Les Reed: The reality of working at the top level of football

Steve Hogg / Solent Creatives from Southampton, United KIngdom / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

You had a successful career in Non-League prior to going into coaching. How do you reflect on your Non-League career and how did it shape you as a person?

I loved my time in non-league football and the experiences were significant in my formation as a coach and in subsequent leadership roles. I was one of the many rejected by the pro game as a very young kid having been with Arsenal and West Ham for what was then called schoolboy training.

My PE teacher was an FA coach and managed Epping Town Football Club in the old Metropolitan League. He got me to play for their Youth Team on Sundays and eventually the reserves and finally the first team where I actually played with Tony Carr who became West Ham’s legendary youth coach.

When the teacher left to manage Leyton FC in the Athenian League he took me with him along with half the young players (as you did in non-league). When he moved again to Stevenage as coach (then called Athletic) I went with him.

Credit: Egghead06 / made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

There I played alongside Barry Fry, Peter Shreeves and Ricky George, most of the squad were older seasoned pros from the full time game and this was the Southern League. I remember playing against Dave Basset who was at Wimbledon and half way through my second season I was traded in exchange for Vic Akers of Arsenal fame in a move to Bexley United where I played with Alan Hudson’s brother John.

The highlight of my time at Stevenage was an away match at Merthyr Tydfil on Boxing day where I played against both John and Mel Charles, football royalty.

After that I played at Walthamstow Avenue where I was picked up by Cambridge United; then in the third Division under Bill Leivers. I played in the reserves which was basically five players plus the ones that didn’t play well for the first team on Saturday!

They all got plenty of games because we got relegated that year and Big Ron took over and we were all out basically. Coming off the pitch I was approached by Barry Fry – my old teammate – who tried to sign me for Dunstable Town where he was just starting his amazing managerial career but I was going to university and declined, two weeks later he signed George Best and Jeff Astle. That was Non-League football.

Clurr / Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

At University I was asked by Graham Taylor to play part time for Watford while completing my course. The problem was that they were in the fourth division. Despite scoring regularly in the reserves and loving it, by the time I left college they had made it to the first Division and with players like Gerry Armstrong (who remains a great friend to this day) and Luther Blisset and the emerging John Barnes, I wasn’t really going to get a look in. So, off I went to Non-League again with Wycombe Wanderers who were the cream of non-league at the time.

My first serious injury occurred there and when I got my first teaching job in East London I had to move again. Two more playing roles at Hertford Town and Woodford Town before transitioning to coaching at Woodford initially as player/coach then Manager when my mate; Bobby Moore who was president recommended me to the owner. Only Non-League could see a journeyman like me grace the Snakes Lane pitch at Woodford alongside Joe Kinnear and Jimmy Greaves.

“File:Jimmy Greaves at Cheslea FC December 2011.jpg” by Brian Minkoff-London Pixels is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

As soon as I got the job the club went bust and they all left me too it. I pulled together a cheap, young but really good side and we got promoted from the Athenian League to the Southern, my first triumph as a coach followed next season by my first sacking. I went to Finchley as a player and ended up manager and top trumped Bobby Moore with Margaret Thatcher as President! Only non league!

From Finchley I went back to Leyton only now it was Leyton – Wingate after an amalgamation with the well know Jewish foundation club. We got to the FA Vase semi Final with me as coach.

I was growing a reputation as a coach working with the FA part time and was approached by the Manager of Wealdstone FC in the Conference Brian Hall and Conference Champions Enfield Town.

I chose Wealdstone and went on to win the FA Trophy and the Conference in the same year and every other competition we were in except the FA cup where we were knocked out by Wrexham after a replay. After that I was Headhunted by the FA and became a regional coach and the rest is history. That career in non-league was the best apprenticeship I could have served and the mentors I have already mentioned plus many others you could not buy. I learned so much of the good stuff about how to be a coach and all the tricks and dodges to look out for with players and definitely how to manage up.

You worked with Alan Curbishley at Charlton as he led the club to the Premier League. What was it like working with Alan and Charlton in the 90’s?

“Charlton Athletic” by foshie is licensed under CC BY 2.0

That period in my career will always go down as the best. Charlton was a fantastic club to work for then. The Board, the fans and the squad we had all came together to provide the best experience you could have going into work each day.

