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Radhi Jaidi Exclusive: Tunisian talks Southampton, Ralph Hasenhuttl, Sam Allardyce, Hartford Athletic and his future in management

The Sack Race caught up with Radhi Jaidi who spoke to us in depth about his quest to manage in England, his experience of managing in America, and how he’s been influenced by the likes of Ralph Hasenhuttl, Mauricio Pochettino and Sam Allardyce...

“I’m a winner and I know how to win,” Radhi Jaidi tells The Sack Race over a Zoom call from sunny Southampton.

“I feel like I have a lot to offer the English game with my versatile style and the way I want to approach football. I’m hungry, I’m positive, and I have a lot to give.”

The month of December can be a chaotic one when it comes to managerial changes. Over the course of the last five seasons a combined 33 managers from England’s top-four leagues have left their posts in December, including six last term.

But one manager’s misfortune can represent a window of opportunity for someone else. “My CV shows success at various levels and I want the opportunity to show it at the top level,” Jaidi says. He radiates enthusiasm and passion when talking about his experiences, ambitions and  determination to grasp an opportunity, should one come his way. Mental toughness and a positive mindset can be crucial when it comes to football management. 

As is being resilient as you get knocked down a lot. Rejections are crushingly common in an incredibly competitive and volatile industry which sees hundreds, if not thousands, apply for one position. Life as a football manager can be both cruel and cutting.

As a player, Jaidi sported the shirts of Bolton, Birmingham and Southampton, while he represented Tunisia at two World Cups. “I’m intrinsically driven by success,” he says.

“I’m the type of person who achieves objectives, that’s what drives me. I will always give 100%.”

The Tunisian previously spent eight years coaching at Southampton where he won the Premier League Cup with the U21s, then gained promotion to the top-flight youth league with the U23s. 

He played a prominent role in developing players at the south coast club, many of whom have made the step up into the first team. Recent examples include Michael Obafemi, Nathan Tella, Will Smallbone and Dan N'Lundulu who have all featured for Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side this season. 

“Being part of the Southampton Academy is something I’m really proud of,” he says. “Helping players progress into the first team and into the Premier League is amazing.

“When I retired my long-term objective was to be a first team manager somewhere at some level, but first I wanted to get into coaching and be the best coach I can be and learn about people, players, and staff on a daily basis. I spent eight crazy years at Southampton, I was like a sponge, taking every detail and aspect into my own way of thinking.”

Radhi Jaidi: “I’m a winner and I know how to win”
Radhi Jaidi: “I’m a winner and I know how to win”

Jaidi’s former club have enjoyed a cracking start to the campaign. The current incumbent, Ralph Hasenhuttl, came under pressure at this point last season following that 9-0 defeat at home to Leicester City, but the Austrian has since completely transformed the Saints, who recently topped the Premier League table.

“Ralph was an eye-opener for me as a coach,” reveals Jaidi. “I worked under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino, Ronald Koeman, Claude Puel, Nigel Adkins and learnt bits from each one of them; from their personal characteristics and man-management skills, to tactics and training sessions. 

“But Ralph for me was the cherry on the top. Ever since the first day when he came into the U23s changing room at half-time and asked me to drop Tye Johnson off and have him debut on the Saturday.

“I observed a lot of his training sessions, looked at the way he coached and the way he performed in games. The clarity and details he gives to the players is amazing. That gave me a big boost of knowledge, and also the will and desire to be a head coach.”

During his time at Southampton, Jaidi also worked with Mauricio Pochettino. “I feel he’s ready to be back!” he smiles when asked whether he could see the Argentine managing Man Utd in the future. “It will be quite interesting to see where his next destination is. Surely clubs like Man Utd would fit him. 

“Mauricio can build the blocks and take teams to the top level. At the moment United are always so up and down. The performance and the consistency isn’t there at times, it must be quite frustrating for any fan.

“At Tottenham he built a group and established some of the young ambitious players without a lot of budget compared to their rivals. It would be an opportunity for him to win a trophy too - I think it’s time for him to be back.”

