Daytime television can be deemed dreary but, in David Artell’s case, tuning into a couple of timeless crime dramas after training, while a young professional at his hometown club Rotherham United, proved the inspiration for his bachelors’ degree in forensic biology. “Around 2.25pm it was Diagnosis: Murder with Dick Van Dyke and then Murder, She Wrote with Jessica Fletcher and I thought: ‘Yeah, I’ll be good at that,’” says Artell. “I did think: ‘Why do I not tune into something better than the man off Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Jessica Fletcher? But I found them interesting and it all started from there.”
Not that there were too many parallels between his studies – which he started at Sheffield Hallam in 2003 and finished at the University of Chester in 2010, encompassing a postgraduate certificate in biomedical sciences – and those storylines on the sofa. “I suppose it’s a bit like saying Poirot or Midsomer Murders is like being a detective inspector,” the 39-year-old says. “I’m pretty certain the high-ranking police officers of this world do not think Midsomer is anything like a normal sleepy town. It was chalk and cheese, I have to say.”
Which topics did he tackle at university? “We did a helluva lot on crime-scene analysis: how do you recover a footprint in the snow? From a drop of blood, how do you get a DNA profile? What if you’ve only got a portion of DNA and you have to magnify that portion; all different techniques, in terms of recovering DNA. And then hair samples, semen samples, fingerprints on glass. How do you get fingerprints off glass? Is it just taping or can you take the glass away and do something called superglue fuming, to pull the fingerprint off with all the proteins? Then you have a negative impression so you have to go back and get the actual fingerprint. Then you look for 14 individual marks. It was really interesting, a lot of stuff on genetics, which was absolutely unbelievably brilliant. It was just fascinating. Biology of disease.”
These days Artell has different conundrums to solve as the manager of Crewe Alexandra, who are second in League Two, two points off the summit. The former defender spent two seasons at the club as a player after three years at Saturday’s opponents Morecambe and made his international debut for Gibraltar, where his father, Greg, was born, at the age of 34, going on to play against then world champions Germany in Nuremberg while he was on the books of the Welsh Premier League club Bala Town.
“The night before we were all thinking we’re going to get absolutely tonked, that it could be double figures. As it turned out, we only got beat 4-0, which sounds bad but they beat Brazil 7-1 a few months before. Did we get out of our half? Well, we did once. We got a corner just before half-time. Myself and another lad were running up and Thomas Müller turned to us and said: ‘This is your big chance,’” Artell says in his best German accent. “We were howling and when the ball came in from the corner, we were still laughing. He [Müller] was a brilliant sport.”
Artell is articulate but modest and believes his seven international caps were a reward for his work ethic – “I couldn’t run very fast, but I was a grafter” – and, as a manager, he is equally tireless in his pursuit to evolve. He listens to podcasts en route to training – Masterminds and Price of Football – and is a keen reader, particularly on development and psychology, reeling off The Nowhere Men, The Talent Code and Moneyball. Artell, who also owns a tax consultancy company, is on the LMA diploma in football management.
“I’m not trying to be self-righteous or big headed, but I’ve just got a thirst for learning. If you learn all the time, you will always stay ahead of your curve. I think you have to do that to stay ahead of others. I just think knowledge is the bomb – maybe that sounds cliché – but the more knowledge you have, the better decisions you will make over a period of time. Do I transfer forensic biology or biomedical science into football? There are certainly crossovers, but more at a cellular level. When the sports scientist is talking to me, I can talk to him about heat shock proteins and if he has done any blood tests to test whether anybody is under stress. There is a commonality that helps.”
Artell is one of the youngest managers in the country but hardly the new kid on the block; he is the ninth-longest-serving manager in the Football League. At Crewe, whose reputation Artell previously acknowledged has taken “one helluva battering” in recent years owing to the Barry Bennell scandal, he has built a vibrant team to be proud of. Will Jääskeläinen, the eldest son of the former Bolton goalkeeper Jussi, has seized his chance in goal, while Perry Ng, the 23-year-old captain, has been outstanding at right-back and the England Under-19 forward Stephen Walker, on loan from Middlesbrough, scored his first goal for the club in victory over Macclesfield last weekend.
The average age of the starting XI was 23.6 years, including Chris Porter, the 36-year-old striker. “We’ve got three, what I call ‘Dad’s Army lads’,” Artell says, in reference to Porter, Nicky Hunt, 36, who played in the Premier League with Bolton, and Paul Green, 36, the former Republic of Ireland midfielder. Crewe have won their five of their past six matches and have a return to League One in their sights after a four-year absence. “We are pleased with where we are and reaping the rewards of foundations we laid over the last few years. It has taken us two or three years to develop players to get to this level and hopefully we can have a strong end to the season.”
• The Championship’s form teams meet on Tuesday, when West Brom host Preston. Victory for Slaven Bilic’s side would extend their lead at the summit to seven points and apply pressure on Leeds, who are at Middlesbrough on Wednesday, while Preston’s manager, Alex Neil – courted by West Brom in April, knows three points would go some way to cementing their play-off credentials. The top two play each other in League One, with Rotherham hosting Coventry.
• Hull host Barnsley on Wednesday acutely aware they can ill afford to give further encouragement to the teams beneath them. Hull are winless since New Year’s Day and on a wretched run of seven defeats in nine matches. The return of Jordy de Wijs and Reece Burke should ease their defensive frailties but allowing Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki to depart in January may come back to bite.
• Cardiff can dent Nottingham Forest’s promotion push and generate some momentum when they meet in the Welsh capital on Tuesday. Sabri Lamouchi’s side have won one of their past five matches, while Cardiff remain on the fringes of the play-offs despite coming unstuck against Stoke last time out.