Spalding United’s Gabriel Zakuani is the latest manager to feature in The Bosses’ Lounge. If you missed the first half of his interview, you can find it here.
In this concluding part, Gaby runs into the regular Q&A section. Here’s how #TheWall himself took to the task…
When did you want to start coaching/managing?
I actually didn’t think about it too much. I started doing my badges anyway towards the end of my career, and I just thought it would be a shame to have so much experience in the Football League and not to be able to give it back. It was always there as a back-up, if I wanted to do some coaching or have my own academy or anything like that, I could at least be qualified to a very good level. I didn’t have it in my head that I wanted to manage a club, I just wanted to have the tools to do it, if ever I thought about doing it.
Which training sessions do you enjoy leading the most?
I like possession-based sessions. I was never really a possession player myself! But it looks good on the eye, and I learned off Darren Ferguson that when your team can just keep the ball from the other team on a Saturday, that’s very pleasing. I grew up with a lot of possession-based teams that just keep the ball and try and make the other team commit, so I try and get as much of that into training as possible.
Will you ever take part in training, in terms of actually being in the session as an active part, like an extra player?
I think I’ve been tempted a lot of times to get my boots on! But because I’ve had so much to do in terms of coaching the team, I’ve not really had chance to have much fun yet. I think when we do the 5-a-sides and stuff, I’ll definitely get myself involved, to just be part of it.
Favourite ground that you’ve visited or would like to visit
I think my favourite stadium to play in is St. James’ Park. I’ve always enjoyed it there. I always find it strange where the (away) fans are situated, in that little space right at the top where you can barely see your fans, but it’s always been a good atmosphere there. The Geordie fans seem very passionate and it’s always been somewhere I’ve enjoyed.
Favourite player to watch (past or present)
As a football fan, my favourite player was always Patrick Vieira. I grew up an Arsenal fan and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player like him. I had a season ticket and he stood out every single game. He had the athleticism, he was good on the ball, he scored some crackers as well, so Vieira was my favourite player growing up, but playing against, I’d say Yaya Touré (for Ivory Coast against DR Congo). He’s just a big train, just running through the midfield, so I’d go for him as the best player I’ve played against.
And how would you have sold the club to let’s say Vieira, if you were trying to sign him for Spalding United (in his prime)?!
It’d be difficult selling it to Patrick Vieira because he’s seen everything! I’d just say we’re an ambitious club, we wanna get as far as we can, and he’s got all the attributes that I want him to pass down to the players, to do exactly what he did.
Pre-season tour anywhere in the world
The pre-seasons I enjoyed the most were actually in Austria with Tony Pulis. I’ve been there with Fulham and it was a completely different experience. With Fulham, it was relaxed, it was 5-a-sides, and then we even had a friendly against Real Madrid, which was nice! But with Pulis, I think we were in a camp site, next to mountains, and we just ran the mountains every morning! So I think to get my own back, I would get my players doing that!
Most challenging/frustrating part of your job
I think just laying into the players. I think lateness is a big thing, I don’t like it when players turn up late, so just the way you deal with it. You’ve got to set your stall out, because you’ve got to keep the respect of the players, and you have to watch how you treat players, because all the other players are watching and seeing your reaction.
Funniest player/coach you’ve worked with, or just one of the funniest (probably hard to see past Jimmy Bullard…)
Yeah, I think Bullard is just a completely different animal! (Favourite thing you saw him do at Fulham?) There’s one that sticks out, I think it was the first or second day. He turned up onto the training pitch with (manager) Chris Coleman’s suit on! Ready to train with his suit on, and boots, so the boys were in stitches,
Most embarrassing moment as a manager/player
There’s obviously the video where I’m injured (playing for DR Congo) and the medical buggy was coming towards me, but the guy wasn’t braking! He just bumped into me. So that’s the one, because as soon as I finished the game, it was viral.
Your routine on a match day
Yeah, this is a strange one, because as a player, I was so laid-back that I would wake up really late. If we had to be in at half 1 usually, I’d wake up at probably half 10/11, so I was more relaxed and wouldn’t really think about it too much, have a light lunch and that would be it. Now as a manager, I’m up early. I’m up making sure I’ve got everything right, how we’re gonna play, who’s on the bench, making sure I leave no stone unturned.
One singer/band or song you would sneak on to the team playlist
I think I’d sneak ‘Flex’ (Dizzee Rascal) on, because I’m on that!
Advice you remember getting that’s stuck with you
Pulis said to me ‘just always be yourself’. I joined a few teams who wanted to play completely different to how I play my game. He said, ‘Be yourself, look how far it’s got you. You like heading it, you like tackling, so keep doing that, because that’s a skill in itself’.
If you could have some time with any manager, past or present
I think Arsène Wenger changed the way football works in England. There was more of a pub culture before he came, but he made it all scientific, and I think I’d love to know what made him do that. I feel like he doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves for basically changing the whole way we look at football, with sport scientists, things like that.
Any misconceptions about you as a player/manager/personality, myths you’d like to dispel, or something you wish people could understand a bit more?
I’d say I’m loved by every club I’ve been at…but I’m hated by the clubs I played against! So I like to build that sort of ‘us against you’ culture. A lot of the away fans, when they do sort of know me now, or they see me in the media now, they actually realise that’s not me as a character. Someone who would wind them up, just do anything to get three points, it’s all part of the game, but I think they’ll see that I’m just a decent person, to be fair.
And finally, what’s the best thing about having this life around football? When you wake up and football’s your focus for the day, do you still get that same buzz as you always did?
Yeah, I actually do, I get the same buzz, and I think that’s what’s been good about stepping straight into management. I still get the same buzz, still get the same banter, and I think that’s basically what’s kept me going. I don’t miss playing at all, but I do miss the camaraderie around the place, and I still get my fix from being around the game.
Interview by @chris_brookes