Craig Samson opens up on Sunderland move, what Jack Ross is like to play for and why he was desperate to work with him
Jack Ross would be the first to say that it isn't always easy being the goalkeeper in his side.
The Black Cats boss is happy to break games open, always eager for a clean sheet but never at the expense of creating space and opportunities for his attacking players.
Being the man between the posts can be a challenge but in Craig Samson he found a character and a goalkeeper that he quickly forged a strong bond with.
Samson was his number one as St Mirren shocked Scotland by storming to the Scottish Championship title.
He was also one of his key figures in the dressing room, an experienced head in a young squad.
It was a fruitful partnership and so when Ross called following goalkeeping coach Jimmy Walker’s decision to leave for Ipswich Town, Samson felt comfortable making one of the biggest decisions of his life so far.
He was still number one at St Mirren, but came down to start a coaching career that has been years in the making.
“It was a massive decision, it wasn’t as if I wasn’t happy or wasn’t getting a game,” he said.
“It was just an opportunity I didn’t think I could turn down. I’d go back to the manager, I knew how good he was and how good my relationship with him had been when I’d worked with him in the past.
“I know his ideas and his plans for this club and I wanted to be part of that. It wasn’t ideal timing, St Mirren was a club that I love and it wasn’t ideal for them, but I couldn’t pass the opportunity up.
“I spoke to the manager in the summer when he left and we’d always said hopefully we’ll get to work together in the future, but I didn’t think it would come around this quick!
“The one thing I always knew about Jack was how good he was with people,” he added.
“His man-management, how he treated everyone, no matter who you were or where you worked [in the club]. So it doesn’t surprise me how well he is getting on with everyone.
“I know the guys and the way that they work. I’ve known James [Fowler] since I was a kid, and I’ve known Potts [John Potter] for a long time as well.
“I actually met Aiden McGeady about four weeks before I came down here and we were speaking about the manager. Aiden spoke very highly of him and the coaching staff, which tells you that it’s working.
“Of course, winning games helps that.”
Samson believes Ross’ background is crucial to his man-management skills and hopes the backroom staff can help create an environment that is positive for the Sunderland squad.
“The manager’s background is very varied in terms of his work, and also doing part-time management as well as full-time,” he said.
“We are all quite young [as coaches] and you do know what it’s like to be a player.
“As a player you always say, ‘don’t go into coaching and become a d*ck!’
“I think Jack trusts us to create the environment for the players where they trust us and we trust them.”
Samson clearly made a big first impression on Ross, though the 34-year-old admits an early intervention from Fowler was crucial.
“The first training session I had with Jack I’d been on my honeymoon and come back having done absolutely nothing!” Samson said.
“I was going into the first game of the season thinking I might not start. I think if truth be told Fowls told him he had to go with me and after that I played every game.
“As a goalkeeper you moaned at him, he always wanted to do shooting drills! That’s what the young ones are for! We always trusted each other, I was a senior player in that dressing room which had a lot of young players.
“We could put in place things for him. To be honest, when he phoned me to ask to come down, I was really pleased with that.”
Sunderland is clearly a big job for someone stepping into coaching but Samson says he already has a significant amount of experience.
“I had two spells at St Mirren and during the first I had a goalkeeping coach who wanted me to see that side of things as he thought it would help my game,” Samson said.
“So I went and did my badges when I was 26 I think.
“I did a lot of coaching with St Mirren’s youth academy. I went to Kilmarnock as a player but did a lot of coaching in their academy as well.
“There’s been times when coaches have left clubs and I’ve taken the goalkeepers while still playing. So that stands you in pretty good stead.”