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Glen’s loving life in Braintree Town driving seat!

Braintree

If it’s good enough for England manager Gareth Southgate, then new Braintree Town manager Glen Driver is happy to follow suit and pin his faith in youth.

Three Lions boss Southgate has shown over the last couple of years that he isn’t afraid to give youngsters their chance.

The likes of Trent Alexander-Arnold, 20, Jadon Sancho, 19, and Declan Rice, 20, have been just a few of the beneficiaries as England have turned over a new leaf.

It’s no surprise that managers up and down the land have taken notice of former Middlesbrough manager Southgate’s selections – and Iron boss Driver, appointed a few weeks ago, is one of those disciples.

While the former Felixstowe and Leiston manager freely admits that Braintree’s reduced budget following relegation from the National League has played a part in his summer shopping, he firmly believes the time has come for an increased emphasis on giving young players a chance.

Only one of his first dozen signings for the Iron is aged over the age of 25 – midfielder Sean Bonnett-Johnson, 29.

“A while ago the England side had players like Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole who were at the end of their careers and blocking the pathway for others,” said Driver. “Gareth Southgate has changed that and our side has probably been the youngest that it’s ever been.

“It’s where I have taken this philosophy. We have got a young squad and we are going to stay young. What we lack in experience, we gain in hunger – and hunger can sometimes outweigh the experience.

“Take Ajax as an example, too. If you had said a year ago that they would reach the semi-finals of the Champions League, people would have laughed. It shows it can be done.

“At Leiston we had a lot of experience in my first and second years. The year before I left I felt I needed to blood more youngsters – the game is getting younger.

“More kids are being brought through a system and it’s important to give them an opportunity to show what they can do. With our budget cuts, we can’t afford the big money others can but the players can showcase their ability.”

Driver managed at Step 3 with Leiston – reaching the Bostik Premier play-offs in 2017-18 – but this coming season is his first chance to test himself in Non-League’s second tier.

And since leaving the Suffolk side in October, he’s had the chance to witness first-hand the players he reckons can do a job higher up the ladder.

It’s noticeable that the majority of his captures have come from Steps 3 and 4. They are young, hungry and determined to show they have got what it takes.

Asked to pick out a few who could enthuse the Cressing Road faithful, Driver said: “The goalkeeper Michael Johnson (25, from Hitchin Town). A lot of clubs were in for him and he’s turned down big money to come to us because he wants to progress.

“Tom Richardson (striker, 25, from Aveley) has scored goals at lower levels and didn’t get much of a chance at East Thurrock – he will be hungry. Likewise Roman Michael-Percil (winger, 24, from Merstham). He won promotion with Braintree and then got released.

“We’ve picked Kyran Clements (centre-back, 22, from Bury Town) out of Step 4. It’s sink or swim for him, but he’s got a chance to fulfil his potential.

“I’ve had my eyes on a few players since leaving Leiston. The logistics didn’t help there, but now I’ve had an opportunity to bring those players on board at Step 2. It fell into my lap and their laps.

“It’s been pleasing that, with the budget cuts, they have put their football career before money – you don’t hear a lot of that now.”

How Braintree will fare in 2019-20 remains to be seen, but it can’t be much worse than last season. In a turbulent campaign, Brad Quinton, Hakan Hayrettin and Danny Searle all had stints in the hotseat as the Iron fell through the relegation trapdoor.

The previous time they were relegated (2016-17), the Essex club bounced straight back. It’s unlikely they will be able to do that this time around and a lot will depend on how long it takes Driver to get his new-look squad to gel.

“I’ve spoken to quite a few managers and agents, and we will have one of the smallest budgets in the league,” said the 45-year-old. “We are offering minimum money for the level.

“Some clubs in Step 4, and even at Step 6 local to me, are offering more. It’s the way we’ve had to go and the chairman (Lee Harding) has backed me 100 per cent. He’s very excited about what we are trying to do, and we have to convince the fans that it’s the only way our football club can go.

“You aren’t going to pull a player out of the National League for £200 to £250.

“I’ve seen that we are third favourites to win National League South, but that makes me chuckle. If we finish mid-table that would be unbelievable.

“Anything higher and we are clearly heading in the right direction. If we can go on a couple of cup runs as well, then we’ll have done an unbelievable job.”

Driver is happy to suggest the Iron will be underdogs in the coming campaign and believes there is a possible advantage from not being one of the wealthy outfits at Step 2.

He said: “The sides under pressure to get out of the division and make the play-offs will go with experience – they will have the money to do it.

“But what have we got to lose having been relegated and with a budget cut in half? The pressure won’t be on us as much as other teams. We can play with a bit more freedom.”

As for Driver himself, he’s keen to pit his wits against Step 2 opposition having served his apprenticeship lower down the ladder.

A striker with the likes of Needham Market, Harwich & Parkeston and Witham Town, he cut his teeth in management at the tender age of 30. He’s had two spells at Leiston and also bossed Felixstowe.

He said: “I want to manage at the highest possible level I can and I feel I can go higher than where I am now.

“I haven’t signed a contract – and I won’t. I don’t want to put any pressure on the club. I’ve agreed with the chairman to a one-year roll-on with hopefully the opportunity to stay beyond that.”

It all adds up to a hectic time for Driver, who owns a caravan and motorhome repair business near Ipswich, FGH Motorhomes. The initials are for his three daughters, twins Faith and Grace, 15, and Hope, 10. Indeed, Grace has been with him this week on work experience.

“I told her to leave her phone at home and she said ‘no chance’!” he joked. “She’s doing a bit of social media with her friends as well.”

With work and football occupying plenty of his time, it’s just as well Driver can count on his wife, Rachael, for support.
“The last few weeks have been pretty tough, but enjoyable, too,” he added.

“I have an understanding wife – or, otherwise, she’s glad to get me out of the house!”

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