THE short spell Steve Holland had at Hyde United had a huge influence on the career of the man who went on to become England manager Gareth Southgate’s trusted number two.
“I only had about half a season at Hyde, but there was a realisation I was not going to have the career I wanted as a player so I decided to hang up my boots and start a career in coaching where I thought I would have more opportunities,” explained the 51-year-old.
And the rest is history as Stockport-born Holland went from a lengthy apprenticeship at Crewe Alexandra to Chelsea before initially linking up with Southgate with England Under-21s and later the national team.
Midfielder Holland was signed by the Tigers from Northwich Victoria in 1992, explaining Cliff Roberts was the link because of his association with both clubs.
“It is a long time ago and I don’t recall that much about it other than the artificial pitch,” he said.
Holland, whose early years were spent in Buxton before a move to Congleton, where his mother Marilyn still lives, started out his playing days at Derby County where he came through the academy.
But his progress was impeded by serious knee and ankle injuries, and he was released in his late teens.
Holland had short stints playing professional football at Bury and Swedish side Husqvarna before drifting into non-league at Northwich Victoria and Hyde United where, aged 21, he decided to switch to coaching.
Gary Henshaw, who was Holland’s captain at Hyde, remembered him having a keen interest in coaching and tactics at that early age.
Holland said: “Right from the beginning I used to study teams and I was inspired by the AC Milan team of Arrigo Sacchi, Maldini. Tossitti, Costacurta, Baresi – that team of the 1990s
“When the Italian football, which was presented on television by James Richardson, I used to video all the games and had a library of all the Milan games for about two years and spent a lot of time watching them back and analysing what was then the best club team in the world was doing.
“I always had an interest in what made successful teams.”
Holland, at 21 became one of the youngest people ever to gain their full coaching licence, began coaching with the Cheshire Football Development Scheme with Alex Gibson who also went on to greater things at Manchester City before spending 17 years “learning my trade” at Crewe.
He became academy manager explaining at such a club he had five jobs, not just one.
Holland explained that apart from coaching the U18s daily and then taking them for games on a Saturday morning he coached four evenings each week in the academy from U6s to U16s and then take an academy team on a Sunday, usually the U12s and also scouted for first-team players so it was working six days and four nights each week.
“It was a great learning opportunity. One minute I was coaching a six-year-old, then a 12-year-old and 18-year-old and ultimately I had the opportunity to work with the first team,” he explained.
Holland coached Danny Murphy and Dean Ashton at Crewe, two players who went on to play for England
He said: “Danny was at Crewe from the age of 13 and always had an old head on very young shoulders.
“Dean was another one who went on to play for West Ham and England but unfortunately his career was finished with an ankle injury sustained during a training session with England.”
Holland also worked with Robbie Savage who had been released by Manchester United, Neil Lennon by Manchester City and Craig Hignett by Liverpool.
“They were players who hadn’t quite made the grade at bigger clubs but were redirected to Crewe and ended up having very successful careers,” he continued.
Holland then moved to Chelsea where he spent eight years, two years with the reserves and six with the first team.
He said: “The insight in the two years with Chelsea reserves was that recruitment at that time was global and I had players from Turkey, Italy, Holland and Slovakia and all over Europe.
“It was a new challenge having only worked with English kids at Crewe to relate with lads from a different culture was a completely different challenge.
“That helped me when I made the switch to Chelsea’s first team where I got to work with some amazing players, John Terry, Michael Ballack, Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, a cosmopolitan group.
“It was a great advantage having come through two years with the reserves working with players from different countries and cultures and that held me in good stead when I transferred into the senior team.”
Holland worked alongside manager Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, Rafa Benitez, Jose Mourinho, Guus Hiddink and Antonio Conte.
“They have all had an influence on me. Three have managed Real Madrid and they have won the Champions League five times. They were amazingly experienced guys and a great insight to spend time with all those guys to see what made them tick and their different ways of getting success.”
Holland had never met Southgate until 2012 when he went to watch a first-team training session at Chelsea.
Southgate approached Chelsea several weeks later to ask whether Holland could assist him with England U21s and Mourinho agreed.
Holland added that as about 75 per cent of players were on international duty at the same time it was not a big miss for Chelsea.
“Jose was very supportive and comfortable with me going, and that was the start of that journey.
“When Sam Allardyce left, Gareth was asked to stand in for the senior team for four World Cup qualifiers.
“We were thrown in at the deep end at short notice but managed to navigate the four matches and the FA offered Gareth the job on a permanent basis.
“By then I was working with Antonio Conte in 2017, the year Chelsea were champions. I had to finish the season with Chelsea and continue to work with Gareth during the international breaks before joining the England set-up full time at the end of that season.”
Holland added it was the pinnacle pointing it does not get much better to go to the finals of the World Cup with the country of your birth as happened in 2018 in Russia.
“It was a very proud moment and, even now, every time I stand before the game and hear the National Anthem it still sends a tingle down your spine,” he said.
And of reaching the delayed final of Euro 2020, Holland continued: “We had an insight into what was possible in terms of the impact you can have on inspiring the nation in Russia.
“We were a long way away from home but were picking up the images on television beating Colombia in the penalty shootout and Sweden.
“The difference this time was six of our seven matches were at Wembley and we were able to experience much more intimately the impact it was having.
“On the day we left St George’s Park to travel to The Grove the night before the final there were scenes I will never forget.
“Even driving through Burton, the people were stood on the side of the road five and six deep for miles applauding the coach out to the motorway.
“And leaving The Grove to go to the stadium the day of the final again going through Watford people five of six deep on both sides of the road. Goodness knows how they knew we would be there and at what time.
“They were scenes I never thought I would see and those memories, especially the semi final with the scenes of the players and the fans together after the game having reached our first final in 55 years and singing Sweet Caroline are memories what will stay with us all for ever.”
Holland spoke about the dynamics of his partnership with Southgate saying they are of similar personalities as well as age.
He said: “We also have a similar vision as to how we like football to be played.
“Gareth has great faith in me from a coaching perspective, designing and delivering the majority of the coaching on a day-to-day basis.
“We have a good, honest respect for each other where we are comfortable questioning each other.
It is not a situation where we are both agreeing, but Gareth as manager and leader always has that ultimate decision.
“We know our own areas of strength and weakness and Gareth is very good as a manager and leader in allowing people to influence whatever their area is, whether it coaching for me or whether physical development or psychological aspect of football or maybe logistics.
“He lets people do their jobs and then puts everything together and has exceptional leadership skills as you see in front of the cameras before and after games.”
After reaching the final of Euro 2020, Holland added the next challenge is to “get over the line” and win a first tournament since 1966.
Though Holland’s focus is on next year’s finals of the World Cup in Qatar, he says long term he would like to be a head coach/manager.
And he points to Germany’s new manager Hansi Flick as an example as he had previously long been a number two at Bayern Munich and for the national team before being the main man for the first time aged 56.
“I have had fortunate to have eight years with England U21s and the senior team and that has exposed me to amazing experiences and being a head coach would be the next step for me personally,” he said.