Mistakes made at Stoke key to Callum Davidson’s rise at St Johnstone

New Perth manager may ‘tinker’ but says he will change little from Tommy Wright era

Callum Davidson was happy to drive the kit van and do the laundry. Now he is St Johnstone manager. Picture: SNS
Callum Davidson was happy to drive the kit van and do the laundry. Now he is St Johnstone manager. Picture: SNS

There was much that was refreshing about Callum Davidson yesterday as he reflected on his route to the manager’s seat at a club with which he is synonymous.

He didn’t tug on the heart strings about coming “home” to St Johnstone, where he was a player for seven years – across two spells that bookended his career – and coach for five. Instead, he conceded that how such history made the Perth club different for him was that it enhanced his chances of making it the place to start his management career once Tommy Wright decided to step away following an odds-defying, super seven-year stint.

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“The chairman [Steve Brown] knows me, that’s why he employed me, and I think having that relationship with him already helped get me the job,” Scotland’s newest top-flight manager was honest enough to admit as he stressed the need to nurture a bond that seemed to break ultimately for Wright.

The playful Davidson was also candid enough to concede that he hadn’t sought previously to go out on his own – establishing a partnership with Gary Rowett during an unsuccessful spell with Stoke City before they enjoyed a more prosperous time at Millwall this season – because he wasn’t ready. And the former full-back, who was a durable performer for Blackburn Rovers and Leicester in a playing career that earned him 19 Scotland caps, doesn’t pretend he has spent recent seasons formulating a coaching credo to which he will slavishly adhere as he re-upholsters St Johnstone in the post-Wright era.

“I won’t change too much. It would be stupid to make wholesale changes to something that has been so successful,” Davidson said. “So what I’ll do is tinker with one or two things, use what I have learned along the way.

“For me, hard work will always be the first thing. I’d always want a high-pressing game, organisation, control – all the things St Johnstone have done in recent years.

“Those have been the key factors in the success over the last seven years so it’s something I want to continue.

“High intensity and getting the ball into the box.

“I am not going to be one of those managers who will overplay or have philosophies and styles. There will be certain ideas I want to get across, but ultimately it’s about winning games. Things might change from week to week. One week you might sit in and the next you go and have a go at the opposition.”

England provided Davidson with the breadth of experience he needed to make “the step up” following seven years as a coach. The scale of Stoke’s operation was part of it; the size of the egos to be dealt with at a club struggling to reset following relegation the other eye-opener.

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“Hopefully we don’t have too many of them here,” he said. “It’s probably one of the biggest differences I noticed between my time at St Johnstone and my time at Stoke. I know the majority of the squad here and I know they want to work hard. Ultimately there will be a work ethic through my squad.

“You will have one or two maverick players that may cause you a wee problem but as long as they produce on the pitch you can get by. I think the experience of dealing with those players at Stoke will help me up here.

“I look back on Stoke now and see what I did wrong. That’s how you learn. Stoke was such a different experience, the number of players and staff they had was incredible. They’d just come down from the Premier League so there were people who didn’t want to be there, there were players who were unhappy at being in the Championship.

“There were staff who didn’t have a role, so there was loads to deal with. Whereas at St Johnstone, I would sometimes drive the kit van, I’d help out with the laundry if someone was off. [I prefer] mucking in because you always need everyone to fight and be pulling in the right direction.”

Davidson, for now, will reserve judgment on where his appointment as St Johnstone manager stands in his considerable collection of footballing peaks.

“Someone said to me the other day you are one of 12 managers in the Premiership. If you look at all the players who have come and played here I’m very fortunate to be in this position,” he said.

“It [could be said it’s a] big achievement for myself and I’ve worked very hard to get here. But I’ll only say it’s a big achievement if I am successful. That’s what I want to be – successful. There’s no point coming here and saying: ‘it’s great, I’m a manager’. I want to be a successful manager. I’m not sure how high I will rate it just now. I’ll tell you in a few years.”

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