By Matt Badcock
Craig Hignett knows what a good job manager of Hartlepool United is – after all, he’s been telling everyone just that during their recruitment stage!
The former Middlesbrough, Barnsley and Blackburn Rovers midfielder has been director of football at Pools since he introduced Raj Singh to the National League club ahead of last season’s takeover that saved them.
Matthew Bates landed the job permanently in the summer but, after a tricky run, was dismissed in November and replaced by Richard Money.
The former Luton Town manager won promotion from this division with Cambridge United and was charged with repeating the feat with another ex-Football League club.
But last week, after some blunt conversations, Money moved into a different role to oversee the club as a whole with Hignett, who managed Pools in between February 2016 and January 2017, returning to the dugout.
In a further twist, Money has now left too after asking for his contract to be cancelled.
Hignett admits it’s been an unsettling period and that they “haven’t known whether we’re coming or going at times”.
But now it’s time to look forward with the aim to build a team capable of challenging for a Football League return.
Hignett knows there’s no quick fix as he explained why he’s happy to be in the dugout pursuing his career as a manager.
“We’re all ambitious and we all want it now,” Hignett, who was assistant to Aitor Karanka at Middeslbrough, told The NLP. “The fans, the chairman, myself – everyone wants it now. But that’s not really realistic. And not in the situation we’re in.
“So we’ve got to do it a different way and do it properly. Every time we bring someone in, they’ve got to be better than what we’ve got. That takes time. We can’t bring in 11, 12, 13 new players on big money that are going to set the league alight. That’s not where we are as a football club. We’ve got to be more long term than that.
“If it’s your passion, it’s your passion. I was quite vocal about saying I didn’t want it and I was here to protect the chairman’s interests after taking over the football club.
“Because I introduced him and got him involved, I felt a responsibility. But then having talked to him, and Richard (Money) asking me what I want to do, I said, ‘I do want to manage, I love coaching’. They said, ‘Why don’t you do it here?’
“The reason I wouldn’t in the past was I wanted a clean slate where there was no history and the fans didn’t pre-judge.
“But, having spoken to the chairman, where am I going to get a support network like I am here? The chairman is a friend as well. So he said, ‘Well, I’m going to support you. There might come a time when I have to sack you – but it will be a nice sacking!’
“I said, ‘By the same token, if I do well I might not be here long!’ But, listen, he’s a top fella and having thought about it properly, it was a no-brainer for me.
“I’ve spent a couple of months telling prospective managers what a great job this is for someone to come into, without really thinking about it for myself.
“I’d love nothing better than to get the club back into the League. It would be great for all concerned. It is going to take time and it is a bit of a job, but it’s a job that is achievable.”
Hignett says he is operating in a totally different environment now to the one he previously managed the club in.
“I do want to manage and I want to coach,” he said. “I enjoyed my time at the club here before and this time around I’ve got massive amount of support to call on with the chairman and Mark Maguire, and that’s something I didn’t have before. So I had a re-think and it makes sense to give it another go here.
“We had a decent team last time and it was sort of pulled apart for one reason and another – not necessarily for the good of the club.
“It’s miles different now. I’m not worried about what’s going on in the background. Whereas last time it started off great and the problems hit. You were always worried and always firefighting what was going on in the background – players being paid late etc, which is a tough one to manage and it’s tough for the players.
“But this time around the club is so much better, so much more stable, that I don’t have that worry at all. It’s just purely, ‘Let’s get a team on the pitch that can win games and play in a way the fans will enjoy coming to watch’.”
With a number of players out of contract in the summer, there is half an eye on next season while trying to win as many games as they can immediately. And the new boss says the past has to stay in the past.
“It’s had people who took advantage of the club, people not doing everything necessarily for the good of the club, which has resulted in the club being where it is,” Hignett said.
“We should never have been relegated. But you can’t change what happened in the past. You’ve got to get on and do your best to see if we can get it back to where we think it belongs.”