CRAIG HIGNETT made one of the hardest decisions of his career in leaving Hartlepool United, but revealed his new role at Middlesbrough was a job too good to turn down.
Boro appointed their former midfielder as assistant to Aitor Karanka, after he had forged an effective partnership with Colin Cooper at Pools this season.
And although Hignett spent a long time pondering his options, he firmly believes that he has made the right decision - and that the Hartlepool hierarchy was fully behind his choice to swap Victoria Park for the Riverside.
“They were very supportive when they found out what it was I’d be doing,” said Hignett on his first day at Rockliffe Park yesterday. “Russ (Green), Colin (Cooper) and the chairman (Ken Hodcroft) were supportive with it. I’ve left on great terms. I’ll miss them all, and it was a really tough decision, but one I could not turn down.
“I have to say it happened pretty quickly. I found out about it last weekend when we played Northampton. We had a couple of days speaking with the club and speaking with our club, in the end, while I’m really disappointed to have left Colin and Hartlepool - I’ve met some fantastic people there and they will remain friends for life - this is an opportunity I couldn’t say no to.
"It was a massive decision for me because I’ve loved every minute of my time at Hartlepool, loved every minute of working with Coops, I’m sure he’ll go on and do great things because he’s a top man. To cut the ties was a very difficult thing to do.”
Pools sit ninth in the League Two table, five points off the play-offs under Cooper, who alongside Hignett rebuilt the squad after relegation from League One under John Hughes.
And Hignett paid tribute to his ex-colleague, who he believes can go on to manage at a higher level.
“I love him to bits,” said Hignett. “Hartlepool are lucky to have him. I’m sure he’ll go on to be a top top manager, I’ve got no doubt about that whatsoever.
“From my point of view it was tough to leave him. I’ve become really close with Coops. When we started the job we weren’t friends. But living in each other’s pockets as we have for eight months, we’re really close now, I’m sure that will continue.
“It could have been awkward with Coops, but it’s not. I’ve parted on great terms with the football club, from top to bottom, and Colin was no different. He was really understanding, he was different class about it. He said ‘look, I understand, I couldn’t ask you to turn it down’. From that point of view, it won’t affect our friendship at all.”
Hignett’s role at Middlesbrough will be much like it was at Hartlepool - liaise between the squad and the manager, and provide a sounding board for Karanka, whose side have not won in a month and whose dreams of a play-off place are ebbing away.
Hignett knows that there is a long road ahead and that his and Karanka’s relationship needs to develop before success can come.
“Having talked to Aitor I’m getting a feel for how he likes to get things done, if I have an opinion I’ll tell him. The relationship will have to develop, I’m sure it will be fantastic,” said Hignett.
“It’s early days yet. I’m here to assist Aitor in everything he wants to do. For me to have a little look at how he trains, what his methods are like, it’s all a bit of a learning curve for me at the moment. I’m sure in time I’ll get to know him, he’ll get to know me, and I’m really positive about the whole thing.
“I’m massively excited about it. How couldn’t you be? It was difficult at first, with what I was leaving, but now I have got my head around it I’m 100% focused on this job and I wish everyone at Hartlepool all the best.”
Hignett will have greater resources to hand at Boro’s training complex at Rockliffe Park, and believes that taking the job shows the ambition that he has in the game.
He added: “I think it’s a bigger job. You have more resources to do what you want to do, match analysis stuff, and that’s something that I can do now. I have access to all of the latest stuff to get information on players.
“That’s all there for you and we didn’t have that in League Two. While there’s a lot more to be done you can do it in greater detail and I’m sure that’ll be the biggest difference.
“Everyone has ambitions. Myself and Colin have ambitions to work as high as we can as quickly as we can. For me, this decision to take the job while it was a tough one, was a no-brainer.”