When Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink took the manager’s chair at Burton Albion, he increased the number of black managers amongst the top 92 clubs in English football by 50%. The Dutchman became the third member of the group, joining Huddersfield’s Chris Powell and of Keith Curle at Carlisle. Hasselbaink however is no fan of the Rooney Rule, a device to ensure more ethnic minority applicants for top jobs within the game at least get to interview stage. Whilst some would argue that it’s easier to adopt such a stance once you’re on the inside, the former Leeds United and Chelsea striker refutes such a view. Appointed from over 60 other applicants for the position at the Pirelli Stadium, he simply declares that “I wanted the job because I am the right person for it and got it because the chairman thinks I am.”
Although a mere two games into his region, Hasselbaink is already well on the way to proving his worth. An away 3-1 victory to in-form Wycombe Wanderers in his opening game promised good things to follow, and the weekend’s victory over table-topping Luton Town, in front of a season’s best crowd, ending the Hatters unbeaten 11 match run, underscored Burton’s promotion credentials. The Brewers now sit in second place in League Two, tucked in behind Wycombe, with Luton now demoted to third.
Hasselbaink is a self-confessed football-addict. “I love the game,” he said. “Without football I would not be a happy bunny, I would not be a happy person at all.” For all his cheery smile and ready laugh as a television pundit, Hasselbaink’s demeanour and attitude to the role of manager, is more reflective of his playing persona. A striker with a fearsome shot and a thousand yard stare, the Dutchman is fondly remembered at Elland Road, Stamford Bridge and Middlesbrough where he brought his smouldering presence to the opposition penalty area, before seeing out his time at CXharlton and Cardiff. More a shark in the box, than a fox, some may say. That burning hunger is still present. “I see myself as the right man for this club. It has good values. I’m a good fit for it,” he has declared. “When you are a young manager and you start higher up, you don’t always get the time you need. “Expectancy is a lot higher. Don’t get me wrong, it’s high here too. I’m not afraid of League Two. This is a great project. That is why I’m here. And I’m a winner.”
It’s that ‘winner’ mentality that may have persuaded Burton chairman Ben Robinson to place his trust in Hasselbaink. Here is a chairman who has previously employed Neil Warnock, Nigel Clough for ten years, and then Gary Rowett for a further two or so. Each have gone on to ‘better’ things after a period amongst the brewing folk of Burton. Rowett recently ended his tenure to return to Birmingham City where he performed with distinction as a player. The club appeared to be in some kind of terminal tailspin with debt and disillusion fuelling fans’ antipathy. Rowett arrived however with a new zeal that has brought the St Andrews club an unbeaten run of four games, with two victories and two draws, conceding a single goal along the way. It’s an echo of his start to the season with Burton when they recorded six victories and a draw in their first nine games. Hasselbaink has a hard act to follow, but is already showing he has the makings of a fine manager.
The Dutchman however is quick to state that this wasn’t a job he went into unprepared. He recalled advice from none other than Sir Alex Ferguson, who said to ‘Choose your chairman carefully.’ It’s advice that Hasselbaink probably had in mind when applying for the Burton job. Having served a year at Royal Antrwerp in Belgium and a spell under Steve McLaren at Nottingham Forest, Hasselbaink had little doubt that he was ready – and that Burton was the club. Robinson, who runs a financial advice business is unsurprisingly measured in his running of a club he has been associated with for some forty years. The club is debt free, and Robinson negotiated a £7million naming rights agreement with Pirelli. Often held up as a model of how to balance the books at a smaller club and still be successful, Burton will have had a huge appeal to an ambitious young manager, eager to make his mark.
At only 42, time is very much on the manager’s side. “Money is not the motivation. The motivation was the club, the set-up, the beliefs, the players, the atmosphere at the stadium – and the places where Burton want to go.” Clearly time in the English game has left its mark on the striker who netted nine times in his 23v game career for Holland. “I wanted to come back to England as well, and manage in England. My wife is British. The kids were still here; they were born here so I wanted to be here. It worked a little bit both ways, not getting the right offer and coming back. I see myself as an English boy. I know how the English think, what they stand for and the culture. I see myself as a little bit English. I like the English system.”After a mere two games, it would still be premature to call the appointment a success. There will inevitably be a few bumps along the way but, with the club on a firm financial footing, and a young and apparently inspiring manager at the helm, Burton Albion look very much to be a club on an upward swing.
(This All Blue Daze article was originally produced for ‘theaspirter’ website).