Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has warned Cobblers fans not to expect too much too soon from new signing Lewis McGugan.
The 28-year-old signed for the club on Monday, having become a free agent after leaving Sheffield Wednesday by mutual consent on the final day of the transfer window.
McGugan, who had not played a competitive game since May, 2016 as he found himself exiled by Wednesday boss Carlos Carvalhal, made his Cobblers debut in Tuesday night’s Checkatrade Trophy clash at Peterborough United, and showed flashes of what he is capable of before being substituted.
A player who has spent the majority of his career excelling as an attacking midfielder at Championship level with Nottingham Forest, Watford and then the Owls, McGugan could be a player to set the Cobblers and league one alight if he can get himself fully fit and back to his best.
Hasselbaink knows only too well what McGugan is capable of, having worked with him when he was a first team coach under Steve McClaren at Forest, but the Town boss admits the player at the moment is ‘far off’ what he was.
McGugan has spent the past 17 months training with the Under-23s at Hillsborough, playing only the occasional game for them, and Hasselbaink says the player needs time to come ‘out of hibernation’, and he also needs to ‘fall in love with football again’.
Asked if McGugan could potentially be an exciting signing for the Cobblers, Hasselbaink said: “Potentially, yes. But he is still far off it, well off it, let’s not forget that.
“He still has a long way to go, and he needs to get a lot fitter.
“He is getting his feet back and know-how and stuff, and he needs to become in love with football again, and get out of hibernation.
“When he comes out of hibernation, then we can have a very exciting player.”
He is getting his feet back and know-how and stuff, and he needs to become in love with football again, and get out of hibernation. When he comes out of hibernation, then we can have a very exciting playerJimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on Lewis McGugan
It is never ideal for any player to find himself frozen out at a club, as McGugan was at Sheffield Wednesday.
He was not even given a squad number for the past two seasons.
A footballer, obviously, wants to play football.
It’s what they go into work for every day, and when they can’t do that, especially when they are not injured or suspended, it can be damaging both physically and mentally.
Hasselbaink believes that McGugan can relaunch his career, and can get back to his very best, but the Towbn boss says that will ultimately be down to the player himself, and ‘how much he wants to suffer’ to return to what he was.
Asked about McGugan’s enforced absence from football, Hasselbaink said: “It happens at times with good players, that sometimes they don’t appreciate what they have got, and sometimes circumstances around them don’t help, whatever those circumstances are.
“Some will say it is the club, others will say it is the agent, some will say whatever, but we don’t have to go into that.
“Lewis hasn’t played for a while, he needs to fall back in love with football, and it is up to him now how much he wants to suffer.
“If he wants to really suffer, he will be back very quickly, if he is prepared to really go through that pain, he will be back very quick.
“if he doesn’t, then it will take longer.
“It is not about his ability, because we know he has got tons of it, it is about him being ready to suffer.”
McGugan himself says he is desperate to grab the opportunity the Cobblers and Hasselbaink have handed him, and he admitted he hit ‘rock bottom’ during what was a ‘disastrous couple of years’ at Wednesday.
McGugan simply found himself out of favour at Hillsborough, with boss Carvalhal deeming the player surplus to requirements.
But he is determined to rebuild and relaunch his career, and believes what has happened to him in the past 17 months or so has made him a stronger person.
“It has been a disastrous couple of years really, and it has been a long time, especially as it is something you have always done since you were so young, and then it just kind of stops,” said McGugan, who has signed for the Cobblers until January.
“You then find yourself in the wilderness really.
“There are various different reason why it happened, but that is life and sometimes you find yourself in that position.
“If I am perfectly honest, it has made me a stronger person, and it made me deal with things you never thought you would have to deal with.
“At times you get really low, and at times I have really been at rock bottom, but hopefully now I can just look forward.
“What happened before has gone, and there is nothing that anyone can change.
“I have to just try and get back as fit as possible, and get back to trying to contribute and playing games.”
McGugan made an encouraging start in the claret and white, impressing for Town in their draw at London Road, and he will now be hoping he has done enough to be involved in the squad for Saturday’s visit of Bristol Rovers to Sixfields.
The player agrees with Hasselbaink that it is going to take him time to get back to his best, but he is desperate to get back the buzz of playing in front of a crowd again.
“It has been a long time since I have been involved in any kind of game, especially a competitive game, which is completely different to any kind of under-23 game, or training ground game,” admitted McGugan.
“It is all going to be a shock to the system, but I am going to be doing everything I can to get back up to speed as quickly as possible.
“Like any job you are in, you just want to do what you think you are good at.
“It has been a long time not being able to do that, so yes it is just refreshing for me to put a kit on and get out there.”