A chance encounter with Gareth Southgate changed the course of Michael Caulfield’s career.
During a visit to Middlesbrough’s training ground in April 2006, Michael found himself in the club’s treatment room alongside the now-England boss.
The pair got talking and exchanged numbers. Michael returned south. “I thought nothing else of it,” he tells us on brisk afternoon at Jersey Road.
Timing is a recurring theme during our conversation with Michael and, in this instance, everything clicked into place perfectly. That summer, Southgate was appointed Middlesbrough’s Manager. Looking to get the best out of his players during his first season in the dugout, he asked Michael to join his team on Teesside. Michael accepted his invitation.
It was Michael’s first role in football.
Michael on his route into football…
A new manager was taking over at Middlesbrough – it was his first job. I’d met him a few months before when I’d been up to Middlesbrough’s training ground to help a jockey, Graham Lee, get fit. We used to ring up football clubs in those days and ask them to take jockeys on board as unlike now we had no rehab facilities. I arranged for AP McCoy to go to Arsenal after a bad injury and he found himself on a treadmill next to Thierry Henry and Patrick Viera! Anyway, I went into the treatment room at Middlesbrough and there was a player in there trying to recover for the UEFA Cup Final. It was Gareth Southgate. We chatted and exchanged phone numbers. I thought nothing else of it. That was in April and then, in September, he rang me: “I’ve been appointed Manager. Would you be interested in joining the club and helping us out?” I got in my car, drove to Middlesbrough and stayed there for three years! I was working in domestic cricket in the south, too, so my two jobs were in Brighton and Middlesbrough. It was lot of driving!
His first morning at Jersey Road…
It came on a Monday after a 5-0 defeat to Norwich City. Of course, the reaction from the squad – the likes of Harlee Dean, Lasse Vibe and Dan Bentley – was “Oh, they’ve brought a psych in because we’ve lost 5-0 at Norwich!” I had to stand in front of the group, introduce myself and explain that I wasn’t there because of the result at the weekend! Then I pulled up a chair and asked the players to fire questions at me. The first question, I’ll never forget it, was from Lasse Vibe: “How can I trust you?” I had 25 pairs of eyes on me. Talk about the million-dollar question! I couldn’t phone a friend or ask the audience, either! I said that he’d probably made his mind up already. I expanded upon my answer and told him, and the group, that I also happen to like footballers. Football is the greatest meritocracy. In other walks of like you can almost blag your way there, but you can’t in football. Many players come from very humble backgrounds and reach the top of the industry – you don’t get that in many other walks of life. I’d like to think a lot was done at the beginning to build that trust.
And what high performance means to him…
It’s the ability to gel a group of people from many diverse and different backgrounds towards a common purpose, while ensuring everyone is having the time of their lives. It’s an alignment towards a goal and a complete commitment to it.
Humility is so important. Emiliano, for example, played as if his life depended on it at Wembley, even though he knew he was most likely going to be released. After the game he recalled in an interview that when he first arrived at Jersey Road the door was falling off the outdoor loo. And it was. That’s quite special in a way. This is a humble training ground; the players and staff don’t demand white orchids, mineral water from Switzerland and our shoes to be polished. It’s not that type of group and we must never, ever, ever lose that.
The day after we got promoted, I was told by an experienced person in this league that, whatever you do, do not get caught up in the b******t. We must retain who we are and where we come from. This is a solid, honest and committed group of young people.
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