'Taking into consideration that a large number of the players would not make football their key living, I had to be mindful to make them into respectable adults who respected the requirements of playing the football game...'
Name, age, where are you based?
Mick White, 51 & Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Current and past Roles:
2019 - Date: General Sports Authority – Head Coach.
2016 - 2019: IBV (Iceland) - Reserve Team Manager/ Academy Coach.
2015 - 2016: Rotherham United - Academy Coach.
2014 - 2015: Accrington Stanley FC - Academy Coach.
2013: British Football School (Moscow) - Head Coach.
2012 - 2013: Chelsea FC: Head Coach of South Korea Academy.
2010 - 2013: Bolton Wanderers FC: International Academy Coach.
2010: IBV (Iceland): Academy Coach.
2009: UK International Soccer (California) Development Coach.
2009: Pure Soccer (New York): Regional Director.
2008: UK International Soccer: (Connecticut) Development/ Lead Coach.
2007: New York Redbulls: Development Coach.
2004 - 2007: FC Valletta (Malta): Academy Coach/Head Coach.
2004: AC Milan International: Academy Coach.
Qualifications (if you don’t mind sharing):
2018: UEFA A License
2014: FA Full Youth Award.
How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
I was playing amateur level in Jersey in the Channel Islands and got a small injury. As I was recovering, I was encouraged by a couple of coaches to get into the coaching side of football. I was lucky that Jack Walker, a big supporter of football in The Channel Islands allowed me to go and visit Blackburn Rovers and that got me wanting to coach as a profession. I went to Glasgow Rangers and Ajax to learn as much as I could from top quality coaches and from there, I went to Malta with FC Valletta after working on the AC Milan academy camp.
I wanted to challenge myself further so I went to America, but all the long-term opportunities required a degree. After 3 years and 5 states from New York to California, I went back to England and worked with Bolton Wanderers with their International Academy. They allowed me to travel to 14 countries coaching under their banner, so I got to see the world and meet some fantastic people. One of the contacts from South Korea contacted me and offered me the chance to become Head Coach, of one of the newly formed Chelsea academies in Asia.
I returned to England after 12 months in South Korea and was offered a short term contract in Russia with Richard Peers, owner of British Football Schools based in Moscow. After the contract ended, I returned to England to see if there were opportunities as a full-time coach, but these were extremely hard to come by. After stints with Accrington Stanley and Rotherham United on a part time basis, and with short training trips to Nigeria, Norway, Cameroon, I realised that working abroad would be the best route for work as a full-time coach.
Whilst on a trip to Norway, I was contacted by IBV in the Icelandic Premier League and was offered a role back there, so I decided to pack and give it my best shot. After 3 years and feeling I would like a new challenge, I accepted a role in a long-term project here in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Any Major achievements, stories or anything you would like to highlight?
My main achievements have been to see players repay your trust in them and allowing them to show you what they have learned. During my 3 years at IBV, 15 players came through from the 2nd team to represent the 1st team - most playing in the Pepsi League, but also three that played in the Europa League qualifiers vs Sarpsborg 08. Three others have been called up to the National team at their age level, which is an incredible achievement from an island of just 4300 people.
I coached Brett Pitman while in Jersey and you could see that he was going to make it from an early age. He has gone on to have a great career lasting 18+ years. I got to be around Graeme Souness and Rob Kelly at Blackburn ,which taught me so much. At Rangers with people like Alex McLeish, ‘Bomber’ Brown and players like Hutton, Lovenkrands, Ferguson and the likes. During the trips to Ajax, I was allowed to work with their coaches which was like a who’s who of football. Danny Blind, Marco Van Basten were main stays of the academy which included a young Daley Blind. I was also lucky to play in a friendly game for AC Milan Vs the Maltese coaches to end a week of youth training. I got to play up front alongside Daniele Massaro and we both managed to score. I still have the shirt as a memory!!
There's been a few funny stories whilst working across 28 countries, but one stands out while in India with Bolton Wanderers. I was given a driver and was offered to go shopping after training which started at 6am due to the heat - it was over 100 degrees at 9am but I decided to watch some cricket on TV and not go shopping. The organiser called me at midday asking how shopping went and I said I didn’t go. “What about the driver?” said the organiser, “I have no idea” I replied. “Go check outside for him” and as I went outside the driver was stood to attention, next to the car waiting on me 3 hours after I was dropped off.... We had to get him inside and give him rest with lots of fluids. I felt so sorry for the poor guy, but he was so loyal to his employer he just waited.
Having coached in Korea, Russia, Iceland and now Saudi Arabia, what experiences have you gained from each and what differences have you found in the living and working environments?
The passion is the same in all the countries for football and I have always approached each country by trying to learn something of their culture. It is obviously different from our own culture but just engaging and adapting makes a new country an adventure with new rules and ways of going about everyday life.
South Korea was such a great experience, but the food was a challenge at times, but the staff and parents helped me have such a fantastic 12 months. Coaching wise it was just blending in new ideas with existing methods. In Iceland there was a lot of tradition but with a feel of wanting to learn and progress at every opportunity. I would take time to learn about the town or area, the language, the local sights, and events. This makes the time there easier if the locals see you taking time to learn their cultural ways.
