John Mousinho is honest when asked what has caught him off guard as a new manager.
The Portsmouth boss is learning the ropes, 11 months into his career, despite guiding his unbeaten side to the top of Sky Bet League One.
As the former chair of the Professional Footballers’ Association and a player who started his coaching badges early, his transition to management has been almost seamless.
Yet the former defender who made 550 appearances in an 18-year career is still getting used to one final change.
“I love the job, I really do, everything apart from three to five o’clock on Saturday is great because I just feel completely helpless,” he told the PA news agency.
“Any time you see a head coach or a manager on the sidelines and their behaviour seems a bit erratic just spare them a thought because you lose that control. Sometimes it’s such an emotional game, emotions get the better of you.
“It’s been the biggest surprise because as a player I always felt in control, at least able to influence something. In some ways you do have ultimate influence and control but in others you’re standing on the touchline hoping 11 players do their jobs.
“A lot of the time it’s a really horrible place to be but, genuinely, I am loving it.
“We knew it (his appointment) might be seen as more of a gamble or risk than normal, although we didn’t think it was the case.
“If you start gambling with the future of the football club you can put yourself in a bit of a tricky spot.
“There’s a risk in every appointment and that was one of my answers when we were talking about the whole process and the appointment itself, there’s mystery with every single appointment no matter how many games you’ve managed or coached.”
That process has taken the 37-year-old, the third youngest boss in the EFL, and Pompey to the League One summit with a six-point lead.
Stretching back to March, they have not lost in the league in 26 games and have won 17 points from losing positions this season – including coming from 2-0 down to beat Reading 3-2 on Saturday.
Mousinho’s January appointment raised eyebrows as he was still playing and coaching at Oxford under Karl Robinson. He had 24 hours before his first game – a 2-0 win over Exeter – but has not looked back, having also had to step down from the PFA.
“I’d been with Oxford, at Fleetwood away, and I didn’t play. I was sat at the back of the bus and 10 days later I was the head coach of Portsmouth,” said September’s League One manager of the month, who credits Robinson for his guidance.
“It’s strange making the transition. Your whole life has changed overnight.
“I had to think about how I interacted with players, how I interact with the staff. As a player you can be very, very selfish. Then all of a sudden, you can’t be as a head coach.
“The biggest change from when I first started playing and maybe in the last 10 years is players have become a lot more conscientious about their own careers.
“It’s an interesting new side of it. When people first started playing it maybe wasn’t particularly cool to do your extras, to look at video analysis and dedicate your life to being a professional footballer.
John Mousinho voted new PFA Chair
In one of the first major decisions made by the newly formed Players' Board, Oxford United defender @jmous21 has been voted new PFA Chair, with former Coventry City winger Peter Vincenti chosen as Vice-Chair. https://t.co/0Lp5dV4uCD
— Professional Footballers’ Association (@PFA) May 6, 2021
“We were getting to the back end of the drinking culture when I first started playing and it’s slowly gone out of the game so players are much more focused on their own development.
“We’re probably just a bit behind other countries in terms of the way we’ve embraced that as individuals. There’s no longer the accusation of being busy. It’s good to be good.”
Mousinho takes Portsmouth to Chesterfield on Sunday in arguably the pick of the FA Cup first-round ties.
The Spireites, top of the Vanarama National League, are managed by former Pompey boss Paul Cook, along with the ex-players on his coaching staff Gary Roberts, Tom Naylor and Michael Jacobs.
Just four years after winning the FA Cup in 2008, Portsmouth were relegated to League One and spiralled into the fourth tier before Cook took them back up in 2017. They have been in League One since and Mousinho plans to be the one to take them out.
“When you’re at Portsmouth, one of the first things people talk about is the success with the FA Cup,” he said. “There’s a huge amount of spice to this game.
“The club has been through a lot over the past 10-15 years, going right to the brink of liquidation, so what we’re trying to do is part of the long, slow rebuild.
“Everybody’s desperate to move the club forward, the most important thing is we move the club forward in the right way.
“That’s been the whole mantra since day one. Yes, we want to get out and we’d love to have done it yesterday but these things just take time.”