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A new chapter in Rathbone's epic career
PLAYER. Physiotherapist. Manager. Assistant manager. Incredibly, at one stage, assistant manager-player-physiotherapist. Acclaimed author. Mentor.
Former Blackburn Rovers fans’ favourite Mick Rathbone has been them all in his truly remarkable career.
But ‘Baz’s’ latest notch on his footballing bedpost could well top the lot – helping England to a momentous international success.
The 55-year-old is fresh back from Malta where, as a key member of John Peacock’s backroom staff, he played his part as England U17s won the UEFA European Championships with a nail-biting penalty shoot-out victory over the Netherlands.
“It is right up there,” said Rathbone, when asked where the glittering gold medal, which he wrapped proudly around his neck after last Wednesday’s dramatic final, ranks in his list of achievements.
“You are out there on foreign territory flying the flag with the Three Lions on your chest – it’s your country so it means a lot.
“If we had won 3-0 in the final it still would have been great but to have that surge of adrenaline when that final penalty went in made it all the more outstanding.
“You just don’t realise how special is it until you’re in that dugout and the final penalty goes in.”
Rathbone has held the position of England U17s physio since 2011.
It is a position he took up after leaving Everton, where he rose from physio to head of sports science, and it is a position he was supposed to relinquish last year to concentrate on his day job at Manchester United, where he acts a mentor to the next generation of Old Trafford stars, including Michael Keane, who spent time on loan at Rovers this season.
“I’ve been with the same staff at England for four years, we’ve become really close friends, and I really wanted it to happen for John Peacock,” said Birmingham-born Rathbone, who has made Blackburn his home after eight, well-loved years in the blue and white halved shirt of Rovers, for whom he made 306 appearances between 1979 and 1987.
“I finished a year ago to concentrate on my Manchester United stuff but they wanted me to do another year and I said I would because I felt we could win it.
“For everything to come together is fantastic.”
England boss Peacock wants Rathbone to stay on for another 12 months.
But he is unlikely to get his wish as Rathbone reckons now is the time to plough all of his efforts into Manchester United.
He was headhunted for his unique role after United officials read his searingly honest, heartwarming and hilarious autobiography, The Smell of Football.
The critically acclaimed book recounts the crippling confidence issues the former full back suffered when starting out as a teenager at his boyhood heroes Birmingham City.
And it traces his remarkable journey from player with Birmingham, Rovers, Preston North End and Halifax Town, to manager and then assistant manager-player-physiotherapist at Halifax, and eventually physiotherapist at Preston and Everton under David Moyes.
“When I left Everton I had a break in inverted commas, the book came out and that took up a lot of my time,” said former England youth international Rathbone, who was unable to save Halifax from relegation from the Football League in 1993.
“But about 20 months ago I was in Estonia with England and Steve McNally from Manchester United, someone I have known over the years, rang me up out of the blue.
“He said, ‘we’ve read your book and we loved the stuff about the confidence and the striving against all odds’.
“So they offered me a role as a mentor to their U21s and I’ve been there for 20 months now.
“It’s really, really good and different. I go to Carrington every day, go out training every day with the U21s and then I go and look after the lads who are on loan, so I will randomly drive down to Carlisle or Yeovil or fly over to Zaragoza in Spain or Nijmegen in Holland.
“When I tell people about my job they can’t believe what I do – it’s a pretty good job. It’s an autonomous role where I’ve got carte blanche which allows me to say, ‘I think I’ve got to go across to there or involve myself with that lad there’.”
Rathbone, whose son Oliver is on the books of United, was reunited with Moyes last summer after his former manager at Preston and Everton was appointed as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor.
“Me and David always kept in touch after I left Everton and we met for coffee and that,” said Rathbone.
“Then one day, I think it was early June last year at Carrington, and Sir Alex said, ‘Mick, I want you to meet somebody’, and it was Dave.
“Me and Dave had this thing. I remember when we were at Preston and I was physio and he was a coach and we went across to the Isle of Man for this tournament. It was a really hot day and me and Dave had to take all the big skips from the bottom floor of this guesthouse right up to the attic.
“It must have been about 10 flights of steep stairs and when we got to the top we were both lathered in sweat and I turned around him and said, ‘we’ll laugh about this Dave when we’re both at Manchester United’.”
Rathbone reminded the Scotsman about that story when he took charge of United.
Moyes’ reign at Old Trafford lasted less than a season when he was sacked in April.
But Rathbone has no doubts his old boss will bounce back.
“Dave did everything he could,” he said.
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