Dario Gradi: Crewe need to find another Jamie Vardy, says former Alex manager
Crewe director of football Dario Gradi says they must produce players who can one day command big money transfer fees if they are to make progress as a club.
The Alex have not banked a seven-figure cheque for a player since Luke Murphy left for Leeds United three years ago.
They must either produce their own or find rough-cut gems like Jamie Vardy, who Gradi bid for at Halifax six years ago, prior to him joining Fleetwood.
"We tried to get Vardy when he was at Halifax," Gradi told BBC Stoke.
Former Crewe manager Gradi's long-time number two Neil Baker, now the club's head of recruitment. first spotted Vardy playing for non league side Stocksbridge Park Steels - but it was after he had moved across Yorkshire to Halifax that the Alex tried to sign him.
"We offered £50,000, £60,000," said Gradi. "But they wanted over £100,000. I wasn't willing to pay that at the time because he was in trouble off the pitch, but he has managed to turn his life around and has become a terrific player."
The lower division market has changed - Gradi
Gradi revealed: "We also wanted Che Adams, but Sheffield United were prepared to go way beyond what we were willing to offer.
"Those non-league players have become more expensive. The market has changed in that respect. It is not so easy to find those players like we used to. You are not going to get a Geoff Thomas, David Platt or Neil Lennon on a free transfer anymore.
"We have to keep on producing our own outstanding players. We have got to coach them through and then handle them correctly in their quest to make that impact in the first team.
"At a recent supporters meeting there were a few murmurings after I said producing players is more important than winning games. But without producing players for our survival we wouldn't have the stadium, the training ground or the players we've had in the past. The trick is to do both on a consistent basis."
Gradi backs Nick Powell to fire again
But, in the last three years, the only funds generated have been Ryan Colclough's move to Wigan Athletic for around £300,000.
Coincidentally, Gradi's hopes of finding another player in the Powell mould comes at a time when the 22-year-old is looking for a new club, having been released at the end of last season by Manchester United.
Injuries have not helped in limiting the England Under-21 striker to just nine first-team appearances in his four years on the books at Old Trafford, during which he was farmed out on loan to Wigan Athletic, Leicester City and Hull City.
But Gradi backs him to bounce back, suggesting: "He still has time to have a very good career. It's a shame he has been so unlucky with injuries but he is still young. He may have to adjust and adapt his game but he is a matchwinner.
"I know he's struggled physically over the last few seasons but if a club can get him fit and running around again, then he has incredible ability. If he'd remained injury free and Alex had stayed at Manchester United then I'm sure he would have been challenging for an England place. He is certainly good enough."
Can Crewe bounce back under Steve Davis?
Dario Gradi first signed Steve Davis as a player in 1983. He then employed him as his assistant manager over two decades later and it was to Davis that he handed over the reins when he stood down as Alex boss for the final time in November 2011 after a combined 26 years in charge.
Now Gradi is backing Davis to turn things round at Gresty Road following last season's relegation - and, at 74 years of age, he will remain as supportive a sounding board as he always has.
"I am fairly careful to stay out of first team affairs," added Gradi. " I wouldn't welcome a previous manager in the same building who is getting frustrated at what the first team are doing.
"But honesty is the best way. We have always been an open club and we talk about football all the time. At the end of home games, we'll go into the boardroom and sit down with the management team and the directors and talk about the game. It is civil and I am able to say what I think. Steve takes that fine. I'll say sometimes 'I wouldn't pick him' and he'll say 'I know you wouldn't' and we have laugh about it. It's his job.
"What the last two seasons have shown is that the team has not been good enough. We survived with five minutes left the season before and then finished bottom last season, so the fact is we didn't have a good enough team. I'm sure there will be some team rebuilding.
"But we have experienced relegation before. I was relegated three times and, in those days, there wasn't much of a murmur or any crusade to get me sacked."
Dario Gradi was talking to BBC Radio Stoke's Graham McGarry