The first thing that leaps out about 33-year-old Mark Trueman and 29-year-old Conor Sellars is their ages. Sellars is the youngest manager in the Football League, the youngest in Bantams history.
At 39, Bolton Wanderers’ Ian Evatt will be the grizzled veteran in the technical areas when League Two’s in-form sides meet this afternoon.
But the real significance of the joint managers’ ages is an indication of how much they love coaching. Most young coaches are driven into it by playing careers ended by injury but they went early by choice. Although they do not have miles on the clock in professional football, their time on the Yorkshire non-league scene and in academy football allowed them to learn about the game in the raw and hone their skills out of sight.
Their 10 wins in 14 matches, including the last five in a row, speaks for itself and praise for their analysis work in particular is widespread in the squad.
“I found myself scraping a career in football and felt like I wanted something stable,” explains Sellars. “The closest thing to playing was coaching and when I got into it I was addicted. I was playing semi-pro and coaching but I actually preferred coaching, so to give up (playing) football to concentrate fully on that was quite an easy decision.”
It was 2018 when Sellars walked away from Tadcaster Albion to join Trueman at City’s academy. Despite being the son of a player who appeared for Leeds United, Blackburn Rovers, Newcastle United, Huddersfield Town and today’s opponents, there was never any pressure to follow in Scott’s footsteps.
“I was playing for a youth team at four years-old, playing until 20-odd,” he reflects. “It was in my family, some say it’s in my blood, but it’s just something I’ve always been a part of, following my dad in his career. I probably always find myself talking about football rather than anything else.
“It was always an ambition (to manage), probably from a young age. I wanted to be a footballer but also to work in football as a manager potentially in the future. If you’d told me it would have happened at my age, I wouldn’t have believed you but life works in funny ways sometimes.”
Boyhood Bantams fan Trueman was thinking along similar lines in his 20s.
“When I thought I wasn’t going to become a professional footballer my drive was to go down the road of playing semi-professional and going into coaching,” he explains. “I wanted to work on my badges and become the best coach I can be.
“I was working with the (Bradford) academy when I was youth team manager at Halifax Town and I got the opportunity to be the youth team manager here. Conor came through the academy and joined up with me.
“Even though back then it was youth team manager and assistant we never worked like that. As soon as the opportunity came with the first team (initially as caretakers when Stuart McCall was sacked in December) we went as joint managers because we’ve got a great working relationship. Like the players, we’ve got strengths and weaknesses and it’s our job to identify that in players and in ourselves.
“If somebody’s stronger in one area than another it’s only right for them to deliver that or coach that but it’s a collective decision all round.
“You’re going to have up and down days so if somebody’s tired, somebody else will make sure they’re doing the workload.
“We set out from the start how we prepare before games and after games. It’s been in the press about our analysis and how we look at the opposition’s strengths and weaknesses.
“We push each other on and know each other and how each other works.”
Some might look down on the former midfielders’ playing CVs – Trueman was at Ossett Town and Albion, Guiseley, Harrogate Railway, Thackley, Brighouse Town, Eccleshill United and Silsden, while before Tadcaster Sellars played for Hallam, Harrogate Railway and Town, Worksop Town and abroad for Fao and Hottur – but they still came across respected coaches.
A Bolton side who have won their last six matches will be their severest test yet, but they have already shown the value of their upbringings.
“You learn a lot,” says Trueman. “Being in a professional club and working in an academy, my time with the under-23s at Halifax, all these experiences are important. I was semi-pro at Guiseley etc, it was a good level, nothing like professional but you still learn a lot of good habits and from some of the bad habits.
“I played under good managers who were building their careers – people like Terry Dolan and Graham Potter were managers I learnt a lot from.”
If the clubs they played for do not matter, their ages are even less pertinent.
“We’d probably say we’re at our most comfortable coaching as long as we know what we’re delivering, why we’re delivering it, what the outcomes are from the session and what we’re trying to do longer term,” says Sellars. “Age is irrelevant.
“We just all need to be on the same path, we all need to be passionate in what we do.
“We went into the unknown to give it our best shot, prepare as well as we can and try and get the three points.
“We go to win every game, be organised and do everything in our powers to make it work. That the players bought into that was brilliant.
“I think a few of them have mentioned how we work and they’re enjoying it. That’s potentially why we’ve had a buy-in so far but the job is to have consistency, so we’re looking forward to the future.”
If early indications are anything to go by, it is a very bright one.
Win at Bolton today, setting up a play-off push, and it will look brighter still.
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