By Martin Cloake
It’s a very happy 73rd birthday today to Dario Gradi, a man who truly has made an outstanding contribution to league football in England and even had the MBE to prove it.
Born in Milan, Gradi moved to England as a youngster and played for non-league sides Sutton United and Tooting & Mitcham United before becoming assistant coach at Chelsea in 1971.
He then went on to manage both Wimbledon and Crystal Palace before, in 1983, taking over at Crewe Alexandra – a club he duly became completely synonymous with.
It was at Crewe that he made his name, taking the club from the lower reaches of the Football League to an established spot in the second tier. But it was the players he produced that caught the eye even more.
During the 1980s and 90s, Gradi was responsible for launching the careers of David Platt, Rob Jones, Geoff Thomas, Danny Murphy, Ashley Ward, Wayne Collins, Seth Johnson, Robbie Savage and Neil Lennon. As the Millenium turned, Gradi’s talent spotting continued, with Rob Hulse, Dean Ashton and David Vaughan among those who he started on their way.
Gradi retired from management on 24th July 2007, 24 years and 1,244 matches after taking over at Crewe. At the time he was the longest-serving manager in the game. In 2008 he returned briefly as caretaker manager, and did so again in 2009, remaining in charge until 2011. He is currently the club’s director of football.
He was admitted to the English Football Hall of Fame in 2004 in recognition of the impact he has had on the game.
Gradi is a reminder of the fact that talent can be nurtured, not simply bought in as and when – something often forgotten in the modern transfer-obsessed game. And he likes football to be played the right way too.
Asked about his approach to coaching he once said: “There used to be an expression coaches used – ‘Put them under’. I used to think ‘What the bloody hell does that mean?’ Six feet under?”
Many happy returns, Super Dario!