PETER Leven will never forget the last conversation he had with Dick Advocaat.
Leven was a teenager trying to make the breakthrough at Rangers when Advocaat – who was this week appointed as Sunderland’s head coach until the end of the season – was in charge at Ibrox.
He’s a very good man-managerPeter Leven
Advocaat had a hugely successful start to his time at Rangers, but four months into his fourth season, he resigned, with Celtic looking set to win a second successive championship under Martin O’Neill.
On the day he left the club, the Dutchman sought out an 18-year-old Leven, who would go have a distinguished career with Kilmarnock, Chesterfield, MK Dons and Oxford United.
Advocaat thought highly of the Scottish midfielder, whom he named on the bench for an Old Firm game against Celtic in April 2001.
And their final conversation is one Leven will always remember.
He said: “I really like Dick Advocaat, because he put me on the first-team bench when I was just a kid.
“I was only 16, and he put me on the bench five times, including for an Old Firm game, which was an incredible experience.
“That was a good Rangers team, with players like Andrei Kanchelskis, Tugay and Barry Ferguson, so for him to believe in me like that was fantastic.
“He must have thought highly of me.
“I’ll never forget the day he left Rangers. He made a point of coming to see me, and said he wanted to see me playing in the first team.
“I was very young at the time and it was a really nice touch from him which I’ll never forget. He had a great influence on myself and the younger players, and it was amazing to work under him and see what it was all about.”
Sunderland’s players can expect to work with a “very good man manager” in Advocaat, according to Leven.
He added: “He’s a big, strong character, and his nickname was ‘the General’.
“He’s a no-nonsense person.
“At lunch time, he made everyone sit down together as a team and as a club to eat. He was strict but fair.
“He had a real presence when he walked into a room – you knew he was the boss, but he was always fair.
“He’s a very good man-manager.
“As a kid, he spoke to me nicely, and on the training ground, he was 110 per cent on it.
“He can joke as well, but he knows how to get the best out of players, and he’ll quickly work out who needs a cuddle and who needs a kick up the backside.”
Leven, 31 – who is currently coaching at Middlesbrough’s academy and playing for Northern League Division One side Jarrow Roofing – has warned Sunderland’s under-performing players that no-one will be safe from bench duty under Advocaat.
And he expects the Dutchman to keep the Black Cats in the Premier League.
Leven said: “Even if there’s a superstar in the squad, if he’s not pulling his weight, Dick will not be scared to put him on the bench.
“He can properly have a go at people in the dressing room as well, and I’m sure he’ll get a reaction from the players.
“Sometimes the style of football under Dick might not be pretty, but it’s about results, especially with Sunderland being in the situation they’re in.
“I think he’s more ruthless than Gus Poyet, and his training drills were always excellent. He’s a very good tactician.
“He has had success in numerous jobs across the world and certainly knows how to run a club.
“At Rangers, you have to win, and he delivered.
“I think he’s a great appointment for Sunderland, and ,although it will be hard for them, there’s no-one available out there who would be able to do better than him.
“I think he’ll keep them up, and then Sunderland will be able to rebuild for next year.”