The newspaper in the reception at Carlisle United’s Brunton Park is turned to the back, where news of Gareth Bale’s impending £95million move to Real Madrid is emblazoned in thick red typeset.
The chatter in the foyer is about whether he’s worth it. “Nobody is worth £95m,” one staff member says. In Cumbria, they would know.
Last year Carlisle signed Sean O’Hanlon on what boss Greg Abbott calls “factory worker’s wages”. It is no insult to factory workers, just a striking reminder of the chasm that separates football’s elite and those who populate its honest, hard- working heartlands.
Abbott is not the kind to feel sorry for himself, his club or his supporters. Five seasons on from his appointment at Carlisle, he’s still as passionate and energetic as ever – springing from his chair to pour a diet Pepsi before launching a staunch defence of the progress made at Brunton Park on his watch.
And when it comes to the state of the English game – which has changed immeasurably since he took over – his opinions are laced with defiance, passion and humour. They’re also absolutely fascinating.
“It’s difficult for young English managers because when we try to get a loan player in we can’t understand what he’s saying,” Abbott quips.
“Pelligrini is from Chile, Paolo Di Canio doesn’t even speak Italian properly so what chance have I got? It’s hard enough to understand Alan Pardew’s Cockney!”
Abbott’s authority to comment comes partly from his long service. After the changes at the very top of the Premier League this summer, Abbott is now the third longest serving manager in England. As such, he is in a unique position to comment on how the landscape has changed for young British talent. His take is forthright and – to be honest – worrying for anyone with English football’s best interests at heart.
“It’s tough and if there’s any resentment in me, it’s that we don’t give our own – and that’s players as well as coaches and managers – a chance.
“An English manager won’t win the Premier League this year and that’s not because there’s no good English coaches out there. Believe me, there are. But they can’t get jobs at those clubs and it has become a trend. It is a Godsend that Manchester United went British. David (Moyes) has been in the English leagues a long time and is a fantastic fella. I think I probably wasn’t the only British manager doing cartwheels when he got that job.
“If you had put Harry Redknapp in at Chelsea, he would have had a chance of winning the league. Jose (Mourinho) will be the Special One again but Harry would have been the Special One if he’d have got that job. It’s worrying. Where does the next England manager come from? Our national team is in such a mess at the moment and you have to feel sorry for the manager now.
“He will get blamed for it – but what is there for him to manage? Where are the players to work with when they’re not getting a platform to play in the Premier League?
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what’s wrong with the national game. We entered the European Championships with a number two goalkeeper whose experience was in League Two – Jack Butland. That can’t be right.”
Moyes’ appointment over the summer was bucking the trend, with Abbott giving short shrift to the idea that his lack of trophies speaks for a lack of suitability for the role.
“David Moyes won the respect of everyone in the game – that’s what he won,” he said.
“He has been an absolute phenomenon at Everton and he’s phenomenal to deal with. He’s a gem. I got on well with Sir Alex but I like to think I get on well with David too, certainly his staff. “You can already see the difference because we’ve got Reece James here. He knows Reece will get developed, he’ll get worked with and he’ll get proper reports on him throughout the season.
“We did somersaults and cartwheels when that was announced. Our big clubs need to have the best of our managers, and there’s some very good managers coming through. They need to be catapulted on now.
“Malky Mackay at Cardiff, Phil Parkinson at Bradford, Chris Powell at Charlton. Sean Dyche, Dougie Freedman. You could go through the leagues – there’s a lot of them. Yet Sean Dyche won’t be the next Liverpool manager. And why?”
Abbott also has a place in that pantheon of young British talent, having delivered Carlisle a club that is now firmly established in League One.
In his time there have been two trips to Wembley as well, but last year things stalled as for the first time under Abbott the club dipped under the previous year’s finishing position. There was mitigation – “We lost Lee Miller 20 minutes into the first game,” Abbott says, wincing at the memory – but he knows it tested the patience of the club’s supporters.
“Five seasons out of six have been really successful and then there’s last year,” he admits. “But if you look at the big picture, we didn’t even have a training ground when I took over. We didn’t have lunches after training. We didn’t have a doctor every day, we didn’t have medical facilities.
“We have established ourselves as a League One club and I’d love to know how long it is since Carlisle had so many successive years at this level. Not so long ago we were a non-league club.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve done but sometimes that gets lost in people looking for instant success or continued improvements. But hey, that’s understandable, it’s the game we’re all working in.”
Abbott knows that Twitter and media boards have crackled with discontent at times, but also talks of the occasion last year where he went into Carlisle with his daughter Lauren and was surrounded by well-wishers appreciative of what he’s done.
“Sometimes it does get to me that we haven’t been acknowledged for the work we’ve done,” he admits. “But I think the supporters of this club are fantastic. They’re so passionate and I want to do it for them. It’s their club, I’m just passing through, but I hope they know I do the best I can for this football club and put every- thing into it.”