Alex Arnold - Director of Football in China

"Being on the pitch from 09:00 – 17:00 every day, working with players from a variety of backgrounds, ages and experience levels allowed me time to practice. Every day was a chance to make mistakes and correct mistakes through testing new ideas and strategies".

Name, age, where you are based?

Alex Arnold, 34 years old, Beijing, China.

Current Role:

Director of Football for ClubFootball based predominantly in Beijing. My main roles are to enhance the player and the coach development pathway, design and implement coaching curricula and deliver methodologies, mentor the team of 18 full time coaches (predominantly from the UK), expand and deliver the clubs' country wide coach education programmes and represent the club in media publications.


I have the UEFA B license and I'am looking to undertake an A license in Asia either late this year or early next year. I completed the FA Youth Modules, American USSF C license and have coaching badges in Gymnastics, Athletics and SAQ. I am also a lead Premier Skills Coach Educator.

My degree was actually in Physical Education with a view to going down the teaching pathway. Despite choosing the coaching route post-graduation I am grateful for the foundations which my degree provided me, in terms of pedagogic understanding and how it helped to shape my developmental principles.

If I could give one piece of advice to anyone embarking on a degree, vocational pathway or coaching qualification it would be to remain open minded to whatever you are being taught. I believe that a good educator should be adapting and developing their principles every day so should approach every new idea (whether they perceive it to be a good or bad one) as a potential learning experience. Try not to settle on your ‘philosophies’ too early – I haven’t – we all have so much still to learn!

How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?

As mentioned earlier, after retiring from Football at a young age due to injury, my idea was to go in to P.E. teaching. However I had the opportunity to go across and coach in California during the Summer break after my first year at University and this had a huge impact on my thought process with respect to my career path.

To digress slightly here; I think it’s quite important not to be too steadfast in your future career ‘plan’ or ‘pathway’. Just try to work as hard as you can and then weigh up each opportunity as it comes along and decide based on what you feel at that moment in time. Fine to have a plan as to where you want to go but important to remain open minded to new opportunities.

That approach eventually brought be to China which in all honesty wasn’t really my first choice in terms of where I wanted to live and work – more due to knowing very little about the place. However I decided to give it a go due to the job exciting me and haven’t regretted that decision since.

Coaching in America gave me two invaluable things. Firstly; time on the pitch. I was 20 or 21 at the time and in truth didn’t have the faintest idea how to coach (some would say I still don’t!). Being on the pitch from 09:00 – 17:00 every day, working with players from a variety of backgrounds, ages and experience levels allowed me time to practice. Every day was a chance to make mistakes and correct mistakes through testing new ideas and strategies.

The other thing that my first couple of stints in the US taught me was the importance of making strong relationships in and around your industry. This is an aspect of football that is often frowned upon or bemoaned as being a terrible thing which only occurs in football.

Sorry, but this happens in any and every industry you care to mention. There is nothing backhanded or untoward about presenting yourself in the most professional and personable way possible and enjoying the positive (mutually beneficial) relationships that you inevitably form as a result.

I returned to the States a couple of times after that Summer; firstly returning to work with SDSU (San Diego State University) and secondly on a trip to Hawaii with Liverpool Football Club.

After graduation I started working with Liverpool Football Club’s Academy and remained there for 7 years before making the move to my current role in China.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have benefited from the experiences I gained through my time at Liverpool. It shaped me to be the coach and the person I am today. During my time with Liverpool I worked in the community department, elite academy, ladies development centre and U18’s, soccer schools and finally worked as a head coach for the International department. It was the latter that gave me an insight in to the benefits of coaching abroad.

I met some wonderful people at Liverpool both on and off the pitch and to some I owe a debt of gratitude for how much they taught me. I also look back and think of how many mistakes I made which allowed me to learn and improve. Were it not be for being put in those uncomfortable and challenging situations at Liverpool I think it’s unlikely that I would be where I am now personally and professionally.

In terms of specific examples that resonate; I remember the first time I worked with Sammy Lee. Here was a man who had done pretty much everything in the game and I just remember being absolutely blown away by his unwavering enthusiasm towards everything he did.

There are times even now that I find myself approaching something with a slightly negative attitude and I think back to the example set by him and others (I’ll get hammered if I drop any more names here) around the Academy at that time – and give myself a kick !