Jaidi: “Ralph was an eye-opener for me as a coach”
Jaidi: “Ralph was an eye-opener for me as a coach”

Not only has Jaidi been able to learn from both Hasenhuttl and Pochettino, but back in the noughties he was a part of Sam Allardyce’s famous Bolton side. “He was also a real opener for me,” he tells us. “Not just on the pitch, but how he managed people off it. 

“He was big on psychology, prozone, supporting players and providing care. These are key in management. In the dressing room we had 16 different nationalities, people were from different backgrounds who weren’t familiar with the English culture. We needed support and that’s what he provided. 

“There were big personalities in that squad - Jay-Jay Okocha, El-Hadji Diouf, Fernando Hierro, Gary Speed, Kevin Davies, and Kevin Nolan - but Sam created the right environment. He adjusted everything to suit our quality. 

“His football was often branded as ‘direct’ but we were beating the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal at the Reebok Stadium. We were really dangerous and aggressive at attacking set plays. We were a big team, very physical.

“He proved his point and it was good to be around someone like that who knew the game well. It didn’t come as a surprise when he got the England job.”

Bolton are now managed by Ian Evatt who is attempting to replicate his success at Barrow last season.

“I believe every manager needs time to implement their philosophy,” says Jaidi.

“You need to have the right players to fit into that philosophy. The result will always put managers under pressure but it’s only the start of the season. Bolton have gone through a very tough period. The fans are hungry to see the club stable and moving forwards. It’s not an easy business, you have to perform under pressure, but I think Evatt is doing alright.”

Jaidi has only been back in England a few weeks, having spent the last year in America on a 12-month secondment at Connecticut club Hartford Athletic - who have a partnership with Southampton - a team that ply their trade in the country’s second-tier: USL Championship.

“I made the 3,000 mile trip to Hartford in order to prove myself as a senior coach, and get a proper taste for it,” he says. “The confidence, experience and expertise I brought with me from England allowed me to express myself and have a positive impact in my new surroundings in America.

“After seven weeks of pre-season training there was a really positive vibe. We were raring to go in what was supposed to be my first match against Red Bull, but then one of the staff came in and said: ‘guys we have to go into lockdown’. The world had to stop.”

Jaidi battles with Andriy Shevchenko at the 2006 World Cup
Jaidi battles with Andriy Shevchenko at the 2006 World Cup

The pandemic halted Jaidi’s senior managerial debut, meaning he had to think of different ways to keep his new team fit, both physically and psychologically.

“During lockdown I think the players hated me because every day we had a collective meeting and individual meeting. We spent nearly three months working on the psychological aspect of the players, negotiating the challenges of lockdown, and preparing for the return. We had to find creative ways of engaging the players physically with tasks and schedules. We tried to track them and make sure their fitness was on point.

“We had to coach players without physical touch, they had to train in different areas of the pitch. It gave me the opportunity to be more creative and find a way to engage the players. We had to have clear aims and objectives to help the process. I didn’t have a fitness coach so I had to draw upon my own knowledge.

“We also watched a lot of Champions League games and specifically Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig, who really gave me and the players inspiration. The way they play, their intensity, their press and how they put the opposition under pressure.”

When the season did get under way, Jaidi led his troops to an opening match win against New York Red Bull II. “The game was played in an amazing stadium, we produced a great performance and win against one of the contenders for the play-offs,” he said. 

“The players were flying like beasts! They applied some of the key defending principles that we worked on. That feeling of having football back was unbelievable.” 

Hartford reached the USL Championship play-offs for the first time in the club’s short history, then last month Jaidi jetted back to England where he hopes to seek out the next chapter in his managerial career. 

“The opportunity was designed for one year, then to come back as my family is based in the UK, he says. “I have dual citizenship, I’ve been here for 16 years and I’m fully embedded in the English culture and mindset. I completed my coaching qualifications and badges here, and my Pro Licence was through the FA. I feel like I belong here and have a lot to offer.”

Here at The Sack Race we are excited to see what avenue Jaidi ventures down next.

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