Name, age, where are you based?
Alex McCarthy, 28 years old, Dhaka, Bangladesh.
I’m currently the Assistant Coach at Saif Sporting club, a Bangladeshi Premier League team. However, like many coaches working in football today, my role involves a lot more than the on-field coaching. My early roles in professional football were Performance Analysis positions, therefore, away from the pitch a big part of my job is still focused on that aspect – opposition scouting, analysis of our own team/individuals’ performance, GPS physical data tracking and player recruitment. I also once mentioned that I did yoga from time to time – so of course I also became the makeshift yoga instructor for recovery sessions!
I have a degree in Sport Management and recently completed the STATS Performance Analysis course.
In terms of coaching qualifications, so far in my career they have been a slight source of frustration. I personally feel the FA don’t do enough, currently, to help coaches working abroad. I am a UEFA B candidate but have had to defer the course until next year; as I am now working abroad again. This has been a familiar story since my first job abroad and the same for many coaches I have spoken to.
Hopefully, in the coming months I can find a way of attending and completing the course and then progressing further. I saw recently that Simon Motyka spoke to the FA about this and I really hope this is an issue that can be addressed and help coaches working abroad get the support they need. In the meantime, I will try to progress with the AFC coaching licenses that begin in 2019.
How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
I started coaching relatively late, I was around 21 when I began to entertain the idea it could be a career. The first coaching session I ever took was my local grassroots U10 village team… and it was a disaster! Nothing went to plan and I think within 10 minutes I had them playing a match just to try and keep them all in one place! I loved it though and stuck at it.
Then while at Bournemouth University, a twist of fate meant I had to cut short my third-year work placement - coaching at Global Premier Soccer, New Jersey, USA. I then approached AFC Bournemouth through their Head of Academy Analysis, Dan Ashby, and thankfully they took me on as a Performance Analysis Intern.
I continued to work unpaid (the reality of many starting out in football) at AFCB after I graduated. Working there 8am – 4pm and then cycling 7 miles straight to my second job - at a bar to work 5pm – 1am. Then waking up the next morning to do it all again! This continued for a few months and just as I was preparing for a busy festive period working in the bar – I applied for a vacant performance analyst position with the Rwandan national team. I was offered the job and within 2 weeks I was on a plane to Kigali and spent New Years Eve in a training camp preparing the African Nations Championship, 2016, being hosted by Rwanda themselves.
Since then I have had coaching and analysis roles in private academies in the UK, a professional team in the Lithuanian Premier league and now my current role at Saif Sporting Club.
What’s been the best thing for your personal development?
The best thing for me, by far, has been observing, asking questions and learning from those working around me. I have been fortunate enough that in the early stages of my coach development I have had two excellent role models in both Johnathan McKinstry and Daryl Willard. Two, fantastic, UEFA Pro License, coaches. However, more importantly, two fantastic people. They both taught me a lot about the technical and tactical side of the game; but even more in terms of how to connect with players and the importance of developing people and not just players.
I am also very passionate about self-improvement. I watch a lot of football, listen to countless podcasts, read books, visit clubs/coaches and generally try to expand my knowledge wherever possible. Football is constantly evolving and if you stop at any moment and think you have ‘figured it out’ the next day you see something that completely flips your outlook on its head and you have a brand-new problem to solve. I love that though.
What is your training focus with your current teams?
At Saif in terms of training focus, I take my lead from the Head Coach, Johnathan McKinstry. Regardless of the level of players, there is always the need to improve and maintain players technical quality. Therefore, we made it a priority to outline early what each players strengths and weakness are. We then had 1 to 1 meetings with the players and outlined how they can build upon and improve these aspects of their game.
The team as a whole - we are starting simple and layering in tactical concepts as we go. We have arrived at the club just before the start of a new season and it’s important not to give them too much too soon. Generally, we like to be aggressive and ask questions of teams with and without the ball. Therefore, a lot of our early training has been around forcing the opposition into mistakes and then being ruthless in the following transition. We also place a big emphasis on set-pieces, in our opinion, a hugely undervalued aspect of the game.
What things have been challenging?
New cultures and environments always throw up challenges. Two very obvious examples - Rwanda it was hot and dry and Lithuania it was very wet and very very cold!
Here in Bangladesh, for example, we share our training ground which means starting training at 7:30am. This also means the pitch is being used a lot and isn’t always in ideal condition – this can affect the technical quality of training and as a result affect the enthusiasm of the players at times.
Getting around is also a challenge. You think traffic in London is bad – try driving through Dhaka. It can take hours to drive a few miles on occasions and initially this can be frustrating. It still is in fact. But you adapt – we now have a portable WIFI router and treat the car as a second office.
There are also the obvious challenges of being away from your family and friends which can be difficult. There are, however, a lot of positives if you’re prepared to find them. For example, while unfortunately I wasn’t able to fly home for Christmas this year, I did manage to take the short flight to Thailand with my girlfriend and we spent Christmas on the beach. So, it’s not all bad by any means!
Has anything developed you more than if you were working in UK?
I think working abroad teaches you to adapt, both in terms of football and to your surroundings. Through working in the diverse places that I have - I feel I could walk into a football environment anywhere in the world and I would be comfortable enough to get by. I don’t think you get that by staying in the UK.
Naturally, language barriers can also be a challenge. As a result, you learn to be creative in how you communicate and deliver technical and tactical messages. All the knowledge in the world is useless if you can’t communicate and if I had stayed within the comfort zone of the UK, I would not appreciate that as much as I do now.
Has your development as a coach been hindered by not being in the UK?
As I mentioned earlier – It would be great if the FA could give some more help to coaches working abroad and I do get the feeling that is starting to change now; which is great. Apart from that, I don’t feel I have been hindered at all. On the contrary, I have been given opportunities and been granted responsibilities through working abroad that I wouldn’t have got in the UK. I believe it takes leaving the UK to realise that football doesn’t begin and end with the Premier League.
Do you feel you need to move abroad to coach to work in football?
Not at all. Everyone is different and has their own path. This just happens to be mine right now. I would, without doubt, highly recommend it though. It is clear that opportunities in the UK are limited and the competition for jobs is very high. If for whatever reason, you would rather stay in the UK and try to forge a career path there – good luck to you. However, don’t fear the unknown of working abroad. Football is a universal language and I think a lot of people would be surprised at how welcoming people are and how much they enjoy sharing their culture with new people.
How do you feel British coaches abroad are perceived?
It largely does differ from country to country. A few years ago, I felt we still had the tag of being a bit direct and perhaps limited tactically compared to some other countries. This does seem to be changing though. The success of the home nations at various levels and tournaments has no doubt improved people’s perception of British football as a whole and as a result – British Coaches. It’s now the responsibility of those working abroad to demonstrate a good level of professionalism and set good standards; in order to continue to open doors for others.
The future -what’s next for you?
Who knows! If you had asked me where I was going to be 6 months ago – Bangladesh would not be my first guess!
Generally, however, just to keep learning and improving as a coach and trying to improve the players I work with. I think we have the potential to achieve success with Saif Sporting Club. We have a young and talented team and I am really excited for the season to get started.
I am ambitious and I want to work at the highest level possible, but right now, I get paid to do something I love. So, I am enjoying the moment and not taking anything for granted.
Follow Alex on Twitter here @AMDFootball
Saif Sporting Club Are Hiring! - VOLUNTEER PERFORMANCE ANALYSIS POSITION