Alan was an outstanding manager and only got better and better, he really should have managed England, he had the same empathy and manner with players that Gareth Southgate has now. Steve Holland and Gareth remind me so much of how Alan and I were. Alan and I could read each other’s minds. Alan empowered staff and players and trusted people to do their jobs. He was a great observer of games and remembered every detail. That’s why I would sit in the stand for the first half and get a different view.

We would talk at half time just before going in and if I saw something I would physically run down the stand to the bench and back up again but rarely was it necessary and we didn’t need two people screaming at the players. We basically let them get on with it but we did have good leaders, early days, Gary Nelson, Keith Jones, Stuart Balmer, Carl Leaburn and Mike Salmon and later, Mark Bowen, Mark Bright, Mark Kinsella, Paul Mortimer, Eddie Youds and more.

“File:Antonio Cassano and Scott Parker England-Italy Euro 2012.jpg” by Илья Хохлов is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

You seldom get that many now. We were also blessed with great players from the Academy, Lee Bowyer, Scott Parker, Paul Konchesky, Richard Rufus, Jamie Stuart and then Jon Fortune, Kevin Lisbie and Lloyd Sam. I was solely focussed on coaching back then and Curbs gave me my head. Its interesting how so many of our players went on to become coaches and managers at the highest level too. With fantastic support from the board Curbs was astute in the transfer market. Early in our tenure Curbs brought in Clive Mendonca, Mark Bright, Mark Kinsella, Sasha Ilic and later Jerome Thomas, Darren Bent, Darren Ambrose, Danny Murphy, Claus Jenson, Dennis Rommedahl to name only a few.

Let’s hope the club can return to those times quickly under the new ownership and the new manager. As a Charlton fan now unattached I would love to be able to go back when we are allowed and join in that ‘Valley Roar’ once again, Charlton fans really do know how to be the 12th man. Nigel Adkins will be an excellent fit for Charlton, he always develops a great rapport with fans and players alike. I also hope ‘Bo’ can do a great job at Birmingham, he has done well for Charlton through difficult times and built a good platform for Nigel.

You worked as Director of Technical Development at the FA and then worked alongside Kevin Keegan with the senior England team. How do you reflect on that era and the sheer size and interest that comes with working with England?

After three years of great success and incredible experiences at the Valley culminating in promotion to the Premier League I had a really difficult decision to make.

I was out of contract at Charlton and Howard Wilkinson had just taken up the technical director role at the FA and invited me to join him as an assistant. My role was to take responsibility for all of the National Teams below the Senior Team and The Player Development Pathway.

That involved winding down the FA National School at Lilleshall and revamping the Centres Of Excellence Programme to create the Academy System in order that more players could benefit from what had been learned at Lilleshall over 15 years. The fact that I would be responsible for the future direction of the England Teams and be coaching some of the best players in England was too much of a pull. Despite Alan’s efforts to keep me at Charlton, I left amicably after the Play Off final and will be forever grateful for the experience there.

“Glenn Hoddle” by Doha Stadium Plus is licensed under CC BY 2.0

My first task at the FA was to go straight to the World Cup finals in France (1998). I would tap into Glenn Hoddles scouting reports and deliver a post-World Cup Technical Report to be the foundation of our research into International Football and what it takes to win at that level.

I watched England’s games on TV when I couldn’t see them live and travelled around France watching all of the other groups, attending training where I could and meeting the likes of Gerard Houllier, Arsene Wenger, Josef Venglos, Andy Roxburgh, Roy Hodgson and a significant number of other Experienced coaches as well as bumping into club coaches from different countries and many scouts.

After this I commissioned my new staff (a new group of National Coaches) to begin a research programme to find out what we had to do to develop winning International Teams and players. Further research into clubs and youth development was spearheaded by my colleagues Robin Russell, Colin Murphy, Martin Hunter and Craig Simmons and the national coaches.

““It’s amazing what can be achieved when no one minds who gets the credit” –Howard Wilkinson @footballmuseum” by dullhunk is licensed under CC BY 2.0

We developed three major programmes which I believe are still at the root of recent successes and a formidable group of National Team Players. The support from Howard Wilkinson and Adam Crozier, the recently appointed CEO, was excellent and we were able to build a very strong Technical Department.

