Barker delighted to see Stags back in the big time

07-0002-3  AW'Is this goodbye from Richie Barker? 'Stags v Hartlepool
07-0002-3 AW'Is this goodbye from Richie Barker? 'Stags v Hartlepool

In the second and final part of our interview with Richie Barker, Chad Sport discovers the new Portsmouth manager’s approach to nurturing young talent - and his thoughts on all thing Stags.

Taking over at the helm of arguably the biggest club in League Two in the shape of Portsmouth, former Mansfield Town favourite Richie Barker is now likely to enjoy one of the bigger budgets in the division.

File photo dated 9/4/2011 of Richie Barker. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday August 7, 2012. Crawley have appointed Richie Barker as their new manager after the 37-year-old left his role at Bury. See PA story SOCCER Crawley. Photo credit should read: PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.

File photo dated 9/4/2011 of Richie Barker. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday August 7, 2012. Crawley have appointed Richie Barker as their new manager after the 37-year-old left his role at Bury. See PA story SOCCER Crawley. Photo credit should read: PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. Maximum 45 images during a match. No video emulation or promotion as 'live'. No use in games, competitions, merchandise, betting or single club/player services. No use with unofficial audio, video, data, fixtures or club/league logos.

But it has not always been that case for the retired striker, who has often had to wheel and deal to keep his team’s competitive.

That was never more so than at Crawley Town, where Barker swiftly realised he could not vie financially for the cream of the crop during his near 16-month spell at the helm, which ended with his sacking last Wednesday (27th November).

Even so, he insists he was always unperturbed about that situation while with the League One Club. After all, there is more than one way to skin a cat.

The sale of Hope Akpan to Reading for £400,000, a player developed at Crawley after being released by Everton, shows to him that it’s not all about pounds, shillings and pence when it comes to creating a successful side.

06-0976-1''Chad sport editor John Lomas, presents the readers player of the year award to Richie Barker

06-0976-1''Chad sport editor John Lomas, presents the readers player of the year award to Richie Barker

Other young players, too, were developed during his time in Sussex, which Barker hopes will leave a lasting legacy.

“I liked working with the younger players and that’s what we tried to do - bring through those who were hungry and keen to learn,” he said.

“Recruitment was trying to find players from the reserves of Premier League, Championship and even League One clubs who were raw and had talent but needed nurturing.

“We had a lad called Joe Walsh, who is a good example of how it worked. He was released by Swansea at 20 and now he has seven under-21 caps and has played 30-odd times for the first team.

“They are the player - young, motivated and athletic - who can serve you very well as a manager and then maybe earn you a bob or two if they do move back up.”

Still to turn 40, Barker is still relatively young as a manager and has lofty ambitions, but is quite aware he cannot expect to instantaneously reach the top. To the contrary, he is quite prepared to put in the hard graft in English football’s engine room of the lower leagues, with his stint at Fratton Park the latest test.

“If you’re going to progress, then you definitely have to do it in stages and for me the Championship is the next long-term target to manage at” he said. “I’m aware that I’ve only been doing this two-and-a-half years and already I’m aware you don’t always get your own way in this business.

“I thought I was ready for management three or four years ago, but now I look back and I realise I still had so much more to learn and my coaching and management has improved so much since then.”

It seems a long time ago now that Barker was leading from the front in the amber and blue of Mansfield with his never-say-die attitude, aerial threat, physical strength and goalscoring prowess.

The 6ft 2ins frontman was sold against his wishes to Hartlepool United in the early stages of 2007 by then chairman Keith Haslam - not long after signing a new deal to stay in north Nottinghamshire until 2009.

Even now, he still holds the club and fans in very high esteem, having scored 40 goals in 95 league games for Mansfield. Indeed, the feeling runs in the family: Barker’s son still has a picture from when he was a mascot for the Stags on his bedroom wall.

Barker said: “I’ve been to a few games since I left - I came to watch them play Wrexham on a Friday night when Bury were playing Notts County the next day - and it’s still one of the first results I look for.

“It’s great to see Mansfield back in the Football League and Paul Cox has done a brilliant job because the Conference is one of the hardest leagues to get out of with only one automatic promotion place.

“There’s no reason why they can’t go up again in the long-term because they have arguably a bigger fan base and history than Crawley, who are already competing at that level.

“Playing at Mansfield was a big part of my career, so it was a sad day when they went down and great they’ve turned it around.

“When I was there I belonged and, as you do sometimes, I knew that after 15 minutes of being there.

“Although I enjoyed my time at Hartlepool, all I wanted to do at the time was stay and score more goals for Mansfield as captain. But sometimes these decisions are taken out of your hands and made for you.

“One of the most difficult things was that I had a great relationship with the fans and I know they didn’t want me to go.”

Perhaps the biggest question Mansfield followers would want answering is would Barker ever consider a return to the One Call Stadium, given he is still held in such high regard in the past?

He has already been linked with the club’s manager’s job countless times and is not ruling himself out of contention in the distant future - but, obviously, only if circumstances change significantly.

“I’ve only just started a new job at Portsmouth and Paul Cox is doing well at Mansfield, so to talk about coming back to the club is purely hypothetical,” said Barker.

“But if at any point I was out of a job somewhere down the line and the club had a vacancy, then it would certainly be of interest to me.

“When you’ve had such a great time at a club in the past and know what it’s about, it makes it natural to want to be involved again.”

It’s certainly food for thought for the Stags hierarchy in years to come, particularly as Barker stock as an accomplished manager is rising all the time.