IT’S as well James Beattie enjoys a challenge.
Being a former Premier League star dropping down to play in League Two is certainly one, taking your first step as a manager at one of the professional game’s smallest clubs is something else.
But the 35-year-old is happy to throw himself into it– after being the surprise choice to replace good friend Leam Richardson in the Accrington Stanley hotseat in May.
“I certainly didn’t envisage this when I answered the phone to Leam last November,” said Beattie, who cost Everton £6m when he left Southampton in 2005, but was a free agent by then.
“Leam was good enough to give me the chance to come here as player-coach after the phone hadn’t been ringing. He got me enjoying football again.
He believed in me and now the club do.
“When he left to join Chesterfield I didn’t know what was going to happen but when the club came to me with the offer it was one I couldn’t turn down. Life is all about taking opportunities and this is a brilliant one for me.
“I’d not even started my coaching badges, that’s something I’m sorting out now, but I don’t think coaching will be my strong point anyway. Managing people and players is where I see myself and I’m really looking forward to leading this club forward.
“It might have surprised a few people that I’ve taken this on but I’m loving it and I’m proud to be manager of a famous football club.”
Stanley were one of 12 founder members of the Football League 125 years ago and have had more ups and downs than most ever since.
The famous milk advert of the 1980’s kept their name alive in the darker times and Beattie is determined to use that legacy to build a brighter future.
“This place has got a rich history on the pitch and we all remember that advert too,” added Beattie, who won five England caps.
“It’s about immersing yourself in all that but also to keep raising the profile of the club.
“I want the club to progress on and off the pitch while I’m here and everyone behind the scenes is working overtime to help me do that.
“Players like Danny Webber (ex-Watford and Sheffield United) and Nicky Hunt (former Bolton right-back) coming in obviously believe in what we’re trying to do and I’m excited about this season. They shouldn’t be playing at this level but they like the way the club is heading.
“We’ve also been on the club’s first overseas pre-season trip (to Portugal) and that’s a real statement of what we’re trying to do and change a few perceptions about the place.
“That was a great experience for me and the lads. Our goalkeeper Andrew Dawber hadn’t even been on a plane before!“But the way they grew as a group and individually was a pleasure to see.
We even had letters sent to the club praising the lads in the way they conducted themselves.”
Beattie, who will be assisted by Paul Stephenson and Paul Lodge, has registered himself as a player but admits he will be playing only as a last resort. He scored seven times last season but said: “I want to give myself the best chance of managing well and give this job my full attention.
“That means not playing and I will only play if we’ve got an injury crisis. I still join in with training and bang them in the stanchion to show the lads how it’s done but I hope I don’t play too much.
“I will miss playing and nothing beats scoring goals as a striker but this is the next part of my career.
“It’s up to the players we’ve got to take us forward on the pitch. Not the manager pulling his boots on again.
”And it’s not only at work where Beattie will be challenged this season.
His wife Sarah and their three young children, six, three and two, will remain at home on the south coast.
It’s a 500-mile round trip but Beattie adds: “Sarah has been with me through my career and we always said that when I’d finished playing we’d move back to the south coast.
“We loved the area when I was at Southampton and we could focus on our business interests.
“It’s a great place to live and we found a lovely place and moved in November before the Accrington move happened – it’s not the easiest of commutes! I’m thinking of investing in a helicopter!
“It’s hard not seeing Sarah and the kids but they fully support me and it makes the times I do see them even better.
“She’s got her hands full but backed me all the way and is happy. A happy wife means a happy life doesn’t it?”