The good, the bad and the bubbly

The third man in Norwich City's rebuilt management team was in the dug-out for real on Tuesday night after finally being given clearance to start his new job.

The third man in Norwich City's rebuilt management team was in the dug-out for real on Tuesday night after finally being given clearance to start his new job.

If we rely solely on official sources at Carrow Road rather than the evidence of our own eyes, the figure in black with the letters “PS” on his tracksuit top, helping the players warm-up at Blackpool 11 days ago, was not Paul Stephenson at all, but a very convincing double.

It was more than three weeks ago that the Canaries' interest in Hartlepool youth team coach Stephenson became public and it was not long afterwards that they were given permission to talk to the 39-year-old former Newcastle forward.

But not until last Monday did Hartlepool chairman Ken Hodcroft officially concede that Stephenson was a Norwich member of staff - though manager Glenn Roeder was less inclined to prevaricate than his employers. Roeder said 48 hours before last Saturday's trip to Stoke that he finally had his man.


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Hodcroft issued a ticking-off to the Canaries about the need to recognise “due legal process” while Stephenson was still under contract, and not assume that a club such as Hartlepool would give up its assets for nothing.

Roeder, for his part, had previously referred to the delay in Stephenson's move as a “flippin' disgrace”. But he was pleased to see the wrangle resolved and suggested City would be loaning a couple of players to Hartlepool as part of the settlement.

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Roeder talked of his latest recruit to the management team as a permanent ray of sunshine. He spoke in terms that suggested Stephenson, his former Newcastle team-mate, who grew up in the same team as Paul Gascoigne, would still find something positive to say if he was told the world was about to end in the next couple of weeks.

And despite the protracted and rather untidy nature of his switch to first team coach at Colney, it did not seem to have distracted him unduly when he was finally introduced to the media on Monday, as bright and breezy as the December morning itself.

Stephenson, born at Wallsend, played alongside Gascoigne at Newcastle and in the England Youth side, and made his first team debut at 17. After 67 appearances for the St James' Park club, he moved on to Millwall, Gillingham, Brentford, York and Hartlepool, finishing with a career total of 571 games and 36 goals.

When his playing days were over, he moved straight into coaching.

He became assistant youth team coach at Victoria Park, then youth team coach, and had a stint as caretaker boss towards the end of the 2005-06 season after the dismissal of manager Martin Scott. But despite Hartlepool being unbeaten in his first five games in charge, he was unable to stave off relegation to League Two and chose to return to his job as youth team coach.

“I had a sniff of management with Hartlepool - obviously it was really difficult circumstances, but it gave me a look inside into what it is all about and I really enjoyed my time there,” said Stephenson.

“I was really into the development of players when I was youth team coach and we did develop quite a few and obviously there are quite a few there who are doing really well now. But it just gives you a real taste of what it's like at the next level. I knew coming here was going to be that same challenge I was looking for.”

Stephenson admitted to a positive disposition and sense of fun in among all the hard work.

He said: “I think it does help. You are either a fun person or not - I know Lee and Glenn are and I certainly am, but it is not just about fun, it's about high standards as well. We are trying to instil all that.

“It's like anybody who goes to their job - if they enjoy their job they are going to do it better and that is what we are trying to get that emphasis on, to the players.”

The squad itself would need to be strengthened further, he admitted.

“We know that we have got to probably add a few more in January, but we know we have got the lads bubbling again and we have to keep them on the boil,” said Stephenson.

“We have got to look forward, we can't look behind. We have to make sure we look forward to the next game.

“It is a tough job, but we have to make sure we really push for high standards all the time.”

After working with the first team and fulfilling his Championship duties for the game against Plymouth on Tuesday night, Stephenson was back on the road on Wednesday afternoon, in charge of City Reserves at Peterborough as a side including 10 men with first team experience won 4-0.

“He has taken to his new role like a duck to water,” said Roeder the next day, confirming that taking charge of the reserve team - previously this season under the guidance of Academy manager Ricky Martin - was now part of Stephenson's brief.

“He has a great personality and he will fit in very well in our coaching team.”

Roeder also sees the contrast between his own personality, that of assistant Lee Clark - the tough Geordie who described himself as a “man's man” on his arrival at Colney - and the ever-cheerful Stephenson as the perfect mix for the Canaries as they bid to battle their way out of trouble.

To borrow the title of a very famous footballer's autobiography, the new trio might perhaps be regarded as the good, the bad and the bubbly.

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