By Tony Leighton
Much travelled midfielder Shaun Derry is stepping into management with the tough task of leading his hometown club Notts County away from the bottom of Sky Bet League 1 and with the difficult dilemma as to whether or not he should end his playing days to concentrate entirely on his fledgling managerial career.
The life-long Magpies fan can at least put both issues on hold as his first two games in charge at Meadow Lane are Cup fixtures, while he cannot wear a County shirt until next year having played for his previous club Queens Park Rangers and at Millwall in a loan move that was set to expire in January.
Saturday's FA Cup trip to Hartlepool United and a Johnstone's Paint Trophy Northern Section quarter-final away to Oldham Athletic on Tuesday evening are Derry's immediate concerns before his first League 1 encounter, a difficult one at home to second in the table Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The 35-year-old player-manager, looking to lift a team that have lost four of their last five league matches, told football-league.co.uk: "I'm not one to pigeon-hole the importance of certain games. Whatever the competition we're in we need to start winning games to build confidence and develop as a group.
"Winning Cup games can raise morale and confidence to take back into the league, and winning our Johnstone's Paint Trophy tie would put us within two rounds of reaching Wembley. I've thought of that and it would be fantastic for the club to do that, but we can't be thinking that far ahead."
Derry is not thinking that far ahead but, at the tail end of a playing career that began at Meadow Lane and then took him to Sheffield United, Portsmouth, Crystal Palace twice, Leeds United and QPR, he is certainly thinking about the possibility of taking the 'player' out of his player-manager role.
"I'll still be fit enough to play in January," he said, "but firstly I want to make the right impression on the players and if they're doing what I expect of them I'll leave it at that. I want to end my playing days on my terms - I don't want to be an old stager running around with people saying 'give it up Derry'."
Having played most of his games higher up the ladder than League 1, Derry is not totally au fait with the division, but his second in command Greg Abbott - who he has known since he was at Leeds and Abbott was on the coaching staff - knows it inside out after managing Carlisle United for five years until his recent dismissal.
"I wouldn't be sat here without Greg Abbott - Notts County would not have employed me without him," added Derry. "Greg is such an important part of this. I needed that experience and know-how of the league, and he's such a great character - the lads love him already."
Another manager Derry has strong links with is Neil Warnock, under whom he played at Sheffield United, Crystal Palace and QPR and who he talked to before applying for the Notts job. "Neil was my first port of call," he revealed. "I rang him to ask his advice and he said I should go for it.
"I owe him a lot and as a manager I'll have traits of Neil Warnock, but I've worked with a lot of great managers and you don't do that without taking things from them. I don't know what kind of manager I'll be, but I'll reflect myself in terms of honesty, hard work and team spirit - and hopefully I'll be successful."
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