For any new manager, securing a first win is important.
But when you are 20 years old, the youngest boss in the top nine tiers of English football, and have everything to prove, that first success can’t come soon enough.
Before Sammy Mould’s recent appointment as interim manager by Northern Premier League Midlands Division side Yaxley, they had managed just a single point from 22 league matches.
Two more defeats followed, but the barren run came to an end on Saturday as The Cuckoos defeated Harborough Town 3-1, despite having full-back Robert Squillace sent off on the hour mark following a second yellow card.
The visitors, who had been trailing 1-0, equalized soon after but as they pushed forward, Jude Adebayo restored the lead and a second of the game by debutant Andrew Osei-Bonsu – who played for Scottish League One club East Fife last season – sealed the victory in added time.
“I have signed six players and got rid of a few. I’ve had to be ruthless. I’m here to win – irrespective of my age,” Mold told BBC Sport.
Covid-curtails playing ambitions
The result was all the more remarkable as Harborough thrashed them 9-1 earlier in the season – a game in which their forward Nat Ansu scored five times, including a four-minute hat-trick.
“Gotta own it – superb defensive performance from Yaxley,” Harborough boss Mitch Austin later posted on Twitter.
“We’ve made a significant improvement. I think the game was a bit of a banana skin for them,” said Mould.
He was forced to stop playing and find new ways to involve himself in the game after a bad reaction to a Covid jab resulted in a blood clot on his lungs.
As well as setting up a sports management company on his return from a spell in the USA, he had been helping out at Yaxley prior to previous boss Andy Furnell’s departure earlier this month.
“I’m about 65% of what I was before. I can’t exercise although I managed a bit of a kick about in training.
“My life is busy, which is helpful, but I still suffer side-effects like blurred vision. Hopefully over the next 12 months that will improve.”
Mold says he has been contemplating a career in management since the age of 12 or 13 and had no hesitation in accepting when invited to replace Furnell.
“I was a decent footballer but I was never going to play in the Premier League or the Championship. I think I could have progressed in the game with the right guidance, but I was never going to be the next Wayne Rooney,” he said .
“I do, though, understand the game and my ambition is to manage in the Premier League.”
Mold is aware he is going to need a lot of coaching badges to get anywhere near to realizing that ambition, but said the main thing he had learned so far from managing players is that “experience is worth a whole lot more than badges”.
“People can have all the badges in the world, but haven’t got the people skills to motivate a team,” he said.
‘Nucleus was decimated’
Yaxley finished 14th last season, with 12 wins in 38 games, following a sideways move into the NPL from the Southern League.
So why did they start the current campaign so badly?
“They lost a lot of players – the nucleus of the team was decimated, and the club has the lowest budget in the league, you have to bear that in mind,” said Mould.
“But I knew that even with a limited budget, I could get the team to play for me.”
He estimates that his company now has about 250 players as clients and that before becoming manager “about 40% of Yaxley’s players were mine”.
After starting with a 4-1 defeat by St Neots after only a few hours to work with the squad, Mold brought about an immediate improvement as they only lost 1-0 at home to Chasetown following a stoppage-time winner.
“They celebrated as if they’d won the Champions League,” he said.
Yaxley have 13 league games left to play this season in what Mold acknowledges is a “massive relegation battle” – but there is a prospect of silverware as they face Eaton Socon in a Huntingdonshire Senior Cup semi-final on 24 January.
So what would success look like for him at the end of the campaign?
Mold says the win over Harborough won’t mean much unless they “back it up with further wins”, but added: “I’m just going to take it game by game and not look too far ahead. We are in a position where we now have some momentum and the opposition won’t be sure who is going to turn up.
“We have some hard games left so let’s see where we are in a few weeks.”
Would he be interested in continuing as manager next season?
Mould, who cites Pep Guardiola as an inspiration, calling the Manchester City boss “absolutely brilliant, a winner, tactically astute and like a 12th man for his team”, says he “wants to go higher not lower” as he plots his career.
“The club know I want to manage at the highest possible level. It depends how the season ends.
“We’ve got a brilliant chairman, brilliant board, brilliant director of football and we’ll make the decision which is right for me and for the club.”