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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 July 2007, 07:56 GMT 08:56 UK
Replacing the irreplaceable Gradi

By Jonathan Stevenson

In June 1983, having finished second-from-bottom of the old Fourth Division, little Crewe Alexandra appointed Dario Gradi as their new manager.

Crewe first-team coach Steve Holland (left) and manager Dario Gradi
Holland has the onerous task of filling Gradi's shoes at Crewe

It was the most inspired decision in the club's history and the reverberations have been felt around English football ever since.

The Milan-born manager's much-feted ability to produce top-class young players is part of the legend of the game.

David Platt, Geoff Thomas, Rob Jones, Neil Lennon, Danny Murphy, Robbie Savage, Dean Ashton - they were all put through the Crewe system masterminded by Gradi.

Now, 24 years after his project began, Gradi will gradually hand over the reins to another man.

606: DEBATE

His chosen successor, Crewe academy coach Steve Holland, talks BBC Sport through the next 12 months of change at Gresty Road, as the Railwaymen prepare for the dawn of a new era.

THE HANDOVER

It was agreed between the chairman John Bowler, Dario and myself 12 months ago that this season would be a transitional period.

CREWE FACTFILE
Founded: 1877
Ground: Alexandra Stadium (Gresty Road)
Capacity: 10,046
Achievements: FA Cup semi-final (1888), Welsh Cup winners (1936, 1937)

The ultimate objective of that period is me taking over totally as the manager of Crewe Alexandra.

This season, I will be the first-team coach and Dario retains his manager title. It's rare in this country, but a system used more often on the continent.

Dario will take the administrative managerial responsibilities, have an influence on players being bought and sold and deal with contracts and the press.

This will allow me to focus all my attentions on the coaching and selection of the team.

We have had a long time to plan this between the three of us and assistant Neil Baker, too, we know what the score is and we've got a good chance of making it work.

THE CREDENTIALS

I was an ex-professional and came to Crewe as a youth team coach 15 years ago, my first coaching role.

I have just completed my Uefa Pro Licence course, which is the pre-requisite to managing in the Premier League, so that is the ultimate coaching qualification.

I have helped Dario with the first team previously, though my involvement has varied from year-to-year because until now my responsibility was always the academy.

Because of the nature and size of the club, on a regular basis during the week I have watched DVDs of Crewe's games with Dario and taken groups of players for different bits of training.

Certainly towards the end of last season I was involved in first-team training quite a bit with this season in mind.

What you must remember is that the nucleus of the Crewe side historically has come from the academy, which obviously gives my role a little more credence from a first-team perspective.

THE MASTER AND HIS APPRENTICE

Along with the coach education programme I have gone through with the Football Association, Dario has been a huge influence on my career.

As a young coach, you probably could not wish for a better mentor than Dario has been for me.

It is a privileged position I have been in and I have obviously learned an awful lot.

If you look at the uniqueness of the football club, Dario has been manager for 24 years and he is the country's longest-serving manager, so that makes him special for a start.

He has built something and stuck with it, it is a long-term project which he is still working on.

If you look at the players he has developed over the years and the things they have gone on to achieve, I think that probably makes him pretty unique too.

THE CONSISTENCY OF CREWE

I think if you look at the best examples of success with both first-teams and academies, you will usually find that there is some stability behind it.

English football's longest-serving bosses - Sir Alex Ferguson and Dario Gradi
Ferguson will take over as English football's longest-serving boss

Clearly the nature of the game these days makes it more difficult for managers to enjoy the stability that is required to build something.

Dario, Neil and myself have worked together for the past 15 years and we know each other inside-out.

I believe that the reputation Crewe has earned for the type of football we have played down the years and the individuals who have gone on and played at the highest level is remarkable.

Everyone has the occasional player like that, but for a club of our size to have had as many as we have is unusual.

That is down to the development programme we have down here and the longevity of it. Being able to continue it over a long period of time is a great reflection of what Dario and everyone else has done.

I'm not suggesting for one minute that we are this, that or the other, but when you remember the resources we have and home gates of between 4,000-4,500, given that our record is incredible.

THE NEW SEASON

I have been doing the same job for 15 years and I have thoroughly enjoyed it, but I'm looking forward to a change and the challenge that having to get results for a first-team brings.

In my time at Crewe, we have been in this division five times and last season's 13th-placed finish was our lowest league position since I came here.

So we know we have a lot to do to improve this year and we've got an idea of what needs to be done.

We are almost where we wanted to be squad-wise. It was disappointing to lose Luke Varney to Charlton for 2.5m, but that is an accepted way of life for Crewe.

Replacing his goals will not come easy, but we have one or two up-and-coming strikers who will get the chance to show what they can do.

There is always the opportunity at a development-based club like ours that someone will come through and surprise you - and we hope that continues.

We're Crewe - it is what we have done for such a long time and is what we will carry on doing.



SEE ALSO
Gradi begins hunt for right-back
25 Jun 07 |  Crewe Alexandra
Crewe insist Gradi will stay on
20 Apr 07 |  Crewe Alexandra
Crewe coach impressed with Savage
07 Jul 06 |  Crewe Alexandra
The quiet man of Crewe
04 Mar 07 |  Crewe Alexandra
Crewe boss voices academy fears
08 Feb 07 |  Football
Next generation of Crewe talent
26 Oct 06 |  Crewe Alexandra
Gradi stands the test of time
16 Jun 03 |  Crewe Alexandra


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