Interview by Nas Patel:
1) Moving to Brazil is obviously a huge challenge, especially when you’re the assistant manager of one of Brazil’s biggest clubs. Considering your experience in England, what similarities and differences have you noticed between the two countries, in the football industry?
The two countries are obviously very different both in regards to football and to culture. Therefore, I am having a fantastic experience both in my work and life. The passion for football is incredible and football has a huge role in the lives of everyone in Brazil. It is a national obsession and the loyalty of the supporters for their clubs runs deep. It is 24/7 with matches streamed on the TV stations from across the country as well as South America, China and all the main European leagues. If you love football, then Brazil is a perfect country for you to share your passion with like-minded people.
The type of football played is different and their is a big emphasis on technique and the ability to be creative in your play. The league is dominated by Brazilian players and coaches and this is obviously very different to the premier league. Also, there is a nice mixture in each squad of young and older players. The best young players in Brazil are given opportunities to play in the first teams and often in huge games - both in regards to fans inside the stadium and media coverage - which develops them well and is seen as a possible stepping stone to the big leagues in Europe.
I am really enjoying my experience, the players have been excellent to work with and i have good relationships with each one. My Portuguese is improving daily and I feel comfortable speaking on the pitch or during games in Portuguese. This is a big development for me personally. Each day is a new experience and each game sees me visiting a new part of brazil, a new stadium or city too and that is creating experiences that will last a lifetime.
2) Some people tend to enter the footballing world as players and then turn to coaching after retirement, but what made you go into the coaching route at such an early age?
I had a smooth pathway as a youth player into the professional ranks at Charlton. But, between the ages of 18-21, I didn’t have the opportunities and possibly wasn’t the strongest mentally to work through this situation myself. I became very frustrated as a young player and at that time I maybe needed a strong coach/guide to help navigate the way for me and to maintain self belief in myself as a player.
This is something that I have taken into my coaching. I try to make sure that players never lose sight of their identity as a player and always have someone that they can talk too, stay close too, and who they can rely on for honest feedback and also planning work in the training field that is specific to their needs.
I actually started coaching to compliment my salary as a semi-professional player and to also try to build a career in football for the long term. When i stopped playing professionally, I had around two months where I was unsure what i wanted to do with my future as from the age of 10/11 I had always worked towards becoming a professional player and therefore, I was at a loss in this moment in my life in regards to what path I wanted to take.
I think coaching became an obsession very quickly and my passion was trying to help young players improve and really fall in love with the game. Now I look at it and believe that the 15 years I have gained as a coach at Chelsea, Liverpool and Sao Paulo is a fantastic experience in learning how to deal with players, player development, how to structure training, tactical understanding, etc. that its very difficult for a professional player to stop playing at the same age I am now (36) and have those qualities. For sure an ex-player has a fantastic experience in their career and everything they have learnt and experience is essential for them if they go into management. but coaching is not easy and its a completely different thing to playing the game. You now have to think of everybody, to understand how to develop mindsets, skill and qualities in players. To understand the importance of communication and how to support people both in the good and difficult moments.
3) What advice would you give to young people looking to enter the footballing world of coaching?
My advice would be to gain as many experiences as possible and to work with players of all levels. To also work out what type of coach they are as there is many types - technical, tactical, motivator, manager - there is rarely a coach that is an expert in all areas of coaching. In addition, it's very important that you develop your personality and communication skills in order to interact and inspire players. This is vitally important as without this, it's difficult to become a coach and you can work in other areas of football such as scouting, refereeing or administration. Personality is a must as you are working with children who deserve to have an amazing experience in learning the game.
4) As a coach, what do you look for in a player aged 9, 11, 16 and 18 year olds?
I think its important to break it down and look at what is important at each age group. If you can do this, then you can put on a different “hat” when coaching the different ages to ensure that you are developing the players in the right way.
U6-8, i believe that its all about inspiring the players love for the game. just playing the game a lot and having lots of touches on the ball is essential to this. Learning how to dribble, turn, stop with the ball etc.
9-12 I believe that you can now really work on developing an individual “hard drive” of techniques that are important for playing the game later in life. The coaching should still very much be individual and begin to include the process of combining with 1 or 2 players.
13-16 I believe that you are now beginning to develop a players identity/personality as a player. In these secondary school age groups, a teenager is beginning to learn a lot about themselves and developing a self belief as a person. I think football should follow a similar path and develop a players football personality through these age groups so that they understand clearly how they can positively impact a game, whilst understanding what areas of their game are strengths and areas for improvement. I see a lot of young players confused about who they are as a player. Even top professionals suffer with this too.
17-21 - I believe that you are now fine tuning this identity and managing a players pathway to first team football. It's important that the coaches at this age group are good communicators and understand the development pathway for a boy leaving school to become a young professional and the steps it takes to becoming a first team player.
5) Currently at Chelsea, there are a lot of young talented players, however, they struggle to get enough first team chances to show their true worth. What is your personal opinion on this?
I think the academy staff at Chelsea do a fantastic job and have done for a number of years now. But, i also think that any club that is at the top of the premier league and has huge finances is finding it difficult to give young players an opportunity. I also think clubs that constantly change managers also don’t allow for long-term thinking inside the club and therefore results are needed in the short term or the manager changes again etc. It's a difficult situation for young players in a number of clubs. However, from experience I can tell you that across England we have some fantastic young players that are some of the best in Europe. The problem we have is that in the 17-21 age group these guys don’t have opportunities to play and can become frustrated and lose motivation. This is a problem of a nation not protecting the talent they have and is not as simple as young people not being “hungry” to succeed.
6) This might be the trickiest question of all: who is the most talented player you’ve ever worked with?
Its an impossible question to answer at this moment. I am close to a lot of young players in my previous clubs and to highlight one player would be unfair on the others and i don’t wish to place any extra pressure on one particular player too. What i can say is that talent alone isn’t the defining quality that determines a players future. Mentality has a huge part to play in regards to always wanting to improve and to maintain a huge desire/motivation on a daily basis. My fear for young players in England is opportunity and again without this, it's impossible for any young player to fulfil their potential. Ultimately youth is gold - we just need to show more faith in our young to realise it. Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford are prime examples of this.