(Picture: Action Images via Reuters)
By Matt Badcock
IN A hotel just off the A14, and a corner kick away from the club where he had his most recent first team success, Richard Money’s eyes light up.
The former Walsall, Luton Town and Cambridge United boss is explaining just why his hunger for management has been reignited. He’s refreshed, revitalised, full of ideas, and ready for his next adventure.
“It would be very simplistic to say it’s the result, the buzz of the game,” Money says about just why he wants to jump back into the fire pit.
“But it’s more than that. It’s being accountable, being in charge of your own destiny, being involved in the decision-making process, being the key decision maker. All of those are the appeal of the job.”
Money hasn’t been sat at home twiddling his thumbs since leaving Cambridge United in November 2015.
The 61-year-old had an opportunity to go straight back in with another English club, but he knew the toll of taking Cambridge from the lower reaches of the Conference to the Football League and a fourth round FA Cup replay at Manchester United in just three years meant time for a break.
In April 2016 he accepted an opportunity to launch MLS start-up club Atlanta United’s Academy. They had a multi-million dollar facility and are set to move into an incredible new stadium in the city, but Money’s remit was to form an academy from scratch.
They had no players, no coaches and no paperwork. He enjoyed it but family was calling and he returned to hometown club Norwich City.
“It’s difficult to explain to people the toll management leaves on you,” he says. “Especially at a club like Cambridge who had been out of the League for nine years. To start from such a low base and take them to where we did, that is 24-7 in the extreme. I just felt I needed a break from it.
“So it wasn’t really the intention to go to America but I got offered an incredible job. When I look at what’s happened at that club today you realise it’s such a massive opportunity. The new stadium is about to be opened – it’s going to be incredible and they are going to be a major force in MLS.
“To start an Academy from scratch, with nothing in place, was a different challenge and something I really enjoyed.
“But family starts to come first in your life and the opportunity to come back to the UK and straight into the job at Norwich was a great one.
“But, listen, new sporting director, whole new direction at that club. He and I have had some really good discussions over the last few weeks and if I was in his position I would be the same. I’d want all my own people, people I know and have worked with, in the key positions in the organisation.”
With the arrival of new sporting director Stuart Webber and German boss Daniel Farke, Money accepts that the Canaries are now going in a new direction.
But it’s also because his own fire to lead a team has returned. At two of his last three clubs – Walsall and Cambridge – he has achieved promotion.
When he arrived at the Saddlers, the club were sliding towards Non-League football. In his first season they won the League Two title.
At Cambridge he spent six months identifying and targeting players to mount a promotion push the following season.
Talents like Ryan Donaldson, who he’d guided at Newcastle United, and Tom Champion, who he lured from part-time Dartford and admits he let go from the U’s too soon, turned the club from treading water to returning to the Football League after nine years away.
They also lifted the FA Trophy at Wembley in a remarkable double-winning season
.“I spent a lot of time from January through until April/May watching games, identifying who we thought were players from the league that could help us the following season,” Money says.
“And also spent a lot of time getting the board to buy into what we wanted to do. We didn’t need a huge amount more, but we did need a bit more investment and buy in from them.
“We spent time finding players we thought would give us a chance to get us out of the league the following season.
“Not just playing ability but character too. You need a few people in the process but at the end of the day I’m the one with the jigsaw – the one with the playing style I think works in my head.
“We did it slightly different in that, and I have to say this with some respect, there are some really good part-time clubs in that league. We identified one or two we could target and give them the opportunity to go full-time. Tom Champion is a prime example of that. He took a lot of persuading, if I’m honest, but he was crucial to my jigsaw.
“Probably more crucial to me than anybody else in the organisation because I knew what I wanted him to do. Probably letting him go was the biggest mistake I made because I never really replaced him. But in an effort to get better you make those decisions. Sometimes you get them wrong.”
