Bradford City boss Gary Bowyer is preparing to face Blackpool for the first time since his summer exit and says his time at Bloomfield Road was aided by a Masters in Sport Directorship.
Before embarking on his attempt to keep the Bantams in League One at the start of this month, Bowyer earned a Distinction in his Master of Sport Directorship at Manchester Metropolitan University .
The 47-year-old was inspired to take the course by his work at Championship club Blackburn Rovers.
Bower helped to steer Rovers to safety in 2012-13, having twice taken on the caretaker manager’s role after the exits of Henning Berg and Michael Appleton.
During that season Bowyer, who had risen through the coaching ranks at Ewood Park, flew out to meet owners Venky’s in India.
But despite off-field strife that involved a court case with Berg, Bowyer was able to ensure Blackburn did not suffer a second relegation in a row.
After securing survival, Bowyer was handed the permanent role in May 2013. He stabilised the club, guiding Rovers to eighth and ninth-placed finishes before he was sacked in November 2015.
Having had to learn on the job how to link the boardroom with his work on the pitch, Bowyer was then inspired to take on the course at MMU that prepares people for jobs as leaders in the sports industry.
When Bowyer took over at Blackpool in the summer of 2016, the ownership issues with the Oyston family were rumbling on.
Bowyer followed in the footsteps of fellow ex-Blackpool and Blackburn boss Appleton and England cricketer Ashley Giles in enrolling on to the course in 2017, after steering the Seasiders to promotion to League One in his first season.
Bowyer spent two days on the course every six weeks and studied at home while guiding Blackpool to mid-table on their return to League One.
He completed the Masters this year, though Bowyer feels he has already filled a sporting director role to a large extent at both Blackburn and Blackpool.
Bowyer told The Gazette: “When I was working at Blackburn I had a lot of dealings with the owners and the board. It was a side of the game I had not dealt with a lot up until that point. Before then a lot of my time had been coaching in the youth teams and reserve teams.
“It was something that fascinated me but at the same time I needed to learn a completely new skill set.
“When I saw that the course was available, I enrolled and it was a fabulous experience for taking me out of my comfort zone first and foremost.
“Going back to school with academic literature and having to be disciplined with the reading and assignments. It was a wonderful two years.
“I met some fantastic people on the course as well as the staff. You learn a hell of a lot.
“I was dealing with people from all kinds of sports and the days you went in were massive for me in terms of learning and bettering myself. I learned things I can take back into management.”
Bowyer is planning on taking on a sporting director role in the future but says there are still things he wants to achieve as a coach.
Right now he is using all of his game-knowledge to try to keep Bradford City in the third tier. With eight games to go, the Bantams are six points adrift of safety.
Bowyer’s Bradford reign started with a 3-1 win over Peterborough United, but back-to-back 1-0 defeats to league leaders Luton Town and fellow relegation battlers Oxford United have left the club anxious to return to winning ways.
Bowyer, who has signed a contract until the end of the season, explained how he will use his qualification in the future.
He said: “The sporting director role is evolving and becoming more accepted in England. It has been in place a lot longer on the continent.
“I still want to be a manager. I still have a few more years out on the grass and I want to achieve things from a coaching point of view.
“But in my managerial roles at Blackburn and Blackpool, I have done aspects of the technical director role already.
“Eventually I would like to possibly move up and help to support the manager, which ultimately is how I see the role.
“It is someone working for the football club, supporting the manager and dealing with things that he should not be left to do. The manager’s role at the end of the day is to win matches.”
The Bradford boss was enthused by all aspects of the course as he shared knowledge with people from other sports and mixed with business people.
These included Andy Etches, a sporting director and co-founder of Mi Hiepa Scout Ltd.
Mi Hiepa is a virtual reality tool, which Bowyer brought to Blackpool, designed to enhance players’ mental sharpness and decision-making.
He said of the course: “To have been surrounded by people from rugby league, cricket... people from elite levels, CEOs.... just by having conversations with them you would pick up so much.
“Andy Etches is also on the course and his company is of interest to me in terms of how we see analysis in the future.
“It is important to understand this generation of people in terms of how they learn and interact. You forever here the phrase, ‘They are always on their X-Box’. We have to learn how they operate with that.
“The first module was all about leadership. You were made to look at how you lead and what style of leadership you had, why you were doing certain things.
“It was good because it really made you analyse yourself and question yourself to make yourself better.
“We studied innovation and organisational change, which is forever happening in football. It was good to get more in-depth knowledge in that area.
“The final module was on governance, which is massive and very topical in the industry!”