Exclusive interview: Deeney is cutting his coaching teeth in League Two with Forest Green Rovers, but has big ambitions

Troy Deeney is talking about the transition from Premier League to League Two and, as ever, does not hold back.

“I spent a bit of time in Dubai in the summer and I saw a few lads (footballers), I won’t name names, who can’t get a club, who have been out for two years because, in my opinion, of their ignorance,” he explains.

“They are used to earning a certain amount of money; used to playing at a certain level. Everyone thinks they have quit. They have been offered to clubs and thought, ‘I am too good for that’. But it’s ignorance. Ignorance. We are just so up our own a—– now, footballers.

“People think we are entitled. We are not entitled. I think we have just got so comfortable with the luxuries that are Prem and now Championship that it’s like, ‘Oh, I am not going to League Two’. Well, think about when you started? It was your dream. You would have done anything to say football was your job.”

Deeney is living the dream. An outstanding 11-year career at Watford, largely as captain, largely in the Premier League, was followed by two campaigns at his beloved Birmingham City and – now – the player-coach at Forest Green Rovers and the start of his “journey” towards, one day, hopefully being a top-flight or even an England manager.

“I want to be a manager and to go as high as I can,” Deeney, now 35, says. “The ultimate is to be an international manager – whether that is England, Brazil. Whether you can get there is a different thing. But you don’t want to say, ‘you know what? My ceiling is League Two’. That’s the aim and I want to put those hard yards in to understand it.”

‘There are lads getting ice baths in wheelie bins’

The hard yards are at Forest Green where Deeney, who has his coaching badges, who is learning Spanish so he can deal with a more international dressing room, has teamed up with head coach David Horseman who he first met at Watford but who took over at the relegated club in July after Duncan Ferguson was sacked.

“I will be forever grateful to Dave,” Deeney says. “Coming here has genuinely reinvigorated my love for football.

“Everyone says you have come to the dark side (management). But I see it the other way. If you win you have that massive high, if you lose it’s ‘how can we fix this?’ So it’s like a never-ending puzzle. It’s stripped back to basics. There are lads getting ice baths in a wheelie bin over there.”

Troy Deeney oversees Forest Green Rovers training

Deeney is under no illusions how hard it will be Credit: Matt Lincoln

And, on cue, a few yards away a young Forest Green player gingerly lowers himself into a black bin that has been filled with ice and water at the club’s training ground.

But management can be a like a cold water shock and Deeney is under no illusions. And neither does he, as a big-name in the game, expect to go in at a high level. As some former players do.

“Why though?” Deeney says. “That’s the question I ask myself. Either you are scared of the challenge or you are not backing yourself enough because you feel you need x amount of money, x amount of coaches, x amount of players, certain types of players but the challenge is to figure it out.

“Everyone had a go at Phil Parkinson for going to Wrexham. Now everyone wants to be Phil Parkinson. Mark Hughes is at Bradford in this league so if he can do it… it would be stupid if I thought, ‘I’m too good for that’. No, not at all. You have to show you are good enough.”

‘I was asking myself: what’s my purpose?’

Deeney was a free agent. The striker’s contract at Birmingham had run out and although they wanted him back, the call from Horsman came at the right time, especially as he could carry on playing as well as coach and learn his way into management.

“I had some time off and it got to the Monday before I signed here,” Deeney explains. “The missus went out. The kids were at their summer clubs and it was me and the dogs. I got up at 11am and thought, ‘what do I do now?’ Me and the dogs were looking at each other and I thought, ‘better go for a walk then’. When I got back I was asking myself: what’s my purpose? I still love football, love training and I thought, ‘I am not ready to quit yet’.”

An obvious path for Deeney would be the media. “It’s funny because everyone thinks I am some sort of personality – ‘Ah, are you doing the radio now?’ – but I need a genuine purpose in me,” he says. “Do I enjoy watching football? Yes. Do I enjoy talking about football? Yes. But, let’s be honest, a Sky pundit doesn’t give you a detailed breakdown as to why a team plays that way. It’s like a 30-second soundbite. On a radio show it’s all about headlines. Here we get to talk about football and the intricacies of a player’s ability or attributes and how do we get the best out of them? That is what genuinely gives me a buzz.”

Deeney tells the story of taking his children to Arsenal’s last home game of last season, against Wolverhampton Wanderers. While they intently watch Bukayo Saka scoring in the warm-up, he studies Martin Odegaard. “I watch the warm-ups intensely. Everything is game-specific and it was him on his own for five minutes. And I am going to my kids, ‘are you watching this?’ and they are like, ‘sure Dad, but Saka is scoring goals over there’,” he says.