Currently, as yet, here in Saudi Arabia we have not yet built up 100% momentum with any players, as once we had started the project we had one successful trial day and then Covid 19 put a stop to everything. As a city, it is fantastic and wonderful place to live, embracing new cultures, and the people are very friendly and welcoming.
How different did you find working abroad compared to pro club academies in England such as Rotherham Utd. Has there been any transferable learnings from both?
At clubs like Rotherham United, the players are brought in and taught from a young age so certain aspects are embedded at an early age. This is not the case abroad with some places. You find yourself teaching a 15-year-old something that you know a young 11 or 12-year-old in England would have in his locker.
Sometimes abroad, you have to also educate the coaches but most are incredibly intelligent and just want to learn new ways whereas in England, I would be working with a coach that had a great career as a player and continued in the game as a coach. The skills learned in each country, with each football team are transferable. The same ethos applies in each game, as players want to be coached to be as successful as they can be, be aware of the learning needed to achieve this and demonstrate this within the games they play.
My job as a Coach in each new country is to identify and measure where the group is within the scale of where they would like to be, then build the blocks to make this path the learning cycle through to the end goal. It is important, through communication and mentoring that everyone knows their job within the end goal.
What was your time in Iceland like and how did you find coaching a senior 1st team whilst also developing youth teams?
The players I had for the reserve team were 15 years old playing in a U19 league when I arrived, so we found solutions to get the best out of us all against the odds. Once the players grew physically, the tactical knowledge combined with the new strength, fitness and belief helped the players go further than they imagined.
Working with the U19 players, allowed me the time and dedication to teach them about the importance of dietary requirements, strength and conditioning, fitness planning On and Off season. Taking into the consideration that a large number of the players would not make football their key living, I had to be mindful to make them into respectable adults who respected the requirements of playing the football game.
I had the privilege of working with the Head Coach and Senior players, seeing the success of the Individuals I had coached from a younger age. It was especially interesting to learn new and different techniques from key individuals on how to push even Senior Players out of their comfort zones into new areas of learning for the benefit of the team overall. The time spent with them allowed me to expand my knowledge further, whilst providing a sounding post when required.
What are the main responsibilities of your current role in Saudi Arabia, and how have your past roles helped you in your current day to day workings?
As the project is at an early transition stage, we have started with school and club visits to gauge the standard and what we can do to help improve their learning. We started with football but longer term, we will implement other sports and educate teachers and coaches to self-develop while alone. We already had a trial day which was extraordinarily successful and was organised very well.
Over 100 players came, and we saw some great talent and some that we, as coaches were eager to develop. Culturally, we must educate simple things to players and coaches like arriving on time and giving them responsibilities like making sure they arrive ready to go and make the most of the time given to practice. In some countries, you can be given ninety minutes but with various disruptions, you find that you only practice for 30-40 minutes. I tell players to try and give 100% from the 1st minute to the last.
Within this current role, my previous experience has allowed me to project manage and set realistic and achievable goals to maintain interest whilst maximizing attendance on each session. This includes new coaches who are learning and being motivated and mentored through each session attended. I also send them the planned sessions prior to the actual training session, and we have a coaching team evaluation thereafter. This again has allowed cultural differences to merge, learnings taking place on both sides with positive outcomes.
What has been best for your career development so far and what are you doing to keep upskilled?
IBV was the best as it allowed me to go out, make mistakes but learn from them. You can see from the number of spectators who come to watch how you are measured as a successful and valued coach. I encouraged the parents to contact me to discuss the best course of development for their sons and daughters, again including fitness and dietary requirements for mutual benefit.
Self-development is continual. Within the intervening period of lockdown, I have been keeping busy doing various courses, including a qualification in Sports Analytics, specifically to expand my knowledge within the scouting arena. I am very keen to utilize my skills and knowledge gained from my UEFA A license, and to date, the course attendees still chat to discuss the various challenges we all face since returning to our front facing roles.
My self-motivation to learn further is ongoing for me before and after achieving my UEFA A license, I have taken a course in Sports Analytics and looking to do more courses in the scouting area. My next goal is to achieve my UEFA Pro license, and I will be enrolling in the new course, as soon as flying and course availability will allow.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced and how was you able to overcome them?
The main challenges are the usual for a coach. Players in the beginning not buying into your methods. You fight the mentality or the stubborn attitude, at times due to lack of knowledge rather than skill, however once you overcome this then things can start to develop.
I feel you lose a lot of time with some players that are misguided by people that feel they know what is best. Within my role of Head Coach, the key to getting the best from players is to find out their best way of learning. This is a key skill which achieves the best results for all.
How’s the future looking, what’s next?
I signed a contract here for 1 year back in December but with the uncertainty of this virus then, like a lot of players, coaches, and clubs we do not know as yet what the future will bring. I have ambitions of going into senior football, Initially Assistant and then further a Head Coach in within a professional club. I still have enthusiasm to develop while passing on my experiences to players and if that takes me to another country then I will happily embrace this challenge. I have a very strong feeling that this current role is not the end of my journey.