During this time some excellent coaches were recruited including Nigel Pearson, Paul Bracewell, Stuart Baxter, Mike Pejic, Chris Ramsay, Dick Bate and John McDermott; the current Technical Director who succeeded me in January. They joined Kenny Swayne and Steve Rutter.

The first new programme was the Player To Coach programme for ex International Elite Players. We recruited a team of Professional Development Coaches who were taking their coaching qualifications on a special scheme for elite ex-players who were moving into coaching and working towards Pro Licence. They would work on every camp with the National Teams and give a unique insight as to what it meant to be an International Player, a top Premier League Player and the demands and sacrifices needed to aspire to this level. That group included Peter Beardsley, David Platt, Glen Roeder, Nigel Spackman, Stuart Pearce, Clive Allen and their programme had input and contributions from Sir Bobby Robson, Sir Alex Fergusson, Gerard Houllier, Howard and others.

The second programme was the ‘Charter for Quality’ which was the forerunner of EPPP and was designed to create more and better coaches for all levels of the game, better facilities and better players though better Technical Development. It was the start of the Academy System. We produced a detailed document much of which is still in place in other forms today.

“Wembley Stadium” by braveheartsports is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Charter created benchmarking and standards for coaching, improved coaching course delivery and content in line with the UEFA Convention and introduced the Pro Licence. It also set criteria for clubs in terms of youth development including investment in better facilities and a wider range of support services that are commonplace now but were non existent back then. It also recognised and started the work towards building a National Football Centre as the Hub of England Teams and the Technical Department and continued research and development , in Howards words ‘The University of Football’.

The Third programme was the Strategy for the Development of International Teams and Players. 

This strategy created the Technical Development Script for the England Teams Development Pathway, recently labelled England DNA. The content was developed from Study Visits to more Tournaments around the world at all age ranges and in all continents. All Tournament planning for our own teams included the requirement to carry out a Technical Review after each camp or competition which included what we had learned from other teams in the group or our direct opponents.

The “Script” as it was fondly referred to also embedded what it meant to be an England player and even an England Coach. We developed a mantra from studying the ‘All Blacks’ and other successful non-football International teams. “Once a Lion always a Lion!”

“Hope Powell, England Team Manager” by Diego Sideburns is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Two of the many key staff I had then were Hope Powell and Kelly Simmonds. They have been the most significant contributors to the Women’s game throughout its development and evolution. They were the pathfinders and I couldn’t be more proud that the Charter for quality and the International Development Programme included and initiated the evolution of the Women’s game. Everything described above applied to the England National Women’s Team and the newly initiated development programme for the Women’s Game. Hope took Women’s coaching to a new level and continues to do so and Kelly has done more for the structure, governance and growth of Women’s football in England than any other single person. “Once Lioness always a Lioness!”

In February 1999, Glenn Hoddle departed from the FA and we were left with no National Team Manager. Howard Wilkinson was drafted across from the under 21’s to the Seniors and took me with him as assistant coach. We had an imminent friendly to prepare for against current World Champions, France at Wembley. We were soundly beaten on the night but I remember a few incidents that would have challenged VAR today. After that the FA persuaded Mohammed Al Fayed to ‘lend’ us Kevin Keegan for 4 games whilst we searched for a new Head Coach. As Kevin was to be part time and manage Fulham at the same time he wanted some consistency amongst the staff so asked that I stay on as assistant coach and manage the day to day workings around the National Team.

This was great experience for me as now I was responsible for the International Programme from under 15 to the Seniors and I am still the only person to have coached England at every age group. Kevin got to like the job during his interim period and to his Chairman’s dismay asked to leave Fulham and go full time with England for the Euro 2000 campaign. This was sorted and Kevin also asked me to stay on in my role with the Seniors and work in tandem with Derek Fazakerley and Arthur Cox. I combined this with my role as Head Coach of England under 20s and Director of Technical Development. Arthur described working with Kevin as a ‘rollercoaster ride’ and it certainly was. Kevin was a popular manager and great fun to work with but he was unpredictable, which was part of his persona, you might say predictably unpredictable.

We had a really good squad and qualified pretty easily. We should have done better at Euro 2000, our defeat after leading Portugal 2-0 at half time in our first game meant that we went into the last game needing a draw against Romania. We were about 3 minutes from the quarter final when Romania broke from one of our attacks and we conceded a penalty and lost 3-2. I’ll never forget that feeling and learned a lot from that game.

