My Best: Craig Shakespeare

By: Kevin Affleck

Assistant Head Coach talks through his best players, matches and more in a quick-fire interview...

Best player you have played with?

“Off the top of my head, I'm going to say Trevor Francis. He came to Sheffield Wednesday in the twilight of his career and you soon realised from little finishing sessions we did what he must have been like at his peak. He was still very, very good, even at this stage of his career. He was a bit-part player at Wednesday because of his age, but you could see the quality he had.”

Best player you have played against?

“Probably Paul Gascoigne when he was in his pomp at Tottenham. His career has been well documented, but at this peak, before his injuries, he was an exceptional talent.”

Best player you have seen live?

“I've seen a few but I'm going to say Cristiano Ronaldo. My youthfulness means I never saw George Best, so it would have to be Ronaldo.”

Best captain you’ve played under?

“Without wishing to get a bit of stick off the staff, I'm going to have to say Nigel [Pearson]. He would be right up there. Although I only played with him for 12 months at Sheffield Wednesday, he was a leader and enjoyable to play under.”

Best character in the dressing room?

“So many characters make up a dressing room. You have your leaders, your funny ones and your comedians who make you laugh and are so good for the dressing room. We had quite a few when I was growing at Walsall, but the one that stands out is Mark Rees. He was an England international schoolboy, a really fast winger but in terms of dressing rooms and morale, he was excellent. Being a youngster at Walsall really toughened me up, most definitely.”

Best game you've played in?

“The Milk Cup semi-final against Liverpool in 1984 when I was at Walsall. We drew the first leg, 2-2, at Anfield which was no mean feat as they had Dalglish, Hansen, Lawrenson and Whelan etc. We lost the second leg at Fellows Park, but that was no disgrace. They went on to win the cup so that result at Anfield was exceptional.”

Best coach you've worked under?

“Tommy Coakley, I would say. Not many people remember him, but he managed Walsall for two years and his man-management was excellent. He got the best out of players and his style really suited me. He's the best I've played under.”

Best friend in football?

“I've been around a while so I've got a few from various teams I've played for and coach, but I had a really good understanding with Paul Groves at Grimsby. He never missed a training session and I loved his attitude to playing. We kept in touch and still do now.”

Best game you've been to?

“Probably when Aston Villa won the League Cup in a replay against Everton in 1977. It was a great occasion in the first game at Wembley and then in the replay at Hillsborough. It was a high-quality game and I knew some of the Villa players, like Gordon Cowans. He was excellent.”

Best atmosphere you've been involved in?

“From a selfish point of view, I'm going to say the Champions League game for Leicester against Sevilla [in March 2017]. I was in charge of the team then and we were behind after the first leg, pulled it back and knocked them out with a 2-0 win. That atmosphere that night will live with me forever.”

Best game involving the team you support?

“Yes, I'm a Villa fan! The best game was actually a game they lost but they ended up winning the league. It was at Highbury against Arsenal [in May 1981]. Villa lost the game 2-0 but Ipswich didn't get the result they needed so Villa won the league. I slept in my brother-in-law's car that night!”

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