A former Cheltenham Town player who thrived under the management style of Gary Johnson says the Robins’ new boss knows exactly how to get the best out of every player.
Midfielder Sam Foley was given his big break in the Football League by Johnson at Yeovil Town.
Never given a chance at Cheltenham or Kidderminster Harriers, Foley impressed in the Conference for Newport County and was snapped up by League One Yeovil in the summer of 2012.
After appearing up front and in the centre of midfield for the Glovers in pre-season friendlies, Foley shone on the left side of midfield and quickly established himself in Johnson’s starting XI.
He made his debut in a 3-0 home win over Colchester United, who were managed by Foley’s old boss at Cheltenham, John Ward.
To the surprise of just about everyone in football, Yeovil went on to win promotion to the Championship, beating Brentford in the play-off final at Wembley.
“I owe Gary Johnson a lot because he gave me my Football League debut and I was unknown and unproven at that level then, but he was bold enough to give me that chance,” Foley said.
“Not many managers can match his experience and he knows exactly how to get the best out of players.
“He has made players and broken players and it certainly won’t all be nicey nicey at Cheltenham now, but they are in a relegation battle so it shouldn’t be like that anyway.
“He will ruffle a few feathers I am sure, but that’s needed with the club where they are now and when Gary Johnson tells you to do something, you do it.”
Foley says Johnson improved him as a player and has allowed him to taste some real highs with the Somerset club.
“When I signed for Yeovil I didn’t really have a position, but I did well on the left and the player who was in front of me got injured.
“I was then able to reap the rewards of Gary’s management and winning at Wembley was amazing, especially having lost there the year before with Newport County in the FA Trophy final.
“Nobody expected Yeovil to reach the Championship and the club was never going to be able to sustain a future at that level in financial terms.
“Some clubs had more staff in their canteens than we did in our entire club and QPR’s wage bill for a month was bigger than ours for the whole squad for a year, so it was an amazing achievement just to be in the same division as them.
“We had a real togetherness and a lot of the lads we had have gone on to play for bigger clubs like Byron Webster (Millwall), Luke Ayling (Bristol City) and Dan Byrne (Fulham).
“The manager definitely plays his part in that because he has to keep everyone in order and it’s a balancing act, which he managed to do at Yeovil.
“He also took Bristol City to within one match of the Premier League.”
Foley believes Johnson’s biggest strength is drawing a positive reaction from his players.
“Whether it’s using praise or giving out a rollicking, he is very good at mind games and always comes out on top,” Foley said.
“He definitely got the best out of me and I am sure he’ll make a big impact at Cheltenham.”
Republic of Ireland Under-18 international Foley progressed through the youth ranks at Whaddon Road, becoming a regular for the successful reserve team.
He was released by Keith Downing in the summer of 2008, having been hampered by injury problems during his time as a professional with the Robins.
“My first game for Yeovil was against John Ward’s Colchester and then a few weeks later we played West Brom in the League Cup and Keith was there,” Foley said.
“Both of them came up to me, shook my hand and said ‘well played young man’ which was good of them.”
Now 28, Foley is still at Yeovil and is operating in the centre of midfield, which is where he made the majority of his appearances for Cheltenham’s youth and reserve sides.
He spent time on loan at Shrewsbury Town last season, when he played alongside current Robins midfielder Asa Hall.