Following defeat at home to Germany in the last game at Wembley the following season in our first game of the World Cup campaign Kevin resigned, his staff also left and it was down to Howard and I to go to Finland with a wounded squad, several drop outs and no preparation two days later and secure a draw and a point which was to be so important the following year when we qualified for the World Cup finals 2002 under Sven by one point! By then Howard had gone to Sunderland and Adam Crozier asked me to step up as Technical Director. It was in this role that I supported Sven much as I have done recently with Gareth Southgate who was of course one of our players then.

My third World Cup Finals in Japan and Korea was to come as well as European Championships with England under 21s and a World Cup Finals with England Under 20’s these were to be my last International Experiences until I joined up with Lawrie Sanchez and the ‘Green Army’ in Norther Ireland but that’s another story!

You were appointed Head of Football Development and Support at Southampton, and later Vice-Chairman. How did each role operate on a daily basis?

“Southampton FC versus Sevilla” by Solent Creativesis licensed under CC BY 2.0

I had several titles in my time (almost ten years) at Southampton. I started as a consultant to the new owner Markus Liebherr and his Executive Chairman Nicola Cortese. They had purchased the club in 2009 when it had been in administration and had been relegated with a 10 point deduction to EFL League 1 and were sitting dangerously near the bottom of the League.

Alan Pardew had been appointed Manager and had begun to arrest the decline. The club had been stripped bare and had little or no structure and certainly no strategy. I was asked to audit the football operation and propose a plan to get back to the Premier League within 5 years.

The key criteria in addition to that in my brief was to plan for the clubs long term where it would establish itself in the PL and be a sustainable club at that level ‘washing its face’ financially and competing in the top half for a place in Europe and occasional cup success.

Markus also wanted an attacking brand of football that would excite and win and he wanted to establish an aspirational target of 50% of the future squad to be home grown or Academy developed.

To do this I had to propose a Football Leadership and Management structure and a Football Strategy for the short, medium and long term. It was an exciting project. I worked for about three months on the project and produced and presented three strategic options that would achieve their aspirations.

They liked what they saw and agreed to move forward on my suggestions. After completing some other projects in China, Turkey and Latvia I was surprised to get a call asking me to go back and discuss implementing my plan. I thought this would be more consultancy but they persuaded me it would work best if I delivered it and offered me the role of Head of Football Development as an Executive Director on the Board.

“File:Match-day at St Mary’s Stadium – geograph.org.uk – 431368.jpg” by Colin Smith is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Essentially I was Director of Football. A year later it was changed to Executive Director of Football and in a Board reshuffle in 2014 which saw the departure of the Executive Chairman I was made Vice Chairman – Football.

Essentially the role was the same all the way through, I was responsible for building the football structure, developing the strategy and then managing it. This gave me overall responsibility for all aspects of the Academy, Player Recruitment at all levels, Sports Medicine and Performance Science, The training ground and its facilities, latterly the Women’s football department and all aspects of the football budget, transfers and staff recruitment.

These responsibilities obviously grew as the club grew and developed. By 2014 I was essentially a Board level Sporting Director with total responsibility for football.

You worked with many top managers as Southampton went from League 1 to the Premier League. How did you manage the transition up the levels?

Alan Pardew was in place when I arrived and had succeeded Mark Wotte, I knew Alan well and he was doing a great job in difficult circumstances. He had no real scouting department or infrastructure for recruitment and had made some really good signings in Rickie Lambert, Jose Fonte, Jason Puncheon, Dan Harding, Radhi Jaidi, Danny Butterfield before I arrived and added others prior to the start of the 2010 campaign.

“Alan Pardew” by Ben Terrett is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

During my time as a consultant Alan had won the Johnsons Paint Trophy at Wembley and missed the play offs by a point in his first campaign. I joined the club permanently in June 2010. In August, barely a month into the campaign, the Chairman fired Alan out of the blue.

Alan and the Chairman did not see eye to eye on a number of things but I think it was a harsh dismissal considering the success Alan had achieved so I didn’t get to work closely with him. Alans dismissal took me by surprise and I was not expecting to replace a manager so early in my tenure.

I persuaded the Chairman that we should develop a process that we would always use in recruiting and interviewing managers in future. Until then there was no plan so the recruitment of Nigel Adkins was an early attempt, later to be refined to fit a Manager to the club.

