NO SETBACKS ONLY BOUNCE BACKS: AN IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW WITH MIKE JACKSON
- Former Tranmere boss uses time out to develop as a coach
- Works in media, learns about sports psychology and directorship
- Reflects on stellar managers who have influenced his process
MIKE JACKSON doesn't do feeling sorry for himself.
He didn't countenance it as a player in a career that spanned six clubs and 649 games in the English Football League.
He has refused to ponder it as a coach now he is experiencing his first spell out of football after over 500 matches in the technical area.
Those who live inside The Beautiful Game know it can be a loving friend then seem like a brutally cruel enemy in the blink of an eye.
Sacked after just 10 games in charge of League Two Tranmere Rovers, 47-year-old Sport Careers Agency client Mike would have a right to wallow in self-pity. At least for a little while.
He's never considered it once.
Instead the last five months since he was let go have been spent improving himself, getting ready for the next challenge.
Mike reflected: “This is the first time I have been out of the game and the last five months have been hard. You can't hide from that.
“I have had media work with Radio Lancashire, though, on Saturdays and that has really helped getting me out to games and keeping me busy.
“It has also given me a great insight into how the media works.
“With my experience as a manager now you watch the matches from a different perspective and you realise how the pressures can quickly mount.
“I covered games at Preston North End where they recently parted company from their manager Alex Neil.
“I knew there was more to his story than simply the results and I tried to get that across to the listeners.
“I knew because I have been there at Tranmere in League Two for 10 games in charge before the club decided to make a change.”
The hurt of Mike's departure from Prenton Park is heightened by the memories of the good times that flowed before it.
Working as current Dundee United boss Mick Mellon's trusted right-hand man, Jackson was a key part of a journey back from the wilderness of the National League.
Back-to-back promotions, three trips to Wembley, back in League One.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the competition was halted and Tranmere were controversially relegated on the points per game method.
Scot Mellon's managerial nous, though, was recognised throughout the game and he landed the enticing role of leading Dundee United in their first season back in the Scottish Premiership.
Mike revealed: “I had an opportunity to go to Scotland with Micky when he took the job at Tannadice.
“Yet at the time with having a young family and the COVID situation, I felt it was an opportunity I couldn't take.
“I also felt a massive affection towards Tranmere and the fans from my time as a player and coach and was so proud when they offered me the managers' job.”
Mike kept grafting at Tranmere as the club recovered from the shock of being banished to League Two.
Rovers were sent down at a time when they'd taken 10 points from 15 and the rescue mission of their season was bang on track.
That unjust demotion meant the pressure was on from Day One when Mike was handed the reins as manager.
He reasoned: “That short spell in charge was about me having to rebuild and construct a new squad and staff that would represent the values and culture of Tranmere and the fans who supported it. That was important to me.
“I wanted to build on the recent past successes and use the injustice of our demotion as a cause to bring everyone together to bounce back.
“It was a challenging time against a backdrop of the problems that demotion brings, with money understandably being tight given the pandemic.
“Yet even with this I felt that I did assemble a squad that could challenge for promotion.”
Yet all the time the virus was seeping deeper into the game.
In October Tranmere went to Salford City with just 10 recognised senior pros, five kids on the bench and no substitute goalkeeper.
COVID-19 positive tests and self-isolation rules had decimated Jackson's squad.
Yet somehow they battled back to score twice in the last seven minutes and earn a 2-2 draw against the big money club bankrolled by Manchester United legends Gary Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes.
That doesn't paint a picture of a dressing-room not playing for their gaffer.
Mike always felt that given time the squad he was constructing could find a way to get Rovers back up.
Chairman Mark Palios, though, wasn't willing to give them that precious coaching commodity of time.
Now Mike is on the outside looking in as successor Keith Hill's side look set for the play-offs and he said: “Football is all about tough decisions and everyone involved wants to win matches.
“Personally, I don't believe that 10 games is enough for any manager to get their ideas across, time to find consistency, to let new players bed in. Especially given the off-field challenges we faced at the time.
“The main lessons I learned from that spell is that you need to find those quick wins both on AND off the park.
"You need to understand the pressures the board are facing and help them to understand yours.
“You need to be on the same page together or it just won't work.”
Mike watched the shrewd Mellon managing upwards as he developed as a manager.
Micky has safely kept Dundee United in Scotland's top tier and roared inTO the last four of the Scottish Cup with a 0-3 win at arch-rivals Aberdeen's last weekend.
Mellon has what appears to be a rock-solid relationship with American owner Mark Ogren.
The Scottish manager has also co-authored a book called The First 100 Days: Lessons in leadership from the football bosses.
Mike said: “That book didn't surprise me because Micky understood the importance of seeing the club as a whole.
“Some managers don't understand the boardroom but Micky took it upon himself to learn about that side of the business.
“I feel that has stood him in good stead, he understands the pressures facing the people he works for.
“I learned from Micky, just as I have tried to take a little piece from every manager that I worked with.
“I played for David Moyes at Preston North End and he had this incredible attention to detail, he was truly DRIVEN.
“He asked a lot of you because he genuinely wanted to make every player better and he was superb on the grass too, an excellent coach.
“So that has always lived with me and funnily enough I worked with a lot of influential Scots. Billy Davies was another coach who I admired.
“He should be in the game at a good level now not sitting out looking in. He'd pore through analysis and see small ways we could improve.
“Then you had people like Craig Brown who was a master with the media and, as a teacher by trade, a fantastic communicator.
“So you mix that with experiences from the start at Crewe when I watched how Dario Gradi moulded and promoted young players.
“When you have time to reflect, which I have now, you realise how much these people influence your outlook on the game.”
Now Jackson's bank of knowledge is waiting for the next challenge.
His Sport Careers Agency CV has started to land on the desks at hiring clubs again.
Mike reasoned: “The next steps for me? Well, you look at every route back in don't you?
“I would love to get back into coaching, I know I could bring a lot of experience to that role.
“I also feel that what I have learned both as a player and a coach can help to mould players in an Academy.
“The hardest thing so far has been those weekends when I have not had a game with the radio and I am out there on a Saturday afternoon wondering where to go.
“My dog has become an Olympic athlete on those days there have been so many walks!”
That wry sense of humour has helped Mike in this spell out of the game he loves.
He's had time to heal and look back at what was, now that steely gaze is only looking in one direction. Forwards.
And he pointed out: “This game has always been my passion and a big part of my life.
"Every year as a player I would take another step towards coaching when I finished.
“That was my goal and I have taken that positive outlook into this spell out of the game.
“I have spoken to a lot of people within all areas of the game, listening to their experiences and looking to gain knowledge and advice that will help me improve.
“The one question I always ask is what are the most important areas you need to focus on and get right in your role and there were a lot of common answers.
“I have learned about sport directorship, sports psychology, scouting and recruitment.
“I also went into Liverpool and spoke to their Academy Manager Alex Inglethorpe and his staff about their approach to development.
“It was great to see how they support and challenge both players and coaches to improve and maximise their potential.
“When you are in the game it is all-consuming. You are focussed with the training, the game on Saturday, the result.
“This time out has given me an opportunity to add to my experience and knowledge, evaluate how I work and think about how I can become better when I do get back in.”
MIKE JACKSON ON THE SERVICE HE RECEIVED FROM SPORT CAREERS AGENCY
”There is no question the CV I have has helped me no end and it is giving me confidence now as I am in the process of trying to get back into the game.
”You need that expert assistance to help you get your foot in the door and after that it is up to you. We all need that edge that Sport Careers Agency gives you.”