GARY CALDWELL may have spent the best part of a year out of the game before being appointed as manager of Partick Thistle on Monday, but it seems he used the time well.

Of all those long days away from football following his dismissal from Chesterfield, there is one afternoon that undoubtedly stands out above all others as the most valuable experience to prepare him for his return to frontline management.

The time he spent picking the brain of Sir Alex Ferguson has left an indelible mark on the 36-year-old, and he is hoping now to use some of the kernels of wisdom passed on from the greatest manager of them all as he embarks on his mission of returning Thistle to the top level of the Scottish game.

“I spent three days with Brendan Rodgers, I spent a day with Sean Dyche, I was with Rafa Benitez and I had an afternoon with Sir Alex,” Caldwell said.

“They were amazing. Every single one gave different nuggets that stick with you.

“I think you can learn from everyone throughout your life, but you have to then put it in your own context and bring it out as yourself.

“You can’t copy anyone, you can’t be anyone else, you just have to pick their brains and learn little things.

“Sir Alex was great. I spent two-and-a-half hours with him at his office. I live in the village just next to him.

“I was actually looking at my watch and thinking ‘surely you must have something better to do than speak to me?’

“But he gave his time and we went right back. He probably liked it because we didn’t actually speak about Man United, we spoke about St Mirren, Jock Stein, Scotland.

“He was reminiscing and he got on a roll, and it was just amazing to listen to him and some of his stories, and pick things up that Jock Stein was doing all those years ago.

“It was actually not long before he took ill, so when I saw that it felt more real having spent that time with him. He’s an amazing man.

“I took him a nice bottle of red, so that was maybe why I got so long!”

Life as a manager, particularly in the early years, can be somewhat rocky. Even Sir Alex had his fair share of bumps in the road as he set out on his own journey in the dugout.

If it wasn’t for injury, Caldwell might still be playing, but he could hardly be described as wet behind the ears in a management sense despite his relatively tender years.

Not all of his experiences have been positive. After winning promotion back to the Championship with Wigan, he was dismissed early in the following season as his side struggled to adapt to the step back up in level. And he was also sacked as Chesterfield manager after winning just three of his 29 matches in charge.

He is certain though that the school of hard knocks he has been through will stand him in good stead for the challenge of reviving Thistle’s fortunes that lies ahead.

“You have to learn lessons in life and sometimes they can be harsh lessons,” he said.

“I always revert to my own career as a player, and that was hard work at times. It took time to get to where I wanted to be, but once you have those obstacles you have to come back from them.

“You probably need resilience in this sport more than any, but you have to come back better.

“You can’t just blame other people, you have to look within you and ask how you can improve and how you can develop, and I believe in my time out I have done that.

“I also have two great experiences to fall back on for someone so young in the game.

“I think as a player you start your career and develop and learn and when you become a manager it’s a totally different job and you need to learn certain things to progress.

“I’ve been lucky. I’ve had two great experiences to learn and develop.”

Caldwell isn’t underestimating the job he has on his hands as he picks up the pieces at Thistle following Alan Archibald’s sacking, but he thinks that there is plenty of scope to wring some more out of the squad that his predecessor had assembled.

“Obviously we are in a difficult moment, but the potential is clear to see,” he said. “And it’s up to me to come in and help the players to get results.

“But we need to win games quickly. That’s the job, that’s football. I spoke to the players this morning and explained that.

“I told them what I felt was needed - the bare minimum to go and win football matches. And then we tried to carry out some things on the pitch.

“I said to them it’s going to be a long process. Rome wasn’t built in a day, so we can’t go from where we are now to where I want to be.

“But we have to put things in place that gives us the best possible opportunity on Saturday.”

As Caldwell says, Rome may not have been built in a day, but he is well aware that a promotion challenge has to be built quickly, with the club’s expectation still to be pressing for a rapid return to the top-flight.

“Yeah, that’s the reality of football that I knew before, but have learned even more so now,” he said.

“The negative experiences that you have only harden you more to realise that Saturday matters more than anything. Winning a game is the be-all and end-all.

“We can have plans and we can have a strategy about how this club wants to go in the long-term, but my job is to win on Saturday and that’s what I’m preparing the players to do.”