Dario Gradi, MBE
Public Orator, Professor Stuart Biddle, presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Monday 14 July 2003 at 10.30am.
Loughborough University has an unrivalled reputation in sport. It has helped to produce international experts in performance, coaching, science, and managerial leadership in sport. We believe in sport in the fullest sense, hence our moto for Loughborough Sport – Developing People, Developing Sport. Today, we are honouring an outstanding person in the field of sport whose legacy in the tough world of professional football management is that of the development of people in football as well as the sport of football itself.
“Dario Gradi” is probably one of the most frequently spoken answers in pub, home and TV quizzes. The question? “Who is currently the longest serving manager in the Football League?” I am delighted that today’s honour coincides with Dario’s 20 years as manager at Crewe Alexandra Football Club. However, it is not just longevity of service that we honour, as I will explain shortly.
Dario Gradi was born in Milan but moved to England when he was four. As a footballer he played for Sutton United and Tooting & Mitcham before moving to Loughborough to train as a teacher of physical education between 1960 and 1963. Here he played in the successful 1st XI that included Bob Wilson and the author of ‘Kes’, Barry Hines! I believe his Loughborough peers were even more impressed that he drove an Austin Healey 3000 as a student! His period at Loughborough was to prove influential in his career because it was at this time that he was coached by staff member Alan Wade, who went on to become the FA’s Director of Coaching and author of the most influential football coaching book of all time.
After a period of teaching, Dario became Assistant Coach at Chelsea in 1971 at the age of just 29, followed by coaching and management posts at Sutton United, Derby County, Wimbledon and Crystal Palace, and a 2-year spell as youth team coach at Leyton Orient. He even turned down the offer to manage Benfica!
It was in June 1983 that Dario took up his present post as manager of Crewe Alexandra. At the time, Crewe were the perennial whipping boys of the old 4th Division, having finished in the bottom three for 4 of the previous 5 seasons. Over the next 20 years, under Dario’s leadership, Crewe have been promoted 4 times and are now 2 divisions higher than when he took over. In addition, the ground has been completely redeveloped and crowds have increased five-fold. In 1998, he was awarded the MBE for his contributions to the sport of football.
Dario’s greatest achievements
have been in the nurturing of young football talent. The Crewe Academy,
now with extensive new facilities, is a model nationally and internationally.
Dario, himself, still watches and coaches the young players. David Platt,
the former England captain, was released by Manchester United as a youngster
but was taken in by Crewe and developed by Dario Gradi into a player good
enough to move on to Aston Villa, Arsenal, Juventus and England and star
in the 1990 World Cup. Platt is not the only well-known player to benefit
from the system at Crewe. Dario converted Neil Lennon from being a reserve
for Manchester City to an international player for Northern Ireland, and
now with Celtic. Liverpool’s Danny Murphy is another product of
the Crewe system. Others include England internationals Geoff Thomas,
Rob Jones, and Seth Johnson, as well as Robbie Savage, Craig Hignett,
Rob Whalley, Ashley Ward, and Dele Adebola. When asked if he had a secret
to explain such success, Dario said “yes, we practice very hard”!
Significantly, only one player in 20 years has asked for a transfer. Dario’s
player-centred approach is best summed up in his quote, “we will
go where the players take us, not get the players to take us where we
want to go”. Dario Gradi, Loughborough graduate, epitomises the
Loughborough sport motto, Developing People, Developing Sport.
H.D.McCullam@lboro.ac.uk, July 2003
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