Iwan Roberts: Why I always find myself apologising to Middlesbrough boss Tony Pulis
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Tony Pulis brings his Middlesbrough side down to Carrow Road on Saturday and, having won their last three away games, they will be travelling down full of confidence.
Tony is a good friend of mine and I should have signed for him many years ago when he was manager of Bournemouth. However, I let him down badly – but to this day he’s never held that against me.
I think it was about 1992-93 and after three years at Huddersfield my contract was up and I’d turned down their initial offer. It was before the Bosman ruling came into affect so I couldn’t just walk away; Huddersfield were due a transfer fee for me if I was to move on.
I travelled down to the south coast to meet Tony and have talks about signing for Bournemouth, The Cherries were in the same league and so although it wasn’t a step up for me it certainly wasn’t a step down.
I was down there for about four days altogether and Tony and the club treated me superbly. He personally drove me everywhere to show me the area, showed me the nice areas to live in – mind you, there aren’t too many areas down there that aren’t nice places to live in.
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Tony took me to his house and introduced me to his lovely family – I even went to the training ground and had a day’s training with the Bournemouth squad as they’d just started pre-season.
They made me feel really wanted, which is always important to a player and after negotiating a three-year deal I shook hands with Tony and agreed to join Bournemouth.
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I didn’t sign the contract there and then as I had a few loose ends to tie up with Huddersfield and the two clubs had to agree a fee for me, so I travelled back up to west Yorkshire 99pc a Bournemouth player – but little did I know about then Huddersfield’s manager Neil Warnock’s powers of persuasion!
I went to tell Neil the next day about my decision and he was so disappointed that I’d decided to leave the club. Neil had only just taken over at the club and had no idea about the contract I’d been offered, but said he’d do everything in his power to keep me.
He threw everything at me to make me stay, he told me how he’d improve me as a player, how his teams created plenty of chances for the forwards and, probably most importantly, told me that the club would not stand in my way if a club from the old Second or First Division came in for me.
I caved in and, unlike Tony, Neil didn’t let me leave his office until I’d signed on the dotted line.
And then I had to make that horrendous phone call to tell Tony what had just happened. Tony Pulis was brilliant – he blamed himself for letting me go back without signing a contract and wished me well with the rest of my career.
Ever since that day, every time I’ve bumped into Tony I’ve always apologised, but looking back signing that contract at Huddersfield was the right decision as Neil Warnock was true to his word – within three months I’d been sold to Leicester City for £300,000.
City’s success at Griffin Park made it three away wins in the Championship in their last four away games – and just as impressive is the fact that Norwich have now not conceded a goal away from home in the league since they lost at Elland Road on December 16, and that’s impressive.
The club’s done quite a bit of business in this transfer window, but the most important thing they’ve done this January is to keep hold of James Maddison who, once again, grabbed the headlines after the win at Brentford with a match-winning performance and yet another superbly-taken goal – the lad just doesn’t score tap-ins.
James reminds me of a young Mark Draper, who I played with in the Premier League while in my second season at Leicester. We’d signed Drapes from Notts County for a then club record fee of £1.25m (you don’t get a lot these days for that price) and he was worth every penny back in 1994.
Mark was an attacking midfielder before they came fashionable and, as I say, reminds me so much of James. He had great attacking awareness, a superb range of passing, two great feet and could score spectacular goals. That Premier League season we were relegated and a host of clubs were desperate to sign Mark as he’d been brilliant for us, even though we’d never been out of the bottom two.
He ended moving to Aston Villa that summer for £3.25m and became a fans’ favourite at Villa Park. Sadly, Leicester couldn’t hold on to Mark Draper and if James carries on performing like he has done in the first half of this season, Norwich are going to find it nearly impossible to keep him at the club. Mind you, they will get a damn sight more than £3.25m – possibly six, seven times that amount.