Steve Guppy is a man for whom the phrase “unsung hero” could have been coined. Stuart Rayner examines his latest unheralded achievement.
IN preparation for the grand opening of its new indoor facilities, Sunderland’s training ground recently had the words “Academy of Light” attached over its entrance.
If it sounds a slightly grandiose name for a place where a group of lads kick a ball of air around, Martin O’Neill is doing his best to make the Whitburn fields a genuine place of learning.
Star pupil recently has been Connor Wickham, at last enjoying some first-team football as the demands of playing as a lone striker on starvation rations catch up on Steven Fletcher. Head teacher is Steve Guppy.
Much like in his playing days with Leicester City, Celtic and – once – England, Guppy is an unheralded figure on Sunderland’s coaching staff.
Trotting up to his manager from time to time in his sawn-off tracksuit bottoms, Steve Walford is the most visible member of O’Neill’s backroom crew. Conspicuous by his absence, previously loyal lieutenant John Robertson is perhaps the most talked-about of his cabal of coaches, with many speculating the end of his relationship with the long-time boss has been as damaging to O’Neill as the loss of Peter Taylor was to his former manager Brian Clough.
But while he may not be seen or heard from in public, Guppy has been much appreciated on the training field since joining the staff last spring after stints cutting his teeth in America with Rochester Rhinos and Colorado Rapids.
“The thing I always wanted to have at the football club is one-to-one tuition with players, whether they be full-back, centre-half, centre-forward or wide players,” O’Neill explained.
“Steve’s come in and that was his initial role and that’s what I wanted him to do, to work with players after training.”
Significantly, the 43-year-old – once an underestimated winger – has been able to win their respect with actions as well as words. “He’s got really great enthusiasm for it,” his manager continues. “That alone isn’t enough but he’s also played and it’s interesting as well that when asked to demonstrate things, which is sometimes very important when players turn round to coaches and ask, ‘You show me’, Steve can still demonstrate. That’s good.