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‘It was like being brainwashed’ – Lee Bowyer opens up on Newcastle experiences that ‘made him’

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Lee Bowyer admits that for four years he didn’t have a single thought about entering the ferocious and unforgiving world of football management.

The kicking and screaming had finally stopped for the ex-Newcastle United star and he was quite happy fishing in France, so happy in fact, he purchased his own lake and renamed it from La Fritterie to ‘Etang de Bows’ no less!

Few could have begrudged Bowyer had he followed the lead of another ex-Newcastle and Leeds ace in David Batty and disappeared completely from the limelight to live a life away from the hype, the pressure, the intensity, the criticism and the pain of being in the dugout, a thankless task at the best of times.

But aside from gaining his coaching badges as a fallback, Bowyer, had an education at St James’ Park that most budding bosses could only dream of.

Often remembered for an onfield scrap with Kieron Dyer in a 3-0 defeat against Aston Villa as the duo traded blows in front of 52,000 fans, Bowyer’s Toon career was much more than that isolated incident.

In his first season, Newcastle finished fifth under Sir Bobby Robson with Bowyer scoring a crucial goal in a 3-3 draw at Southampton that helped qualify for Europe.

Newcastle’s Alan Shearer with Lee Bowyer in 2004

Only that top-five finish, something that would be regarded as a remarkable feat these days, was deemed a failure as Robson was sacked months later.

Bowyer’s second season featured a run to the last eight of the UEFA Cup and a place in the semi-finals of the FA Cup before his final campaign in 2006 resulted in another European place, this time under Glenn Roeder.

Inevitably, we get on to the bust-up with Dyer, but we agree to keep the incident low key in this piece, after all Bowyer’s career fell just short of 100 appearances with 11 goals from midfield, not bad for a player that was signed to win the ball back.

These days Bowyer is proving a success as a football manager and at 44 is on to his second club.

After experiencing the “highs and lows” at Charlton Atletic, beating Sunderland at Wembley along the way, Bowyer is now back at the club he won a trophy with in Birmingham City as a player.

It’s now about life in the dugout for Bowyer though and the player that was often mismanaged at times, only seeking clarity on where to improve on the pitch but often not getting any, now finds himself trying to turn the Blues from relegation battlers to possible play-off contenders.

Bowyer has a more than respectable win ratio (41.3%) for a manager who has had limited resources in the EFL, 169 games played, 69 wins, 39 draws and 59 defeats.

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Each day he admits he uses lessons from Sir Bobby, Graeme Souness and Glenn Roeder – who he played under during his time at Newcastle.

Robson was questioned when he signed Bowyer after he arrived with a bad boy reputation from Elland Road.

But he was in the team almost every week and even kept Nobby Solano out of the side as a right-midfielder before he left to sign for Aston Villa.

Bowyer told the Chronicle: “I still take things from Sir Bobby now. Sir Bobby was very good and what he did, very clever.

“He made you feel special all the time whether you were playing or not.

“He knew the right time to put you in your place if you like. And obviously knew when to put an arm around you when it was needed.

“His enthusiasm is probably the biggest thing I have taken away. Sir Bobby would always come in with a smile on his face.

“But you always knew he was in charge.

“That is what I take from Sir Bobby even now.”

Sir Bobby Robson and assistant manager Mick Wadsworth look dejected after Newcastle United's FA Cup semi-final defeat against Chelsea at Wembley on April 10, 2000

Sir Bobby Robson and assistant manager Mick Wadsworth look dejected after Newcastle United’s FA Cup semi-final defeat against Chelsea at Wembley on April 10, 2000

Bowyer recalled an episode in which he found himself “rested” by the ex-England boss.

Sir Bobby would sometimes start training sessions running alongside his squad, even in his 70s, much to the amusement of the players.

But Bowyer reflected: “Sir Bobby was ahead of his time for sure.

“The way he handled players was very good. He would actually drop you but still make you feel special, and to have that knack is not easy.

“I remember he dropped me and said: ‘Son I’m just resting you.’ I said: ‘You aren’t resting me you’re dropping me!’

“But he said: ‘Just come out the team for a bit and recharge’. By the time I left the office, I was thinking: ‘Yeah I do need a rest!’

“It was like being brainwashed into the way he was thinking and he changed it so that you did come in fresh for the next game or two.

“He was very good at it. The skill was that I was still walking around feeling that he wanted me.

“Man management is so difficult. It is getting that balance.

“He could put you in your place when needed be but at the same time, he would always keep you onside when he needed it. That is an art in itself.”

Bowyer says he has imported some of the knowledge from playing under Sir Bobby to his managerial career at Birmingham.

Steve Bruce and Mike Ashley

Fallout over the long-running takeover saga at Newcastle United hasn’t just been the talk of Tyneside – it was the talk of the footballing world.

Steve Bruce has attempted to push forward without a change in ownership or new backing.

However, the twists and turns aren’t over, with current owner Mike Ashley ‘considering all options’ after the Premier League rejected the £300m takeover.

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He said: “I am definitely trying to take that with me on my journey.

“I am always honest with the players. And I just try to put an arm around them when needed.

“I am working with a couple of players now that other managers have struggled to keep onside or keep their levels high.

“I’ve managed it. People have asked me how I managed it, Lyle Taylor is one.

“He was with Wimbledon who were at the bottom of League One then he became the reason why we got promoted at Charlton with 25 goals and 11 assists.

“But it was just down to making him feel special.

“It got the best out of him but I was also able to push him and he was improving all the time as a player. Again, that is what Sir Bobby used to do, put his arm around you but push you at the same time.

“You’d keep improving.”

Bowyer knows that he will need some of the life skills taught by the Geordie Godfather of football as he moves through one of the most cut and thrust industries in sport.

