Described by the legendary Real Madrid manager Alfedo De Stefano as a ‘British Tank’, Mark was an uncompromising centre forward. He enjoyed a long and distinguished career in Scotland, England, Germany and Sweden, making over 500 appearances, scoring over 200 goals and winning 11 senior titles.
Mark’s career began when as a 16-year-old he signed for Bristol City. After two years he returned to Scotland and while playing for Greenock Morton studied architecture. His career in that field ended when he was bought by Newcastle United, later playing for Aberdeen, Hamburg SV and Celtic. He finished his playing career with a second spell at Newcastle. Mark played for his national team and in 1994 scored against the Auld Enemy England, a goal he considers to be the highlight of his illustrious playing career.
In 1991 Mark was persuaded by the great Sir Alex Ferguson to embark on a coaching career.
His life in management lasted three decades and almost 1,000 matches – covering Reading, Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Millwall, Brighton & Hove Albion, Motherwell (two spells), Aberdeen and Bristol Rovers. In addition, Mark worked for almost five years as assistant manager to the Scotland national team alongside his great friend Gordon Strachan.
Firstly, how would you assess this seasons Premier League champions Liverpool and the current level of the Premier League?
Liverpool have been unbelievably consistent and are deserved champions. A few years ago I attended a League Managers Association congress and saw a presentation delivered by Jurgen Klopp. I really liked what he said. I am not surprised he has done a good job. I believe the level of the Premier League and the players playing in it is the highest it has ever been. Leeds will be a welcome addition to the league. Liverpool and Man City are still going to be the teams to catch but Man Utd and Chelsea are making strides to reduce that gap.
Can you touch on some of the differences between the modern game and when you were playing professionally?
The main difference is in the preparation. The level of science used now is off the scale. All the information and support available has taken the level of professionalism on to a new level. I wish I had had that support structure.
How would you rate the quality of players in the league now in comparison?
There was a time when the top division was filled with players that were the best of British. Now the players are the best in the world. This has contributed massively to the quality through out the Premier League.
As a former centre forward, can you speak on the development of the position and modern demands for an attacking player?
There are certain prerequisites to be a striker in today’s game. Speed is a definite. You have to be able to get away from defenders whom themselves have become so much faster. Core strength I believe is the other essential – you have to be able to hold off challenges and protect the ball.
You’ve had such a successful playing and managerial career - who are the biggest influences that helped shape your management/playing style?
I have had the privilege over almost 50 years of working with brilliant players, coaches, managers and chairmen. What I became as both a player and a manager was as a result of the influence I enjoyed from so many talented people. I never tried to be any of them, instead I tried to be the sum of the best of them.
In your opinion, what are the most critical fundamental skills to be teaching at the youth level?
Control and first touch in tight areas. You have to be able to control the ball. And I strongly believe young players need to remember football is a running game and have to be mobile to get around the pitch.
What were the challenges of being a player-manager? Is that role dead within the modern game?
The role even when I was at Reading was extremely demanding. Rest and recovery was really important to me after games for me to be at my best and the added responsibilities I faced didn’t make that possible. I would say that at the top level the role of a player-manager is a thing of the past.
If you had the chance to go back and tell your 18-year-old self one piece of advice - what would it be?
Prepare for training and take it as seriously as you would take a match.
"FUSE is a fantastic opportunity to be coached by quality coaches and to learn the culture of the game.”