CITY’S head of football operations David Sharpe sat down for an exclusive interview with the T&A.

In the first of a series of articles, the former Wigan chairman and Mansfield chief executive talks about why he left football last year and what attracted him to return at Valley Parade.

“I wasn’t going to get back involved in football just for anyone,” said Sharpe, as we spoke in the office of CEO Ryan Sparks.

“I had a very good time at Mansfield and was in a bit of a tricky situation. I lived over two hours away from the club.

“I initially went in as director of football and realised within a couple of months that I was doing everything, director of football, chief executive, everything.

“There wasn’t a massive structure of staff and when you’re living so far away, going backwards and forwards, days were very long.

“We’d just got married and my wife’s now expecting a baby. It was one of those decisions.”

The family business also needed attention – the Fitness First gym chain and hotels owned by his grandfather Dave Whelan, the Bradford-born business tycoon and former Wigan owner.

“I wanted to stay in football and knew we were on the verge of something at Mansfield. We only needed to tweak the squad slightly and we’d be in the mix for promotion and that happened.

“But I couldn’t be driving the car for five hours a day. You were either fully focusing on the job or not – you can’t be 25 per cent.

“I needed to spend six months working on the family business. Things are in a lot better shape now after we went through a bit of a restructuring process because it wasn’t great last summer.

“My grandfather ultimately built everything that my family have got and I felt that I needed to play my part and focus on that rather than be driving backwards and forwards from Mansfield.

“The commute wasn’t ideal and I’d done it for many a year.”

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Former Wigan owner Dave Whelan is David Sharpe's grandfatherFormer Wigan owner Dave Whelan is David Sharpe's grandfather (Image: PA)

Sharpe still kept his finger on the football pulse after his Mansfield exit last June, frequently watching their games and staying in touch with manager Nigel Clough and his staff as the season progressed.

He had been at Valley Parade to watch the Stags demolish City during that miserable March when the call came from Sparks soon after.

“Ryan rang not too long after the Harrogate game,” he added. “I’d watched Mansfield win and play very well at Valley Parade so I knew there was disgruntlement.

“It had been a bit of a rollercoaster of a season with streaky sort of runs.

“Ryan’s spoken to me for a number of years with us doing the same job at different clubs.

“He knew I was very much the football side of the business, that’s what I was initially at Mansfield, and less so commercial or operations. I brought people in to do that for me so I could concentrate on the football as much as possible.

“Ryan believed it would be the right thing to do.

“I wouldn’t just do it for any club in League Two. Bradford was the appeal with its size and potential, the fact it is in the north and it is 45 minutes away from home on a good day.

“I don’t have to spend nights in hotels, like I was doing in Mansfield, especially with a baby on the way. It just works.”

Sharpe did not agree to the role straight away. He needed to know how it would fit in alongside the others and avoid stepping on the toes of head of recruitment Stephen Gent and boss Graham Alexander.

“I wanted to make sure I was in a position where I could have an influence on things and not just be there as a figurehead.

“I wanted to make decisions but ultimately it will not be solely down to me.

“We have a transfer committee, Ryan, Stephen, myself, the manager, Chris Lucketti. You don’t get one person going ahead and doing something without the others knowing.”

Sharpe called Alexander and Gent for long chats to check they were both fine with it before taking the job.

“I wanted to make sure the manager was comfortable. It’s always a change for him when it’s just been the chief exec, head of recruitment and manager to have somebody in my role.

“Some managers are very anti and don’t agree with it.

“But I had a good chat with Graham before making the decision and he was really welcoming. He obviously did his research on me and asked people in the game.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: David Sharpe talked to Graham Alexander before taking the roleDavid Sharpe talked to Graham Alexander before taking the role (Image: Thomas Gadd)

“I also had a very long chat with Stephen about how I saw things moving forward with him.

“Ryan then flew to Germany to meet the owner and got his approval and here I am now.

“Things can only get better in terms of where we are. We want to be in a higher league.

“It’s similar to when I joined Mansfield. I felt there was potential there.

“They’d be in the league for 10 years or so, always had one of the best budgets and then only got to the play-offs once.

“We’ve been in League Two now for a number of years, got to the play-offs once, and there’s potential to be better – we have to be better. That was the pull.”

TOMORROW: In part two, Sharpe discusses in detail what his job involves, City’s first couple of signings, the academy model and Bobby Pointon.