WHEN you have been through what Adam Murray has in football and life, it is easy to comprehend why the last emotion he will be feeling when he steps out in charge of Barnsley today is fear.
The Reds caretaker manager has packed a lot into his 38 years, which includes a 22-year career in football which began at Derby County in the mid to late Nineties when he was a promising teenage midfielder tipped for England Under-21 honours.
I am only 38, but I probably feel about 108 and it has been a tough life. But I have no fear; if anything, I am really excited.Adam Murray
By the age of 21, Murray was in the Priory Clinic battling alcohol addiction.
Thankfully, his demons were overcome and he quickly returned to football and appeared for 10 different clubs in a career spanning over 500 games, including promotions from the Conference with Oxford United and Mansfield Town.
The Brummie combined the roles of captain and assistant manager when the Stags won promotion to the Football League in 2013 – ahead of becoming the youngest manager in the league when he was handed the reins at Field Mill at just 33 the following year.
He was sacked just under two years later before a spell as manager at Boston United ahead of a short stint as assistant at Guiseley before joining Barnsley as Under-18 coach in 2018.
Murray, who previously cited his ex-manager at Oxford, Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder as an inspiration in his decision to go into coaching has done enough in the game to suggest he is a survivor after refusing to be downed following some hard knocks.
Now he is entrusted with lifting the spirits of a confidence-sapped second-from-bottom Reds side who have haemorrhaged goals and belief for most of the first quarter of the season – with matters coming to a head when Daniel Stendel left Oakwell 11 days ago.
Murray, who was handed a key analysis role within Stendel’s team in the summer, said: “I have been in the game since I was 16 and with these type of situations and scenarios, I have seen them a million times.
“I am only 38, but I probably feel about 108 and it has been a tough life. But I have no fear; if anything, I am really excited.
“Not for me, because this is the norm for me to prepare and coach a team, but the players.
“That is the feeling we have tried to get across; go and express yourself and show how good you are because they are a really good bunch of lads.”
There may be major responsibility on Murray’s shoulders today as he takes charge of a Barnsley side who are seeking their first victory in a dozen matches, but it sits well upon them.
Murray added: “I have picked a lot of people’s brains. Not in terms of major things, but in terms of this situation.
“I have had some good advice, but at the end of the day, it will come down to my decisions.
“We have got incredible staff and you will not find many football clubs where everyone will run through brick walls for you. That is from the office staff to the kit men and the coaching and medical staff. It is a fantastic environment and I am privileged to have that.”
Still just under a couple of years short of his 40th birthday he may be, but Murray is sage enough not to get side-tracked by the tantalising prospect of perhaps earning himself a shot at the full-time gig at Oakwell if things go well.
His major focus has been on lifting the spirits among a group of players who have taken ‘a couple of punches on the chin’ in recent times in his words and trying to pick them up and make them feel a bit better about themselves as they come to terms with the exit of Stendel.
“They (club hierarchy) have said: ‘steady the ship’ and prepare,” continued Murray.
“At the end of the day, we can get caught up in the situation and forget about the football and that is the most important thing. We have prepared the team and everything about that (his position), we will wait and see.
“In this situation, where we have not won for so many games, it has to be about the players and as long as we get their minds right, everything else becomes second fiddle to that.
“It is a big week with three big games and after that, we have probably got even bigger games. It is about shutting out the white noise and understanding what is important.
“Some lads in there have stepped up not just one level, but a couple of levels. In time, they are going to be fantastic players. At the minute, they are potentially very good and we want to get that out there and you do not do that by criticising them and hitting them with a stick.
“We know they are going to make mistakes, that is the nature of the beast. We have just got to limit the mistakes and the way we play will not be changing. The biggest thing is limiting the mistakes.
“It is important we do not feel sorry for ourselves and become victims and start blaming everyone else, but not look at ourselves. We’ve got to focus on what we can do better. It is nobody else’s problem, but ours.
“Nobody else (outside the club) cares and we are the ones who have got to sort it.”
Common-sense words and Murray’s logical priority on the training ground has been on attempting to improve Barnsley’s defensive organisation – the Reds have conceded 10 goals in their past three games.
He added: “When you actually look at our play, we have caused the opposition problems. But it is down the other end where we have made an error and conceded a goal and it changes the momentum of the game.
“There is no magic wand and the only way you change that is by work, hence the reasons why we have had double sessions during the international break.
“We are not expecting to see a 100 per cent improvement, that is not the way the game works.
“But we are looking at seeing an improvement and a little bit of a difference in the way we go about things.”