FORMER fans’ favourite Mark Molesley described as a “massive honour” being handed the opportunity to manage the club’s under-21s – and likened it to studying for an Oxbridge degree.

Molesley, who starred during Cherries’ Greatest Escape in 2009, has stepped in to replace Stephen Purches following his appointment as first-team coach.

Midfielder Molesley still turns out for Weymouth in the Southern League and had been assisting Purches before being asked to fill his boots, initially until the end of the season.

He will take the reins when Cherries today host Central League rivals Southend United at Canford Arena (1pm).

Molesley told the Daily Echo: “It is a great opportunity for me and a massive honour. It is a fantastic environment to work in. The standards the manager sets run right through the club and I am around some fantastic people.

“It is like me getting a university degree at Oxford or Cambridge!

“I am learning so much, so quickly and hope this experience will strengthen me as a coach.”

Molesley made 60 appearances for Cherries after joining – initially on loan – from non-league Grays Athletic in October 2008.

He firmly established himself under Eddie Howe as Cherries heroically avoided the drop, although a foot injury restricted him to 10 games in the following season’s League Two promotion.

Molesley, who returned to Dean Court in a coaching capacity in August 2015, admitted he had no inkling the under-21 vacancy was about to open up.

The 35-year-old added: “I am lucky I was able to work under somebody of Stephen Purches’s quality. This opportunity came out of the blue. It’s one I wasn’t expecting and I intend to try to take it with both hands.

“I am just trying to keep up Purchy’s good work until the end of the season, then the club will decide what happens next.”

Despite his player-coaching role with Weymouth, Molesley’s primary focus is on developing his post-playing career.

And he agrees Purches’s promotion is evidence of Cherries’ readiness to reward hard work and achievement: “That’s the fantastic thing about the place.

“It is full of people who genuinely love the club. There are lots of good people to look up to, people who set very high standards and you have to try to live up to those. That pushes you every day as a person and as a coach to try to be the best you can.

“You always wonder as a player what the other side will be like and I am enjoying it.

“I have a huge amount to learn and am in a great place, learning from a lot of good people. I only hope I will do the job justice.

“The worry when you stop playing is that you will lose that bit of magic, the matchday experience.

“This does still generate that buzz, but it is a different type of buzz – one where you are responsible for more people than just yourself.”