“File:Nigel Adkins – 2011.jpg” by Aztec06 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Agents and Managers were contacting the Chairman and trying to get to the owner but I was given authority to control the process and carry out a two stage interview process to find a coach who would be the right fit for the club given the point in the strategy we had reached. After interviewing 6 candidates on the longlist, a second interview with a final two resulted in Nigel being offered the job.

He had been promoted before with Scunthorpe and knew the level at League 1 and the Championship well. He knew our squad well and was an accomplished on the field coach. He wanted to keep Dean Wilkins on the staff and he brought his assistant Andy Crosby and recruited goalkeeping coach Jim Stannard.

He bought into the clubs long term ambition and strategy and was prepared to work with me in a structure that was headed up by a Director of Football. Nigel did a great job and two seasons later we were in the Premier League. We were three seasons into the five year plan and were now two years ahead of target.

The situation leading to the recruitment of Nigel and his dismissal led me to review the identification and recruitment of Coaches/Managers. Again, Nigel was fired unilaterally by the Chairman without much notice, however this time I could see the signs and was better prepared to react after it happened. I now understood that I needed to be able to identify and start the recruitment process almost at the drop of a hat.

“Pochettino” by Living In Pixels is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

In this transition up the leagues it was essential to ensure the Manager or Coach at the helm was appropriate in 3 ways:

A) Understood and bought in to the culture of the club and shared the football philosophy.

B) Understood and bought in to the Management Structure of the Club.

C) Understood the requirements of a & b according to the level the club was at.

I began to refine the process of recruitment and install a Coach Tracking system to create a database of Coaches who would fit the requirements above and a list of criteria associated with these requirements.

All subsequent managers were recruited this way until Ralph Hassenhuttl who was recruited in the more traditional interview method after my departure although he was on the database and potential candidate list.

Alexander Böhm / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

During your time at Southampton, you spoke about identifying managers who fit into your structure. How did you gather such data and monitor it? & In your opinion how crucial is doing so in the operation of a successful club?

We tracked Managers as we did players. We would look at every aspect of their track record.

I believe due diligence in recruiting managers is crucial and as important as the due diligence that should be afforded to player transfers.

I would be presented by a team of analysts and scouts with a regularly updated list of monitored coaches and a 40 page dossier on prospective candidates.

• Personal Details

• Club record as a coach (all clubs coached)

• Detailed record of last three seasons

• Honours and near misses

• Average ages of the squads he has worked with

• Formations used and relative success and adaptability

• Detailed record of players used in most recent season, benchmarked against formation and changes of formation and circumstances

• Most used players and most used formation

• Decision making Substitutions

• Timeline of substitutions

• Positional adaptations in substitutions

• Formation changes or positional changes and timing / circumstances

• Goals record, numbers and how scored and assists and timings per match and how related goals were to formation, change of formation or personnel

• Players recruited on his watch at each club

▪ Which countries and leagues?

▪ Average age of players recruited

▪ Stage of players career when recruited

▪ Use of Academy and existing young players

▪ Successes with youth players

▪ Player improvement and increases in value under his watch

▪ Touchline style and behaviour/communication in game

▪ Management style and general training structure and planning

▪ Media relations and external communication▪ Use of Technology and support resources and tools

▪ Application of data.

▪ Backroom staff skills and contributions, qualities and qualifications and experience

▪ Previous salary and contract conditions

▪ Previous tenure how it changed and why

▪ Commercial interests

▪ List of all players coached/managed, where and when

▪ Social media and press reports of interest.

The portfolios and database will be regularly updated especially when a manager moves and usually at the end of each transfer window.

There have been two long time debates in the pubs and bars frequented by football fans:

• Should a Manager select the system of play according to the players or fit the players to the system?

• Should adopt and adapt to the ‘Philosophy’ of the coach or the coach to the ‘Philosophy’ of the club?

I stand firmly in the fit the system to the players and the coach to the club camps. I will concentrate on the latter.

“Fulham FC Training Ground – Motspur Park” bysarflondondunc is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

We often invest heavily in talent identification for players and even more so in todays hi tech world of data science. We have rarely gone to the same lengths when it comes to succession planning and recruiting coaches. In the main, I think this is because many owners and CEO’s, Chairmen sit in the find the manager and let him deliver a structure and philosophy, after all he is the expert is he not?

