By John Lyons
GRAHAM Westley is relishing his return to football management with Barnet – and eager to win over sceptical fans.
With the Bees bottom of the EFL ahead of yesterday’s home game against Lincoln, they’ve called on Westley to get them out of trouble, with former manager Mark McGhee stepping into a new role as ‘head of technical’ after just two months in charge.
Westley had plenty of success at Barnet’s neighbours and rivals Stevenage in the past, guiding them to back-to-back promotions from the Conference to League One in 2009-10 and 2010-11.
That means he may have to work a little bit harder to get supporters on side.
Yet the 49-year-old, who had a short stint with Barnet in his playing days, believes it comes with the territory and he’s determined to give the supporters plenty to cheer about in the coming months following a troubled campaign.
“Sammy Lee is currently sitting in the Everton dugout trying to win over the fans because he was a Liverpool great,” said Westley.
“There’s David Moyes in the West Ham dugout trying to win over the fans who didn’t want him because he took Sunderland down. Every manager has something to prove.
“People have successfully switched between Stevenage and Barnet, Paul Fairclough being one of them.
“In football, a fanbase will develop a passion for a manager who wins games and shows commitment to the cause, and I want to give them confidence in me.”
Westley has bags of managerial experience, including spells with Preston, Peterborough and, latterly, Newport County, who he left in March.
That should stand him in good stead as he tries to maintain the Bees’ EFL status.
“I’ve had 20 years of not having free Saturday afternoons and recently I’ve had a few,” he said.
“I had my first Boxing Day this time without football and it didn’t feel right.
“There was a blank in my schedule which was horrible. Saturdays felt the same way. I missed the football involvement, having a game to win.
“You tend to get jobs when sides are struggling and I’m well used to walking into this situation. But no two situations are the same – nor solutions.
“It’s hard work winning games whether you’re at the top or bottom, but you have to go in with the frame of mind to win the next game. You have to do the same things. The process of winning games is exactly the same.
“If you look too far ahead, you make a big mistake. I’m confident we can win the match on Saturday, but I know it’s going to be a really difficult game. Every game will be because winning three points is never easy.”
But Westley believes there are a couple of big plusses for Barnet as they approach the business end of the season.
“In Ricardo Santos (22), there’s one of the best young centre-halves in lower league football,” he said.
“When I had him at Peterborough I thought I would lose him to Championship level, or higher if someone took a punt. For him to be in League Two makes no sense. He’s a fantastic young man and footballer.
“At one end of the pitch we have that asset and at the other we have John Akinde (28), who just puts the ball in the net. He’s been out injured and is finding form and fitness. When you have that kind of strength at both ends, then you always have a chance.”
Westley was coy about how long his Barnet deal is for but says too much shouldn’t be read into that.
“When you take any job in football, I don’t think you think you will be there for the next 20 years nor for five minutes,” he said.
“You want to do the job in front of you and, right now, it’s to keep Barnet in the Football League and get as high as we can.
“That’s all I’m thinking about and I don’t really want to go into anything beyond that as it would divert my focus.
“If we stay up, come the end of the season, I doubt the chairman will sack me and there will probably be a case where I say, ‘let’s build on this’. Right now though, my focus is 100 per cent on making sure we are a Football League club next season.”