HE might have a reputation for being one of the nicest guys in football, but Kevin Phillips insists he is ready to make the difficult decisions that are needed to get Hartlepool United back on an even keel.

Phillips was officially unveiled as Pools’ new boss on Monday morning, having stepped in to the Suit Direct Stadium to replace John Askey, who was sacked after less than a year in charge at the end of December.

Pools have been on a downward spiral for the last three seasons, and while long-term change is unlikely to come until wantaway owner Raj Singh is able to find a buyer for the club, Phillips’ immediate task is to stabilise things on the field and lead his new side away from trouble at the foot of the National League table.

It will not be an easy task, with confidence low and results having nosedived since the early weeks of the season, but having cut his managerial teeth at South Shields, where he presided over a successful promotion campaign in the Northern Premier League, the former Sunderland striker is ready to face the challenge head on.

“I need to assess the squad very quickly,” explained Phillips. “There are some players that are going to have to move on and that happens in football. I’ll have a conversation with those players, but I need to make tough decisions.

“Some players are going to like it, some players are not going to like it. That’s the nature of the beast and I’m not afraid to do it and I’ll always do it with respect. I’ll always try and give them a reason.

“For any player that wants to come and train and not play football, it’s not going to happen here. You’re in the wrong business. If you’re not going to play here, go and play somewhere else. I’ll help them do that as long as it’s right for both parties, but I need to make tough calls.

“I want to make a statement. I want to put my stamp on the team and I’ll certainly be looking to add two or three players in the next week or so. Some people won’t like it, but it shows I’m serious.”

Simply accepting the challenge of leading Pools confirms the seriousness of Phillips’ managerial ambitions, with his desire to get back into the game after leaving South Shields in the summer trumping any concerns he might have had about the scale of the task he has inherited.

The Northern Echo: New Hartlepool United boss Kevin PhillipsNew Hartlepool United boss Kevin Phillips (Image: Hartlepool United FC)

The 50-year-old wants to rise through the managerial ranks, so while Pools’ current struggles are a problem, the size of the club he now leads also presents him with a huge opportunity.

“It’s a big football club, the fanbase shows it,” he said. “Whatever is going on behind the scenes , I can only speak highly of how I’ve been treated so far. I’ve been given the backing, but it’s up to me.

“I can only concentrate on the environment that I’ve been brought into - the first team, and I need to improve that. It’s about standards and I want to set high standards. The players have to buy into that and use my experience from over the years of tweaking things.

“I’m not going to rip things up and start over again. I love a challenge whatever day-to-day stuff brings to me, I’ll deal with it on and off the pitch, but I’ve been given the license to just go and do what I do best, which is hopefully get the best out of this squad.

“I want to build a squad that can challenge the top six by the end of the season and finish the season on a high. Then, over the summer, look forward to building a squad that can challenge next year. That’s got to be the aim.”

While Askey, Keith Curle and Paul Hartley all failed at Pools, Dave Challinor showed what was possible when he led the club back into the Football League during their last spell outside of the top four divisions.

Phillips is starting from a lower ebb than Challinor did, but having had coaching spells at Leicester, Derby and Stoke prior to managing at Shields, the one-time European Golden Boot winner is confident he has what it takes to succeed.

“Four managers in the last 12 months is not good for anyone,” he said. “Hopefully, I can bring stability and excitement back to this football club. There’s been too much negativity around the place, and I can feel it, even from just the short spell when I met the players.

“I want to put smiles on their faces and that comes through setting good standards, playing good football and creating an environment where the players love coming in. We want to put bums back on seats and we want supporters to be proud of their football team. They want to see hard work that typifies the region. I get it, and that’s what I’ll be trying to instil into the players.”