Graham Alexander on taking inspiration from former PNE boss David Moyes and preparing for Europe with Motherwell

Former Preston North End manager David Moyes might have been a surprise omission from the list of Premier League Manager of the Season nominees.

By Dan Black
Friday, 17th June 2022, 12:01 pm

The Scotsman is flying at the London Stadium — after largely forgettable stints at Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Sunderland — having steered West Ham United to a second successive European finish in the top flight.

The Hammers will once again contest the UEFA Europa League, a competition the club reached the semi-final of last season as a 3-1 aggregate defeat to Eintracht Frankfurt put the brakes on an all-British final against Rangers.

The 59-year-old ex-Lilywhites centre-back was, however, missing from the list of candidates for the end-of-season prize, with Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp fending off Pep Guardiola, Eddie Howe, Thomas Frank and Patrick Vieira to land the accolade.

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29 Apr 2000: Tom Finney (L) and Preston North End manager David Moyes (C) lift the Division Two trophy after the Nationwide League Division Two match against Millwall at Deepdale in Preston, England. Preston North End won the match 3-2. Picture by Paul Broadrick. \ Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport

Regardless, former PNE captain Graham Alexander, who played alongside and under the Glasgow-born coach at Deepdale, will always hold Moyes in extremely high regard.

"I've got a lot of contacts from a long time in football, but the two standouts are David Moyes and Owen Coyle," said Alexander. "I still keep in touch with David, I know he's got a busy schedule himself, so it's not a weekly or a monthly thing, but if I ever need some real solid advice I'll always get on the phone to him.

"David Moyes turned my career round from being a lower league journeyman to somebody who could go on and achieve things at a higher level and he really helped me understand what being a professional was all about.

"He managed me in a way that was very influential on my career and then Owen Coyle came along at a very different stage of my career, when I was 36, and managed me in a completely different way, but I had equally as much success personally.

MOTHERWELL, SCOTLAND - JANUARY 17: Motherwell manager Graham Alexander reacts during the Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership match between Motherwell and Rangers at Fir Park on January 17, 2021 in Motherwell, Scotland. Sporting stadiums around Scotland remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

"They were two contrasting characters, two contrasting managers, but both had a really strong will to win and had real belief in their players. It's great when I get the opportunity to catch up with them, they're always generous with their time."

Alexander, who aided North End's rise to the second tier at the start of the Millennium, has taken bits and pieces from both coaches and moulded them into his own management style.

The 50-year-old had success at Fleetwood Town and Salford City, gaining promotion with both via the play-offs, and was within touching distance of guiding Scunthorpe United to the Championship in-between.

He said: "I had the best times of my career at Preston and Burnley, playing in Championship play-off finals for both clubs, getting to the Premier League with Burnley and playing for Preston for 10 years.

PRESTON, UNITED KINGDOM - JULY 22: David Moyes the Everton manager during the Pre Season Friendly match between Preston North End and Everton at Deepdale on July 22, 2008 in Preston, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

"Some of the managers I played under at both clubs helped develop character and you took on board how they built successful teams. Preston and Burnley were never favourites in the Championship to get promoted, yet PNE got to quite a few play-off finals and had many play-off campaigns and we did it that year with Burnley to get into the Premier League for the first time.

"No-one can say that either club had the biggest budgets, even in the Championship, so you had to build a togetherness in the squad, build that belief so you could compete against bigger teams and sexier names and I never went on to that pitch feeling second best.

"I never had that inferiority complex going on to the pitch playing for either Preston or Burnley. It was really important for me, as a player, to have a manager that believed and that's what I've tried to instil into my players.

"It was about our skills, our abilities and what we had to do to win a game. We wouldn't have achieved what we did at Preston and Burnley if we hadn't had that belief and that confidence in ourselves. My managerial philosophies and beliefs were built from my time at both clubs."

Now at SPL side Motherwell, Alexander has instilled a confidence and belief that belies their previously beleaguered situation. The Steelmen were fighting for survival on his arrival in January 2021, they're now making preparations for another European campaign.

The side from Fir Park will host Welsh outfit Bala Town or Sligo Rovers, of the League of Ireland Premier Division, in the second qualifying round on July 20, with the corresponding fixture taking place a week later.

"We've worked a full season to get ourselves into Europe," said Alexander, who is armed with Chris Lucketti as his second in command. "We're in the qualifying rounds so we've got a two-legged tie to look forward to. We want those fixtures, we don't just want to dip our toes in the water.

"It'll be a new experience for myself, managing at European level, there are a couple of people that I can speak to about their experiences previously, so we'll just focus on the next game, instead of prioritising certain competitions.

"Getting into Europe was an achievement in itself, but we don't just want to tick a box, we want to try and win. We all feel a responsibility to represent Scottish football in the best way and to do that teams have got to get to the latter stages of these European competitions."

With Rangers almost making the miraculous happen, beating Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig to reach the final at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan Stadium last month, Alexander is keen to keep the feel-good factor in Scottish football moving.

He said: "Rangers have gone right to the final of the Europa League and unfortunately fell at the final hurdle. There's a good level of football in Scotland and it needs that competition outside the domestic season to be strong so it showcases the best of Scottish football.

"We're absolutely chuffed to bits to be a part of that next season. We want to win for ourselves, we want to win for Motherwell, and we feel a responsibility to try and highlight Scottish football.

"What Rangers did last season was superb, but if we were to get into the group stages I think that would be the equivalent when you look at the comparative sizes of the two clubs. They're exciting times.

"It would be great to test ourselves against some of those big names in Europe. I know Motherwell have played in Europe in the past, there are some great memories for Motherwell fans and the people at the club who remember those times, it is something special, but with it being my first time I think I'm more excited than anyone else."