HE worked on the pitch, he learned in the dressing-room.

Paul McVeigh was a professional footballer for 16 years but he listened and watched as well as ran and jumped. He is an athlete but he is a storyteller, too.

"Paul Lambert is the most focused, intense and best manager I ever played with," he says. And then he tells a story.

It is Monday, October 19, 2009. It is Lambert's first match as Norwich City manager and his team has just lost to their promotion rivals, Leeds United, with the last kick of the ball. This winner is the direct result of a an error by their young goalkeeper, Fraser Forster, now at Celtic.

McVeigh, who played at Tottenham Hotspur, Luton Town and Burnley, is an unused substitute. "There is a culture in football that we expect to be slaughtered after a defeat," says McVeigh. "But what did Lambert do? He praised the team for playing well at a tough away ground, said we should have won but pointed out the performance boded well for the rest of the season. He then turned to Forster in front of the whole team and told him what a great goalkeeper he was and what a future he had in the game."

McVeigh was impressed. "It is no surprise that Lambert has taken on a big job and has done so well," he says of the Scot who has changed the culture at Aston Villa. "He makes demands of his players but he supports you totally."

There is another story about another Scot at Norwich City. "Malky Mackay was a huge personality as a player," says McVeigh. "He was witty and caustic and I was young and got a bit down about it. But he realised that I was quiet and asked what was the matter. I told him I had been affected by his chat and he apologised. He didn't mean it, it wasn't personal. He was just being an alpha male. We are good friends and I realised I had to be tougher mentally in the dressing-room."

He adds: "Football is full of big personalities in the dressing-room and Neil Lennon was like that when I played with Northern Ireland. You always knew what Neil thought of a performance and it is no surprise he has successfully gone into management at Celtic."

Mackay is now a manager at Cardiff City, now in the Barclays Premier League, and McVeigh is forging a career as a commentator and an inspirational speaker and writer on how to be a professional footballer. He is also the author of the fascinating The Stupid Footballer Is Dead, a book that deals with the psychology of the aspiring footballer and how a career can be made with the proper mindset.

"The tainted culture of old football is finished," he says emphatically. "The British way has to change and is changing. The traditional dressing-room mentality is holding the sport back. There is a trait of mocking those who want to be better, who want to learn, but learning is the way forward."

McVeigh points to the Great Britain cycling team and Spain's national football squad as exemplars of seeking an edge, trying to be just that bit better.

The Northern Irishman speaks with the passion of a sinner redeemed. He admits to playing a youth match while still drunk from the night before. "I was like Messi in the first half," he says. He was a mess in the second half. He also accepts he returned to Spurs woefully unfit after a summer holiday.

These experiences, though, only define him in the way they shaped his future conduct. "I became determined to do anything that would help my progression as a footballer," he says. His 12 lessons in The Stupid Footballer track the road to enlightenment for both McVeigh and any youngster who wishes to follow him.

"The story is about taking personal responsibility for your success. I remember playing against Frank Lampard when he was a youth player at West Ham United. He was decent but not a stand-out. But he accepted that and he and his father worked constantly on his ball-striking and fitness. It is no accident that Frank is Chelsea's record goalscorer."

The lessons in his book are backed by his experience and that of others and it makes The Stupid Footballer the most intelligent and entertaining of books. He boils down the ingredients needed to succeed in the game as natural ability, physicality and a strong mentality. It is the last attribute that now consumes McVeigh in his retirement from the sport.

"I do not have any mottoes as such," he says, " but I know that your thoughts will determine the outcome of any project. If you accept this then it is vital to look at that way of thinking and make it efficient."

The talented Belfast boy has become an influential commentator. He describes his journey simply as a quest to extract the best from life.

Along the way, he has played about 200 first-team games, mixed with top players and played under managers who have gone on to substantial success.

He has been praised by sports writers and cheered by fans, but the most convincing compliment must surely have come from Lambert, who said there had been "few more driven" players than McVeigh. Kindred spirits recognise each other.

*The Stupid Footballer Is Dead, by Paul McVeigh, is published by Bloomsbury