Niall Quinn became a Sunderland legend during his time in the North East, joining the Black Cats for a club record £1.3m in 1996 and going on to score 67 goals in 218 appearances.
Quinny was part of Peter Reid’s squad that achieved promotion back to the Premier League in 1999, picking up the Sunderland and North East Sportswriter’s Player of the Year awards in the process. But, the frontman struggled with his fair share of injuries – including a serious knee issue shortly after completing his transfer from Manchester City.
Speaking on the latest episode of Paddy Power’s From The Horse’s Mouth podcast, the Ireland hero has revealed the rudimentary, but effective approach the Sunderland coaching staff took to player and injury management.
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Compared to the coaching seminars that I see nowadays talking about how to handle footballers, it makes me think “Thank God I don’t play these days.”
We had a coach, Bobby Saxton, at Sunderland. Peter Reid got all the credit for our success, but all the players knew that Bobby Saxton was behind it.
Some of the stuff Bobby would come out with to get you to play better was genius, but he did it in an old-fashioned way. He effed and jeffed at everything, called you every name under the sun – but it was for a reaction. He put us into good places.
The best one he did for me – and this is sports psychology as I knew it at Sunderland – was when I had a bad ankle, and I was having a fitness test to see if I could play a match against Middlesbrough.
I was in three hours before everybody else, and I went out on the pitch with the physio. I did a bit of jogging and a bit of twisting. When it came to kicking a ball my ankle was still swollen and it was no good, so I had to call it a day. Peter Reid came in to see me and he said “Look son, get yourself ready for next week. Don’t worry about it.”
I went “Thanks, Gaffer”, but as I was getting my suit back on Bobby Saxton came in. He slammed the door and said “Oh, so now we’ve got Billy Big Time here, starting believing all the newspapers?”
“Bob, I think that’s unfair. I’m injured here,” I said. He went “Ah no, you’ve gone big-time now. I knew you when you were a proper player – you wouldn’t even tell anyone if you had a bad ankle. Now you’re believing all that s**t in the papers. You’re turning into one of them.”
So, I got really upset and annoyed. I was like “How dare you?”
He said, “What do you mean, how dare you?” He actually pushed me. I told him, “You’re bang out of order, Bobby. I can’t even kick it.”
Booby answered, “When did we ever ask you to kick it? Just stand between the two 18-yard lines, stay in the middle of the pitch, we’ll hit the effing ball to you, and just effing hit it. You’d better turn out and play for us today.”
I gave in and said: “Jesus, I will.” Something came into me – he mentally got to me – and I said I’ll play.
Anyway, we won 1-0, and I scored a header. So that’s the sports psychology I was used to.
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