The former West Ham and Leeds man told me: “I am definitely trying to take that with me on my journey.

“I am always honest with the players. And I just try to put an arm around them when needed.

“I am working with a couple of players now that other managers have struggled to keep onside or keep their levels high.

“I’ve managed it. People have asked me how I managed it, Lyle Taylor is one.

“He was with Wimbledon who were at the bottom of League One then he became the reason why we got promoted at Charlton with 25 goals and 11 assists.

“But it was just down to making him feel special.

“It got the best out of him but I was also able to push him and he was improving all the time as a player.

“Again, that is what Sir Bobby used to do, put his arm around you but push you at the same time.

“You’d keep improving.”

Only during his time at Newcastle, Sir Bobby Robson never got another season to improve after Bowyer’s first year at the club.

Incredibly, he was fired after finishing fifth in the table.

Bowyer reflected: “Sometimes people (owners) have to be careful what they wish for.

“Sir Bobby moved on, was it the right thing to do? Well the club as a whole has never been the same since he went has it?

“It has never regularly got to that end of the division again since. It just shows what a great job he done.

“The problem is people don’t realise how good you are until they are gone.

“He was very good at what he done with the resources he had. They had a lot of good players as well.

“Once he then goes people think it is easy to carry on what he provided but it’s not. He done a great job overall.”

His replacement was Souness, who Bowyer had respect for as a manager and a player.

Before Newcastle, Souness had won something at most other clubs he’d been at including Rangers, Blackburn and Liverpool.

Bowyer again says he gleaned something from the fiery ex-Scotland star and said: “It was tough following Sir Bobby Robson, that ain’t easy.

“But the one thing I took from Graeme Souness was his honesty…”

Bowyer then gives a unique insight into his mindset as a player, and perhaps tells readers more about his own mood sometimes on the pitch.

He said: “As a player, all you want as a player, all I ever wanted, and some players can’t handle it – is the truth.

“If you are being dropped or have had a bad game, then tell me. Guide me and tell me where you want me to improve in order to play in your team.

“Don’t just say you are doing well but then don’t play me because if I’m not playing I’m doing something wrong, so how am I doing well!

“So I respected Graeme so much for his honesty.”

Despite being a similar competitor to Souness on the field, the pair clashed sometimes in the dressing room – incredibly over the subject of yellow cards.

Bowyer joked: “It’s funny you should say that, I know I was quite a physical player. You’re saying he was physical too and he was.

“I’d get yellow cards and he’d be going mad with me. I was thinking: ‘Hold on gaffer you used to be ruthless!’

“My yellow cards were nothing compared to the ones you’d get.

“But he was good and honest, and his knowledge.”

Souness, however, then emulated Robson in being fired at United with the Dyer-Bowyer pitch battle coming in 2005.

Bowyer says: “It’s been mentioned a million times. It happens every day in training up and down the country.

“There was nothing to repair. Me and Kieron were fine the next day.

“Us as men repaired it. We were friends before and are still friends now.

“Obviously, it was a difficult situation because it doesn’t really happen on the pitch does it?

“But Graeme handled it well. I’d rather not talk about though.”

Bowyer’s final manager was Roeder who sadly passed away earlier this year with football falling into mourning at his death.

The former midfielder says he could have stayed longer but it was time to return to London after a decade in the north.

Bowyer said: “He was such a nice man, and it was his kindness around the place I will remember.

“Glenn was the true gentleman, and very approachable. He was bubbly in and around the place.

“I didn’t work with him too long because I left not long after he got the job.

“Glenn wanted me to stay and he offered me another year on top, but it was just time for me to go back home. But he was such a nice man.”

Charlton Athletic manager Lee Bowyer and Sunderland’s Grant Leadbitter

Charlton Athletic manager Lee Bowyer and Sunderland’s Grant Leadbitter

Both Roeder and Sir Bobby would be proud of Bowyer’s managerial achievements so far, promotion at Wembley with Charlton and survival with Birmingham, but the 44-year-old admits, it was a million miles away from his thoughts after hanging up his boots.

He told me: “When I finished playing football I was out of the game for four years.

“I thoroughly enjoyed them and had no desire to go back into football, zero intentions.

“It was only when I took a call from Harry Kewell, he rang me when I was on holiday and said: ‘Look can you come in and help me with Watford U21s’.

“He was on his own but needed help a couple of days a week. I was like: ‘Yeah no worries’.

“He had no staff, I just helped a friend, they didn’t pay me it was just help.

“I worked with individuals and helped Harry.

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“I could see some of the stuff I was doing was improving people.

“I quite liked it and it was nice, then I went to Charlton and was only meant to be helping a couple of days a week but ended up five, then seven.

“I was like: ‘I’m only meant to be here two days a week helping the midfielders!’

“But to cut a long story short, I ended up being Karl Robinson’s assistant then he moved to Oxford and then they asked me to take the last 10 games of that season.

“We were well out of play-offs but I managed to turn it around, winning seven of the last 10 and got into the play-offs.

“They gave me the job the next summer.

“My first full year we got promotion then got into the Championship.

“These are the highs and lows I spoke about…

“We went up and they cut my budget lower than in League One. I was like: ‘Hold on, this ain’t gonna work’.

“The owner wanted to sell it and make it more attractive for people to buy it but then realising if you want to try to compete in the Championship, you need to put something into it.

“But we went the other way, we got injuries and it went wrong.

“Even then we gave it a good go and we were unlucky, the points we went down with we’d have stayed up this season – it was just unlucky.

“Last season we were in and around the play-offs but then I went to Birmingham. When I got there the teams behind us had four games in hand and we were only three points ahead, but we stayed up comfortably in the end by nine points.”

More intriguing chapters of Bowyer’s career lie in wait, for a player who didn’t speak often to the media, he has one hell of a story to tell.

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