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Last Updated: Monday, 16 June, 2003, 06:01 GMT 07:01 UK
Gradi stands the test of time
By Paul Fletcher

English football's longest-serving manager Dario Gradi has completed 20 years as boss of Crewe Alexandra.

Crewe manager Dario Gradi
Gradi has managed Crewe for over 1,000 games
Gradi was appointed manager of Crewe on 16 June 1983 and has been in charge of the Railwaymen for more than 1000 matches.

The Crewe boss, who never played professional football, had previous managerial spells in charge of Wimbledon and Crystal Palace, but since taking over at Gresty Road has become synonymous with the Cheshire club.

He has developed a superb youth academy that has been financed through the sales of home-grown talent including Rob Jones, Seth Johnson, Neil Lennon and Danny Murphy.

And in an uncertain business when hiring and firing is all too-often the order of the day, Gradi's longevity has not only won him the respect of his peers but stands as a testament to the rewards of common sense and continuity.

But when Gradi was appointed there were few, if any, signs that it was the start of a long and fruitful partnership.

The nation was still obsessed with the whereabouts of missing racehorse Shergar, who had been kidnapped several months earlier, when Gradi was quietly unveiled by Crewe.

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The club remained anchored in the old Fourth Division and Gradi was thinking in stop-gap terms.

"Crewe seemed to be in a nice part of the country but the team always seemed to be stuck at the bottom of the League," Gradi told BBC Stoke.

"I did not know much about Crewe before I got here and I did not have a long-term plan - I thought I would only be here for a year."

It was not until five or six years into the job that Gradi realised the potential in an expanding transfer market of developing Crewe by nurturing local talent and players rejected elsewhere before selling them at a profit.

"The television money had been dropped by 50,000 and the chairman had a hobby horse about going part-time," said Gradi.

"I said we will make the 50,000 in sales, which we had not done previously, but I thought we could do it."

"The transfer market soared and, like with a house-price boom, we were there at the right time."

Gradi had a contingency plan if things went wrong - the Southend job - but Gary Blissett was eventually sold for 60,000 and Crewe's winning formula was born.

By developing raw talent Gradi, who now has a place on the board at the club, had not only developed a strategy that allowed the club to survive turbulent times, but also brought unparalleled success on the field.

Gradi's team finished third in the old Division Four table in 1989 - winning a totally unexpected promotion.

And after several relegations and promotions, the Railwaymen finally won a place in the restructured Division One in 1997, beating Brentford in the play-off final.

England midfielder Danny Murphy in action for Crewe
Murphy is a product of the Crewe youth system
"To get Crewe into Division One from the old Fourth Division - that was never on the agenda," said Gradi.

The house that Dario built has become a beacon of light in these murky times of financial uncertainty where at many clubs the administrators grab as many headlines as the players.

And Gradi's winning formula seems more relevant than ever.

Gradi's 20th season in charge at Gresty Road will be played in Division One following a successful promotion campaign, which culminated with the Alex finishing second to Wigan in the Division Two table.

"I played golf the other day for the first time in about a year and I said to a friend that we must do this more often," mused Gradi.

"He said to me that I say that at the same time every year."


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