Especially when times are bad and you’re going through a tough time and you can here the crowd moaning or they’re having a go at you, that’s when you learn about players.

“It’s okay when everything’s going all right, everyone wants the ball but it’s when it’s not going well when you find out more about who has it and who hasn’t.

Are you saying that attitude and application is more important than technical ability and natural talent?

CH: “That’s a tough one that Dom, I think the higher you go pretty much everyone has the attitude and ability so it becomes more technical but I think at this level, it’s a leveller.

“I think people with a better attitude will push on. I think we’ve got some really good technical players but also some with really steely attitudes.

“Higher up 90% of them have the attitude, some have got ridiculous technical ability where they’re playing at that level because they’re naturally that good.

“They’re are the mental ones, the Marko Arnautovic’s who have unbelievable technical ability but mentally aren’t stable.

“Football has been littered with geniuses like that, Maradona, his technical ability was unreal but you can’t say he was stable, same with someone like Gazza, even Luis Suarez, he’s the same.

“Then you look at someone like Messi, he’s got it but you haven’t seen much of a lunatic streak from him.

“So I do think the higher you go the more technical ability does come into it over attitude but at this level, coupled with the right attitude, it’ll take you wherever you want to go.”