Before that, at Luton, his tenure was also about helping revive a club that had endured some of its worst times on and off the pitch. It was another full-on rebuilding job.
“There’s only one way I can do the job and that’s to throw myself fully into it,” Money says about how the rigours of management.
“If I look at the last three jobs, they’ve all been pretty similar. Walsall, relegated two divisions in three years. The job was to get them back up as quickly as possible, we got them straight back up and then challenged at the top of League One. So that was full on.
“The Luton job – I was looking back the other day at an article on the BBC Gary Sweet did immediately after I left about what the job actually was during my time there.
“They’d been relegated three divisions in four years and come out of the Football League – something a club like that would never have dreamt they would be doing. With that they brought a lot of debt and challenges with them.
“I think Gary knows and I know that I was employed A, to try and get them back up but B, give them an opportunity to turn back in the right direction.
That meant taking people out of the organisation that were very popular, earning good money that the club couldn’t afford and, in some cases, still really good people. Trying to keep the dressing room happy while trying to do that was tough.
“But I look back and think, 56 per cent win ratio, the only thing we didn’t get right was get promoted. We spent 18 months in the top two and the rules of the competition (only one-up automatically) meant we couldn’t get over the line.
“I knew when I took the job – I had three-quarters of a season and then the next season – that if I didn’t get them up in those two periods then they would have to make a change.
“That was a really tough job but I genuinely think I did my best work there. We just couldn’t get them over the line.
“Then to go into Cambridge and find a club that were not in administration but not far off, and do what we did over the next three years I look back over that ten-year period and the amount I threw into those three clubs was huge. I felt I couldn’t go again, I needed a breather.”
Was his Non-League double with the U’s his finest achievement?
“It’s a tricky question,” Money he says. “Maybe the journey if you think about what happened the year after – going to Old Trafford and everything that brought in terms of finance and making them stable.
“It’s freshest in the memory so, yeah maybe. But when I look back at Walsall everyone felt they were closer to going back to the Conference than League One. I genuinely felt they had good players, they just needed turning back around. I quickly discovered they had some good young players too – Scott Dann, Dan Fox, Troy Deeney, players who have gone on to play Premier League football.
“We put them in the first team within that first 12 months. So I look back at that and think that was a big achievement too.
“And I could argue what I did at Luton was probably the biggest of all. People won’t see it that way but I know what needed doing at that club. If we’d won the play-off against York, gone to Wembley and beaten Oxford then that would have been unprecedented.”
Money, who has also managed in Sweden and Australia, has no airs and graces about the level he goes back into. Whether it’s the Football League or Non-League, he just wants a club that will give him the support to achieve another success.
“To get out of the Conference, someone to get out of League Two, then, in my opinion, there aren’t too many with a better record than mine,” he says, qualifying every manager is, rightly or wrongly, pigeon-holed.
“I always try to put myself in other people’s positions,” he says.
“If I was employing a manager now then you can go one of two ways. A number will go young and fresh, I accept that. That might bring different ideas, a different thought process, less fear – I don’t know. Or you go with someone who has done it before – and at more than one club. I think that’s really important.”
If that opportunity does come along, Farke will be on his list to sit down with and share ideas.
As part of his role at Norwich, Money saw Leyton Orient – where Canary youngster Tristan Abrahams is on loan – on the opening day against Sutton United.
It served as a reminder of the pressures of managing a big ex-Football League club and the ever-changing problems different clubs in the National League pose.
“I’ve experienced it, I know what it’s about and I know what the challenges are,” he says. “I’m pretty confident given the right type of backing and the right type of support that I can do it again.
“I’m not sat here with any hang-ups about who it is or what level it’s at. I’ve proven in the past I’ve been prepared to go to Australia, America, Sweden, for the right club.
“I’ve got no airs and graces that I don’t want to be Non-League. I’ve done that before, I’m prepared to do it again. But I’ve also taken a team to the top of League Two and the upper echelons of League One.”