You left the U.K. to coach abroad in Iceland at a young age, what led you to Iceland?
I went to the United States when I was 18 on a football scholarship and while I was there I decided that I wanted to go into coaching. I completed a degree in business and sports management. While I was there, I started coaching a girls high school team and during the summer breaks I would coach an under 15’s club side.
Then, once I had completed my 5 years there, I returned to Newcastle and started looking for a coaching job. I spoke to Newcastle United about a coaching opportunity and they put me in touch with the Icelandic side IBV.
I made the move to Iceland and it was a massive culture shock to begin with. The club weren’t based on the Icelandic mainland but remarkably had an Icelandic Premier League side despite only having a population of around 4,500.
The facilities to their credit were fantastic with an indoor facility and very good grass pitches. Initially my job was to work with the under 19 team and under 16 team. I combined both roles for a year before being promoted to assistant manager of the first team.
The manager was Hermann Hreiðarsson who played in the Premier League and David James was the player goalkeeping coach. So it was us three who were together for that season.
It was a fantastic season, we played in the Europa league and I made my managerial debut on the touch line against Red Star Belgrade because both Hermann and Jamo were playing.
It was their first European game in 5 or 6 years so over 30,000 of their fans were at the game and it was an incredible experience despite us losing 2-0 and having a goal chalked off.
We drew 0-0 on the return leg at home which was a respectable result. Following that season, both Herman and David left the club and I was offered the head coach role at Þrottur Reykjavik aged 25 which made me the youngest head coach in Icelandic football at the time.
Experiences of Icelandic football? Set up, culture, managerial style
Top class. I was getting opportunities in Iceland football at a young age that I probably wouldn’t have had in the U.K such as coaching in the Europa league and being a head coach at 25.
The level of facilities were incredible too as they have invested in many outdoor facilities and artificial pitches that allow both professionals and grassroots players to play all year round.
The culture is one of hard work and lobe of the game. The Premier League is massive in England with everyone having a team that they are invested in.
I look at my time in Iceland as an internship we’re I could learn from my mistakes and learn lots of coaching techniques. I took Þrottur Reykjavik from nearing relegation in the second Division to 3rd place in the league in my first season then promotion to the premier league the following year.
So at the age of 27 I was the head coach of an Icelandic Premier League side. Unfortunately, we got relegated in our first season in the top flight which was an obvious disappointment but also a massive learning curve for me.
This led me to move to Þor Akureyri which was a very different club to Þrottur Reykjavik were I learned even more before making the move to Denmark where I am now with HB Koge.
Moving to Denmark – What is the logical nnext step for you in your career?
Denmark is very different to life in Iceland. It is a more professional environment and closer to what it’s like in the U.K. due to the vast investment and detail that’s in the game here. It’s also a higher level here.
I coach the under 19 side here at HB Koge as well as being the second assistant with the first team. My role is to help the transition between the under 19s and the first team which is crucial as we have eight players in the first team under the age of 21.
I also do the opposition analysis for the first team which is a great experience and very rewarding. Denmark is similar to Iceland in the sense that there are a lot of young players who develop and move on in their early twenties.
It was always my plan to move to Scandinavia when I was in Iceland as most player see Scandinavia as their next step and as a coach I was no different.
You were heavily linked with the Greenock Morton job in 2018. Were you Interested?
I was very interested and I was also actually very close to getting the job. I was the obvious outsider in the interview process as no one had really heard of me before the interview.
However, I think they saw something in my CV as I was a young manager having success with experience of taking a team to the top division via promotion. I met them for the interview and they explained that I was the obvious outsider for the job but ultimately they were very impressed by my interview. I got along very well with Crawford Rae, I could see his passion for the football club and that he wanted the club to succeed for his father and the fans of the club.
I made it to the final shortlist for the job along with Jonatan Johansson.
They gave the job to Jonatan because he had greater knowledge of the Scottish game but wanted me to become the assistant manager. I then flew out to meet Jonatan and our meeting went well but as he was also a young manager going into his first job, he told me that he wanted to have someone alongside him with more experience than me. That was perfectly understandable and if i had got the job I’d have wanted an experienced assistant alongside me.
Ultimately, I was very disappointed that we weren’t able to work something out as I went to a few games and it was clear to see that the fans had a lot of passion abs that the club undoubtedly has a lot of potential.
Would I be interested again in future? Never say never. It was an experience and one that I would loved to have had at the club.
Finally Greg, what advice would you give to British coaches considering going abroad?
For me there are two things: Networking and patience.
When you leave the UK, you instantly become invisible. No matter what you achieve, you didn’t do it in England. The only way you will become visible to the football media and wider fan base in England is by beating an English club. Graham Potter is the best example; he had done an absolutely sensational job with Ostersunds. However, it wasn’t until that game against Arsenal, did he appear on the UK radar.
So when you are abroad, you have to make a monumental effort to make connections in the UK, go to visit clubs, when you have time off etc.
Patience is also vital. I am very ambitious and as result there have been decisions which I have made or even thoughts and ideas which I have entertained which have affected my career.
Last but not least, enjoy the moment. Being paid to work in football is the greatest privilege. Doing what you love, every day is the pinnacle. It is natural to have aspirations to work at the highest level, but be patient. Work harder than everyone else, be humble, make mistakes, learn from them and what is meant to be, will be.