Martin Odegaard warming up for Arsenal

Deeney encourages his kids to watch Martin Odegaard (centre) Credit: Chloe Knott/Getty Images

It is a tough business, though, management.

“Of course it is,” Deeney says. “And let’s call it as it is – the statistics for black managers are not high. But it shouldn’t scare me. I don’t look at it and think, ‘I am going to break through and bring everyone with me’. If I am going to get it I am going to get it on merit. I will do 200 hours of coaching this season.

“On the flip-side, look at Neil Warnock – he’s on job 24, or something? We played Shrewsbury the other day and Matt Taylor was sacked at Walsall and ends up in a league above. So why not? Why would I go and play golf? I am s— at that. I see this as a challenge.

“I just have that aspiration to be a number one. Everyone wants to be a manager at the start but can you take all the pressure? Can you take all the media? I already have a mental plan of how it looks.”

‘I couldn’t stand Mazzarri – but tactically he’s a genius’

Deeney has certainly been preparing himself for years and tells another illuminating story of when he started his first diary. “Remember Manuel Almunia? We finished a Leicester game – that Leicester game – and it was a bit surreal,” he says, recalling the incredible Championship play-off victory when the former Watford goalkeeper saved an injury-time penalty and Deeney raced down the other end to score the winning goal in 2013.

“I was sitting with Manuel in the changing room afterwards and he says, ‘do you have a diary?’” Deeney states. “I was like 23, 24 and said, ‘no, why would I need that? Who does that?’ and he said, ‘I promise you, you need to write things down’ and he pulled his diary out and he had it from the 2006 Champions League Final against Barcelona.

“He had written down all his thoughts and feelings, spent 20 minutes in his hotel that night doing it. And he just said to me, ‘I can go back to this’. It reminds him of what he has done.

“A week after that I started writing things down – what I liked, what I didn’t like. I wasn’t emotionally intelligent at that time to write down my feelings. But it was like, ‘I liked it when (Gianfranco) Zola did this in training’, so now the shooting practices I do with Ty (Forest Green forward Tyrese Omotoye) are the ones I did with Zola. And I haven’t worked with Gianfranco since 2012. But they are still applicable today.

“Dychey (Sean Dyche) made me a man. He made me figure out how far I can push myself, take that mentality and put it into this. Even managers I didn’t like – Walter Mazzarri. I couldn’t stand the fella, he couldn’t stand me. Tactically? An absolute genius.”

Deeney is now onto his third diary and it is full of detailed plans and feelings and helps form his own approach to football. He is also getting out and about to add to his knowledge, meeting Gareth Southgate and scheduling ones with Vincent Kompany, Ange Postecoglou, Marco Silva and Enzo Maresca at Leicester.

“I spoke to John Terry about it and asked him what was the best thing to do and he said, ‘get around as many clubs as you can’,” Deeney explains. “It’s not going to shape who I am but will either affirm what I already believe is true or open my eyes to something I didn’t know existed.

“Further down the line I am going to call a favour in with (former Birmingham midfielder) Jude (Bellingham) and get myself over to Real Madrid. I am going into Mercedes (F1 team) as well and see how they work. They are a team of 900 people and the race day is just one thing. Everyone throws out that buzz word ‘culture’, but how do actually create it?

“This has given me an unbelievable platform. People will go, ‘Ah, but it’s League Two’. I am in League Two but we are trying to get promoted, we have got a new training ground coming, I have just worked on a transfer deadline day for the first time ever, I am understanding a newer generation.

Troy Deeney helps put his players through their paces

Deeney helps put his players through their paces Credit: Matt Lincoln

“When I was speaking to Gareth (Southgate) he asked the same thing: why? And I said there are about eight answers. The big one, the genuine one is to see someone improve. When you have a life as chequered as mine – and I am only 35 – if I had someone like me tell me at 18, 19 what it is going to be like then I might not be sat here now. I might be doing something even better, already. If you can help, even that one per cent.

“Me and my missus were talking about it the other day: what happens if it doesn’t work out? Well, I tried. How many people do we know who sit there and complain about it but won’t put in those hard yards?

“If it doesn’t work out I can look myself in the mirror and say I did everything I could. When football is done with me – as a player or a manager – I will have given everything. You saw how I trained today. I am not cutting corners, I am just doing the best I can to stay in it as long as I can. I am all-in and that’s the job.”