Very few succession plan and very few know where to go to find a candidate or find out about him other than the traditional CV and application which floods in after every sacking or the word of mouth approach through friends and peers or agents.

Some general elements that need to be understood in Manager / Coach recruitment are related to the clubs attitude to manager recruitment.

  • Is the club prepared to pay compensation to prise a coach away from the club he is at? This is critical as it defines the search area and the pool of talent available. If yes, what is the ceiling? If no, the pool is smaller. The amount of compensation will also affect the size of available salary and contract conditions. Manager contracts are very different to players and conditions have to be specified and written in as they are not registered like players. A player transfer is in effect a purchase of registration and there are many standard features. Not so with managers and in the lower leagues some will work without a contract as such and be standard employees.

When you pay compensation it will almost always mean a larger salary as you are tempting a manager to leave one club for yours. Managers are generally cheaper when they are out of work. Again, the clubs philosophy here makes a difference. At Southampton we were not in the business of compensation for managers unless we were receiving it. Alan Pardew, Mauricio and Ronald were all free agents, Nigel Adkins, Mauricio Pellegrino and Claude Puel out of contract as was Hassenhuttl.

  • Salary range always sets the target pool and length of contract is also a factor.
    • The higher the salary and the length of contract will determine compensation payable if a manager is tempted away
    • It will also determine the compensation payable by the club if you fire the coach.
  • Salary restriction and a no compensation policy will shrink the target pool and during the process it is always feasible that a target high on the list will be employed before you are in a position to recruit them so each summer and November the list on your database will change. Secondly if you require a hire mid-season the pool of available coaches is even smaller.

All of the above factors will conspire to make recruiting the best candidate very difficult especially as you transition up the leagues and require different and usually greater experience or track record than the previous coach.

“File:Claude Puel (cropped).jpg” by Pymouss44 is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Even when you have a reasonable talent pool you may not always get your first choice. I was lucky as I did more often than not and every manager hire from Adkins to Puel brought success and another step on the long term strategy.

New ownership will also be a major factor in the success of the overall strategy, one that they have not contributed to or fully understand.

It is not easy to be diligent and meticulous and several factors need to be taken into account.

The Interview


First stage

  • What should a candidate know about the role he is applying for ?
    • Where do his responsibilities start and stop?
    • Where does his authority start and stop?
    • Who does he report to and how is he going to be managed?
    • How is he supported?
    • How is he going to be judged?
    • For what is he accountable?
    • Who is he expected to manage?
    • Who is he expected to collaborate with?
  • What should a candidate know about the club, the people and its organisation?
    • Who owns the club and what influence does the ownership have on the managers role and the day to day functions?
    • How is the Board Structured and what roles do Board members play?
    • Who are the key employees outside of football?
    • How do they impact on him?
    • What is the culture of the club?
    • Where does he fit in to this?
    • Why is it like this?
    • What are the targets, aims and objectives?
    • What resources are available to him?
    • How good are the facilities he has at his disposal?
    • How does player development , Youth development and Academy impact on him?
  • What should he know about the Players he will Coach and Manage ?
    • How do they benchmark against the level
      • Technically
      • Tactically
      • Physically
      • Psychologically
      • Collaboratively
    • Who are the leaders?
    • Are there Mavericks?
    • How do they compare in reality against external perception?
    • What does squad depth look like?
    • Are their contractual issues?
  • What do the fans expect?
    • Style
    • Entertainment
    • Effort
    • Results

These are the four things it is essential for a candidate to know and understand before he commits to being a serious candidate not when he is offered the job. At the end of stage one a candidate is asked if he wants to be a serious contender. If he says yes and no alarm bells have been triggered throughout the discussion he will automatically go to the next stage unless he decides to withdraw.

Second Stage

This stage is fairly straightforward, the candidates are told that they will be expected to demonstrate why they are the perfect fit for the club based on what they have learned in stage 1. This is where we would test what we have learned about them against what they can demonstrate about themselves. They have to show they are a fit against three criteria.

  • Personality and culture fit
  • Technical and Tactical fit
  • Leadership and Management skills

I am looking to see if they have the necessary coaching and Technical skills to win football matches and develop players. That they have the personal skills to lead and motivate others and that they have been honest in their acceptance and understanding of the clubs culture and will work within it and contribute to enhancing it but not changing it.

