FEATURE: Ambitious Austin ready to take his unexpected top job chance at the Cobblers
Dean Austin thought his chance to be a manager had probably passed him by - but now he is determined to take his big opportunity with both hands.
The 48-year-old was this week unveiled as the new Cobblers boss, signing a two-year contract to become Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s Sixfields successor.
Austin did enough in his five games in caretaker charge at the end of Town’s Sky Bet League One season to persuade chairman Kelvin Thomas he is the right man for the job on a permanent basis.
The big opportunity for Austin comes more than 13 years after his only previous stint as a boss, at non-League Farnborough, and he has been in almost constant employment since then, as a first-team coach, recruitment officer, scout and assistant manager - the post he held at the Cobblers for eight months from September.
So is management something Austin has always wanted to do, has it always been an ambition?
It seems it has, but was not something he was expecting to happen at this stage of his career, and he admits it was a case of now or never.
“Football is my obsession, and always has been,” said Austin, who was in very relaxed mood as he faced the media on Tuesday, just a few days after he was confirmed as the new Town boss on Saturday morning.
“I think probably going back to the first time when I went to Watford, or when I was leaving Southend to go to Watford, I had a desire to want to have a go at being a manager, if you like.
“I felt that if I could get an opportunity I might be able to achieve something, but all coaches think that and you have to think that.
“If you don’t think that yourself, then you shouldn’t really be in the game.
“But in the past five or six years? Not really.
“I am obsessed with the game, obsessed with helping people, obsessed with trying to develop myself and develop youngsters, or players or individuals of any age, because I always think everybody can improve.
“But it’s not been an obsession to be a manager, it’s not been an obsession for me any more.
“So this has really come around and I did have a lot to think about.
“But at this stage of my life, and I am becoming a bit of an old boy in terms of manager and football, this was an opportunity for me, that if I was going to do it, then I had to do it now.
“If I didn’t, then I was never going to do it, and I felt now was the right time to take the opportunity.”
Austin takes a measured approach to everything he does, and is a meticuolous man, and he admits he thought long and hard about stepping into the world of football management.
He also sought out the advice of several of the successful managers he has worked with before, including former Watford and Espanyol boss Quique Sánchez Flores and current Fulham manager Slaviša Jokanović, with Austin being assistant to both of those men at Vicarage Road.
Austin has also worked alongide Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers, and played under the likes of Terry Venables, Ossie Ardiles and Gerry Francis among others.
He revealed he did contact ‘many people’ as he mulled over his future and whether or not to take on the Town job, but that he didn’t necessarily take their advice!
Asked if he has spoken to any of his former bosses, Austin said: “I have spoken to loads of them!
“I was with Florez last week, and we had some conversations, I spoke to Slavisa about 10 days ago, and I am absolutely delighted for him watching his team the other night (Fulham reached the Championship play-off final with a semi-final win over Derby on Monday).
“I have spoken to many people in the game, and a couple that have been kind of mentors to me in the past 10 years.
“So I have spoken to them, but I am one of those people who will seek advice, but I don’t necessarily always take that advice.
“I will very often, with an opportunity, take my time and sleep on it, and normally by the time I wake up in the morning I will have the answer with regards what I want to do.
“I am quite single-minded in that I have things in my head of how I want to do it, and I do ask people for their opinion, I just don’t always listen, and I am not a listener, ask my wife!
“But I do take a lot of things on board, and it is about being able to have those people as sounding boards, they give you things to think about, and you can go away and really focus on what has been said.”
Austin will be heading off on his holidays in the next few days, but there is no doubt his mind is going to be on what lies ahead of him at Sixfields.
The former Tottenham Hotspur defender says he ‘wishes pre-season was starting today’, but he is going to have to wait until the last week in June for that to happen.
Before then, he has to concentrate on rejigging the squad he has been left with, which currently includes 23 contracted players.
With the transfer window already open, we can expect plenty of activity at Sixfields as there are simply too many bodies in the building, and Austin is also going to want to add his own players.
But the Town boss doesn’t want there to be a revolving door over the summer, as he believes he already has a squad that can make its mark in league two when the season starts in August.
“We have a decent base on which there is something to build on, and I wish we were starting training today, I’ll be honest with you,” said Austin, who was born in Hemel Hempstead, and lives in St Albans.
“I am buzzing for it, although my wife won’t be too happy to hear me say that because we are going on holiday in a week’s time!
“But I am looking forward to getting started, and we have a very, very challenging road in front of us, but I think it’s one where we have an opportunity.”
So does he feel the Cobblers have the players to launch a promotion challenge next season?
There is undoubted quality in the Town ranks, and Austin firmly believes that the squad also boasts the right kind of characters to ensure next season can be a success.
It’s now down to him to get the balance right.
“I certainly believe that we are going to be competitive,” said Austin.
“I am not going to start sitting here blowing our own trumpet and say we are going to blow league two away, because I know how difficult the division is.
“But 12 or 13 years ago I was head of recruitment at Southend United (under Steve Tlson), and we built a team that in consecutive years won promotion out of league two and then out of league one and into the championship.
“So that is achievable, and you just have to make sure you have the right balance, the right players and the right characters within the group, and I think on the whole we do have that.”