GRAHAM ALEXANDER has told his MK Dons players they must believe they can be future European trophy winners like Jarrod Bowen.
This summer the Dons boss used West Ham winger Bowen as a perfect case study for his team — after the former non-league Hereford player scored the winner in the Europa Conference League final against Fiorentina to end the Hammers’ 43-year wait for a trophy.
Graham Alexander is enjoying being back in EFL management with MK Dons
Jarrod Bowen went from playing Hereford to being a European trophy hero
Alexander himself laboured in League Two for several years with Scunthorpe but went on to become the oldest player to make his top-flight debut with Burnley aged 37.
He told SunSport: “There are many examples of players who climbed the divisions — the likes of Jamie Vardy, Michail Antonio, Bowen and, although not as high-profile, myself.
“I played at this level for seven years from 16 to 23 but ended up in the Premier League, scoring against Manchester City and Arsenal.
“When I was in League Two I didn’t think of being a Premier League player. I wanted to get to the next level then the next one after that and kept doing that.
“It was my belief the Premier League was too far for me as a player and I’m sure Jarrod Bowen would have been thinking that at Hereford rather than, ‘I’ll be playing in a European final one day and scoring the winner!’
“This’s what players must believe. It might not happen overnight, might not happen in the next month or the next two seasons.
“But if you keep making improvements and dedicating yourself to your job and career, if you’re good enough you can do anything if you make the right decisions and show the right level of commitment and quality.”
It was while playing at Preston under Bowen’s Hammers boss David Moyes in the third tier that Alexander’s game improved leaps and bounds.
Bowen in his non-league days playing for Hereford
Alexander converts from the spot for Burnley against Arsenal
He said: “I turned my life upside down. I thought I knew what dedication was then I moved to a club and played under Moyes and thought, ‘That’s dedication.’ It wasn’t just Moyes driving me, it was my team-mates too.
“Vardy left Fleetwood in 2012 then he’s won the Premier League in 2016. Anything is possible.”
Alexander’s managerial career has seen him ruthlessly sacked twice — providing proof madness reigns supreme in some boardrooms.
First Scunthorpe wielded the axe five years ago when they were FIFTH in League One with Alexander set to take the club into the play-offs for the second successive season.
That decision backfired disastrously with Scunny suffering THREE relegations.
Under Alexander, they could have been promoted to the Championship — but instead today they are hosting South Shields in the National League North!
Graham Alexander made the journey himself from fourth tier to the Premier League
Our man Justin Allen caught up with Alexander in Milton Keynes
Alexander is the League two manager of the month for August
And then three years ago Gary Neville lost control of his senses by firing the former Scotland international with the club FIFTH in League Two.
This was despite Alexander getting the club promoted to the EFL for the first time in their history, finishing 11th in their maiden fourth-tier season and reaching the EFL Trophy final, which they went on to win.
The ambitious Class of 92-owned club are still in League Two, 17th in the table.
Alexander said: “Football management is wild and brutal so what I’ve gone on to realise is you do the best you can.
“All people in positions of responsibility must make decisions, including me, and I won’t get them all right and it’s the same for owners.
“Scunthorpe were my first club as a player and I went back to manage them. I left when they were high up in League One so it’s horrendous to see where they are now.
“When I got the sack at Salford, I wasn’t shocked. I wanted to continue with the players and what we were doing but it was a unique scenario where on reflection it was right for both sides to part because I was being asked to not be myself.”
Neville has since admitted he was wrong to sack Alexander, who added: “I’ve spoken to the guys at Salford since. I’ve got no problems with it, life’s too short.
Alexander had Scunthorpe flying high in League One five years ago yet since his sacking they have crashed all the way to National League North
He was bizarrely sacked at Salford by Gary Neville
“I just put it in the bin and move on. I didn’t need Gary to say those kind things.
“Only one person gets to be first on the moon so to be part of that group that was the first to bring Salford into the EFL, I’m immensely proud.”
Alexander has bounced back well.
First he took charge of SPL club Motherwell where he not only saved them from relegation but guided them to fifth in his full season in charge — qualifying for the Europa Conference League.
In fact, during his 18 months at Fir Park only Scottish giants Celtic and Rangers won more league points than Motherwell.
Only one person gets to be first on the moon so to be part of the group that was the first to bring Salford into the EFL, I’m immensely proud
And now he is back in League Two with MK Dons where they go into today’s home game with leaders Notts County sitting second after six matches — as they bid to bounce straight back to League One after relegation.
He has also been named the SkyBet manager of the month in the division.
Alexander has a big family link with Milton Keynes as all three of his children were born in the city — as he lived in the city while playing for Luton in the 1990s.
And he said: “I saw this job as an opportunity to work for a good club.
“When you see the infrastructure and what the club has tried to do over 20 years, it’s had spells of progression where it’s been close to where it thought it could get to and then dropped back down.
“I remember the club being in the Championship seven years ago when I was managing Fleetwood — but they haven’t progressed as far as they would have liked to.
“Football is tough. You must win on the pitch and the game in that regard hasn’t changed.
“We’ve got 12 points from our first six games, which we’re content but not ecstatic about. However, if we can continue in that vein, we have a great chance of doing something good this season.”