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“I wouldn’t change this group of players for anyone” | Rob Elliot on management, identity & tough decisions | INTERVIEW
Jack McGraghan
Author: Jack McGraghan

30th October 2023

This interview is taken from Issue 215 of HeedLines, sold at our Vanarama National League fixture against AFC Fylde on Saturday, October 28.

Much has changed in the three weeks between Gateshead’s last two home games.

The Heed have progressed to the first round of the FA Cup, seen the management team depart for pastures new, and introduced a familiar face to the dugout in his first role in management.

Albeit on an interim basis for the time being, Rob Elliot’s baptism as a manager has brought with it change on an individual basis, though not an awful lot on a collective front.

“I spoke to Mike [Williamson], he was the one who suggested doing it, and I really appreciate his faith in me,” said Elliot.

“Over the time I’ve been here, I’ve always had chats with Mike, Ian [Watson] and Chris [Bell], so I’ve probably always been trying to steal bits of information.

“To be a top coach you have to be the best thief in the world, stealing all of the good bits from people and avoiding the bad parts.

“I’ve spoken to a lot of people I know in football who are either in this position, or have been in this position, but I have an identity in mind of how I want things to be and the lads have taken that on board unbelievably well.

“I want to see the players, the staff, and the fans enjoying watching Gateshead and coming to the game on a Saturday.

“We’ll be watching a team that will always work and always try and play the right way, and when they walk off that pitch, whether it’s a good day or a bad day, their desire to do the right things is there.

“If that is there then we’ll get better every week, and working with a group of players who already do that anyway has made my job a lot easier.”

Though his burden is eased somewhat by those he works around, that’s not to say that Elliot’s introduction to management has been easy work thus far.

Some responsibilities that are part and parcel of the managerial game – such as telling players they aren’t part of the match day squad – come naturally to few, and Elliot is keen to avoid the pitfalls of those he played under in years gone by.

“I’ve learned from Mike, and my experiences over the years, what I felt were the best and not the best ways of doing it,” he added.

“The best thing I can do is to be as honest as possible and ensure that every decision I make has a reason for it, and one that allows players to understand it and use it as a platform to improve and change their scenario.

“I genuinely wouldn’t change this group of players for anyone. From my point of view, none of the players are unavailable as they’re all in my plans.

“Ultimately I’ve got the tough decision – which has given me a couple of sleepless nights – of having to look some of these guys in the eyes and tell them that they’re not a part of the squad.

“As a player, you never agree with not playing and rightly so, but one of the biggest strengths in this group is the way they take on criticism as a way to improve.

“I always wanted a reason as to why I wasn’t playing and something I could work towards, I didn’t like when a manager said: ‘I’m going with something different’ or ‘you’re not playing well’.

“Every decision I make needs to have substance, so that whether the players are happy about it or not, they understand why and are working to improve.”

Sitting in what is now his office ahead of his first home game has allowed an opportunity for self-reflection for Elliot, who shares his coaching space with Louis Storey and Carl Magnay, two people who it’s safe to say he knows very well.

Photo: Charlie Waugh

With his new position is bound to come external scrutiny, no matter how things are going on the pitch, but Elliot knows there is only one person who knows best on how he should operate.

“You’ve got to go with your gut and not be swayed by anyone else,” he said.

“Everyone has their opinions on what you do as a manager, but it’s my job to clear my mind and make decisions based on what I see.

“I’ve done a lot of reflection over the last week or so of what I wanted as a young player, what I wanted when I was a bit more experienced, and trying to remember the things I really liked and maybe the things I didn’t like.

“All of the different managers I played under had their different strengths and weaknesses, and I want to take that and combine it with my identity and personality.

“I said to the lads on Monday that if we have a united mentality going forward then I can’t ask for much more.

“The best times I had as a player were not just because we were doing well, but I was seeing my friends smiling, working hard and being supported when they were having a tough time.

“When the football is finished, it’s about the human beings who are a part of this club.

“We’ll make sure that they’re happy and in a good place, and that we’re supporting them not only as footballers, but more importantly as people.”

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