This can be a bit of a grilling and takes a commitment to time and detail. They are not told how to present and its is entirely up to them. Remember communication is a massive part of the job so this is a test in itself. It also really shows how much they want the job and how prepared they are and what they will put into it. At this stage any prospective assistants who would fit our needs that he wishes to bring will also be interviewed individually or as part of the interview.

From this stage it is possible to eliminate down to two and maybe even one but there is always a third stage before offer.

Third stage

The first two stages are undertaken by two people, always me and usually the Head of Football Operations or CEO. The final stage is a meet the Board stage and usually over dinner where the Board ( CEO, CFO,CCO AND Chair ) get to meet the final candidate/s. It is relaxed and informal and designed to assess the level and quality of engagement the candidates can have at Board and Senior Executive Level. It also allows the Board to have unbiased assessment of personality, character and establish confidence in the appointment and the recruitment process.

After this no candidate should start the job and discover things that impact them without their knowledge, no surprises.

You went back to the FA as technical director and during your time there from 2018/2021, you were responsible for all elite England men’s sides from development teams through to the seniors. How do you reflect upon your work there and the work of Gareth Southgate whom you also worked alongside?

“Gareth Southgate” by isriya is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

I am really pleased with what I achieved in those two years but it was not what I was expecting. I accepted the job from Martin Glenn prior to Covid and lockdown excited by the prospect of continuing the good work by my predecessor Dan Ashworth and finally getting to work at the National Football Centre St Georges Park which was my project before it was cancelled by a previous FA regime along with the Player Development pathway and England Development programme.

Dan and the team had reignited elite player development and developed the player pathway on the back of the success of EPPP and the Academy system now managed by the Premier League.

“David Cameron at St George’s Park” by UK Prime Minister is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

As I had previously coached Gareth and stayed in touch during his transition from player to coach it was particularly attractive for me to become his boss and mentor along with Aidy Boothroyd and the other National Coaches. I had also coached and had a great relationship with Phil Neville so I was looking forward to the Women’s World Cup, The under 21 Euros and the Nations League in my first year. I had been tasked with reviewing the Football Division by the Board and to make proposals for taking the next steps towards winning a major championship at Men’s and Women’s level by 2024.

When three major staff left early in my tenure I was able to restructure the Football Leadership Team and the way it worked including how decisions were made. I built a really motivated and talented leadership group and we set about developing a working culture around collaboration, empowerment of staff , diversity in thinking and creativity.

We started work on what we called the North Star project and then Covid hit and the impact on the FA Finances has been well documented. So rather than winning the Euros at Senior and Under 21 level and more Youth trophies and the girls winning the Olympics it was all postponed at best or cancelled. So what I am proud of is I managed to oversee a cost cutting and staff reduction programme which had been forced by the pandemic and still protect the great majority of programmes and the teams and the player development pathways and restructure the staff so that the future can still deliver the targets we had been set.

“The France defence – Laurent Koscielny, Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye – prepare for England’s corner, with Harry Kane close by” by Ben Sutherlandis licensed under CC BY 2.0

With everything being pushed back another one or two years I decided that it was a good starting point for my successor, John McDermott when the tough decisions had been made and the ugly work had been done. I left a great management team and the foundations intact for success in both men’s and women’s games and enjoyed working with some great people.

I still represent the FA as Vice Chair of the UEFA Development and Technical Assistance Committee and as Board member of the PGAAC which is the independent company that regulates and oversees Academies and the Integrated Coaching Strategy Steering Committee which is reviewing Coach and Manager Education so hopefully I am still influencing the future of the game and maintaining my FA relationship.

You’ve worked with numerous talents in coaching and on the pitch too. What advice would you give to a) aspiring footballers and b) aspiring coaches? 

To both I would say you cant beat time on the grass. Players can be what they want to be if they combine talent with practice and dedication. Coaches only get better by coaching. Supplement all of that with study and take advantage of every learning opportunity. Fail, try again and succeed as that breeds experience.

Be a lifelong student of the game, be motivated by success and improvement not money and be happy – don’t join the entitled and always disappointed brigade.

You will win, you will lose, you will fail and you will succeed, remember it’s a team game and you are never on your own.

Published by Callum McFadden

Football CFB founder. Freelance football writer & broadcaster of over 350 interviews with professional players and managers across all levels of football.

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