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I needed a rocket to make me good

MANSFIELD boss Paul Cox says his failure as a player means he will never allow any of his Stags youngsters to knock off like he did.

Despite winning promotion to the old First Division with Notts County as a teenager, the centre-half spent the majority of his career in Non-League with Kettering, Halifax and Hucknall.

Just last week, his manager at County, Neil Warnock, recalled how Cox was so laid back that he often needed a rollicking to get him going.

These days, the 41-year-old couldn’t be more different, his relentless drive in the dugout powering Mansfield to the Conference title last term and, this month, third place in League Two after a stunning run of ten points from 12. And he says the frustrations of his playing career have been an inspiration.

Philosophy

“Neil was right,” says Cox. “I did need a right rocket every now and then! And as a player, I probably did underachieve.

“I was lucky enough to play a game in the top flight, and about 60 in what is now the Championship. But on the whole, I didn’t spend as much time as I should have in those divisions. I think that’s why now, I leave no stone unturned in trying to improve as a manager.

“It also means I can identify it in others. If you think you’ve underachieved as a player, it’s  easy to sit down with players and explain from the heart that it’s a short-lived career.

“To say to them that you should squeeze the most out of it that you possibly can and shoot for the stars.   My playing days are gone, but I can make sure other have the best career they possibly can.”

Not that Cox would be dwelling on any achievements as a player.

“I’ve always had the philosophy that what you’ve achieved in the past is irrelevant,” he adds. “You’ve got to keep yourself hungry, keep yourself looking forward.

“The last two or three years have been a whirlwind and I don’t think anybody would have dreamed we’d be in this position. But it’s history now.

“There are two very good managers who were in my position this time last season. Gary Mills and Micky Mellon both won promotion from the Conference with York and Fleetwood.

“But they both lost their jobs reasonably quickly. It’s amazing how this game can turn on you.”

Another man who certainly isn’t taking it easy is 22-year-old midfielder Sam Clucas. Signed in the summer, the former Hereford man has scored four goals in eight games so far.

Sam Clucas, right, celebrates scoring against Newport

Sam Clucas, right, celebrates scoring against Newport

“The great thing is, there’s a lot more to come from Sam,” says Cox.

“I think the kid’s capable of playing at a much higher level. He learning all the time, he’s getting stronger all the time. His all-round game is getting better.”

Last week’s win over table-topping Chesterfield continued a fine run that saw Mansfield go unbeaten since an opening-day defeat to Scunthorpe.

And for Cox – nominated for September’s manager of the months award – rebounding from that early set-back was the most important moment in the Stags’ season.

“Any team that gets promoted, they don’t have a problem with the physicality or the technical side,” he explains. “It’s the belief, the mindset that they are good enough to hold their own – that’s the most important thing.

“So that first week at Scunthorpe could have been a big blow. We didn’t play badly but we still got beat and when that happens, it creates negativity. You can easily think ‘Is this a step too far’.

“So getting them to see that as a one off result was huge and they’ve responded brilliantly.”

This article was brought to you by The Football League Paper. On-sale every Sunday, the newspaper provides extensive coverage for all 72 Football League clubs with news, features and gossip plus comprehensive match reports.
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