'Part of the reason for the signing of Diouf he explained to me, was that statistically he was one of the most fouled players in the Premier League. Sam played Diouf on the left of a front three and he was often the outlet for long switches of play'....
Name, age, where are you based?
Iain Brunskill, aged 43, currently based at home in UK but will back in Beijing, China soon.
National Coach Technical Department Chinese FA
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How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
I started coaching full time in 1997 at the age of 21 after a short professional playing career with Liverpool and Bury. I was still playing semi pro which only required a couple of nights training and a match on a Saturday and was lucky enough to bump into Steve Heighway, who had been my youth team coach at Liverpool and he explained that the Academy was opening and asked if I would I be interested in a role as a Community Coach.
The job involved coaching in the local schools and grassroots clubs during the daytime and weekends, as well as being an age group coach in the Academy three nights a week and a match on a Sunday. I was part of a group of five coaches all who had been ex Liverpool Youth team or Reserve team players and who all had an affinity to the club. Karl Robinson, the now Oxford Utd Manager was also part of this group and he has gone on to have a fantastic Managerial Career reaching over 500 games recently.
It was a perfect situation to be able to develop as a young coach and I was lucky to have good senior people around me to give pointers here and there. I say to a lot of younger coaches now that it is vitally important to get the practical coaching hours in. Planning, learning to organize, adapting to different circumstances and most importantly learning to communicate with the players no matter what the age. I was very lucky to have worked at Liverpool FC Academy for 11 years in various roles across all age groups U6-U19 and thoroughly enjoyed my time there.
In 2008 I joined Blackburn Rovers as Reserve Coach in 2008 when Paul Ince was appointed Manager, and remained in the position under Sam Allardyce before being appointed First Team Coach in 2010. Although my role took a big change with the pressures involved with being at the senior end of the game, this was a brilliant period for my own development as I had the opportunity to work with a whole host of different staff over a four -year period.
Among them, Paul Ince, Archie Knox, Sam Allardyce, Neil McDonald, Bobby Mimms, Steve Kean, Eric Black, John Jensen, Paul Clement. All very different in personalities and style but approachable and always open to discussion.
Photo Credit: The Bolton News
In 2012 I took the opportunity on a short term contract with Floriana FC in the Maltese Premier League, which was my first experience of both being a Head Coach at Senior Level and of working overseas. Being alone and working away from the family for the first time was obviously difficult, but I found it I was able to fully focus on the immersing myself in the club on and off the field role and I thoroughly enjoyed my brief but successful time in Malta.
I then took a different direction as I accepted a role to work for the English FA as a Youth Coach Educator. This was an 18 month period I really used to re-educate myself, as I had been out of the Academy Youth Development system for a number of years and the changes due to the EPPP had resulted in a much more detailed focus, placed on Youth Coaching including planning, evaluating and reviewing. It was also the beginning of the establishment of the England DNA making it a very interesting time.
Working within the FA, I was fortunate enough to work with Neil Dewsnip and the U18 National Team with the likes of Deli Ali, Demari Gray, Dominic Solanke and Harry Winks. After this, I then left the FA to take the role of U21 Coach at Bolton Wanderers, as Neil Lennon and I had completed our Pro Licence together and had kept in contact up until he was hired there.
Photo Credit: Zimbio.com
Although this was a difficult experience in the end due to the financial problems the club found themselves in, I still regard this as a successful time as Neil and his staff were always looking to promote young players whenever possible and in those terms, we had seven Academy players make their debuts during a season and a half including Rob Holding, who was later sold to Arsenal.
An ex colleague of mine from Liverpool Academy, Stuart Gelling, was appointed Technical Director of the Jordan FA and I accepted the role of U23 Olympic Coach in the summer of 2016.
The 2018 AFC U23 Championships was not an Olympic Qualification year, but we qualified for the finals in China with the 1995 age group for the first time and possibly more importantly, five players progressed into the Senior national team. The experience of adapting to a vastly different culture was invaluable and I look back on this period very fondly.
Due to this experience in Asia and together with having played China in a friendly, I was approached by Chinese Super League club, Shanghai SIPG, to work with their U21 / Reserve Team for a nine-month period. The initial three months was to prepare the U21 players for an Olympic U23 selection event after which, we returned to play the second part of the CSL Reserve Team League.
The games in the Reserve Team League mirror the fixtures of the CSL games and are played the day after, which often resulted in senior players playing who had not featured in the first team game the day before. This is something I thought was a good idea for two reasons;
Firstly, it allowed the senior players to maintain some sort of match fitness which was important as Shanghai SIPG where involved in all competitions, domestically and in AFC Champions League. Secondly, it meant that the level of game was high which helped the younger players experience playing regularly with the senior players.
The obvious negative is that sometimes the younger guys lost the opportunity to play full 90 minute matches but overall, I thought it was a positive structure.
Towards the end of 2018 I decided to accept an offer to become Head of Academy at Molde FK in Norway. I was excited to have the opportunity to use all of my experiences across all the age groups, to put together a new player development model that the club had been looking for.
Ole Gunner Solksjær was the manager at the time I first met with the club, and I knew him from his Reserve Team days at Manchester Utd.
Ole is a great person and after he had explained a little around what he believed was needed, it was a very exciting prospect that would also give me the opportunity to develop my skill set in other areas: Dealing with the Board, Budgeting etc. I found the people in Molde to be extremely friendly and the club had people who were very progressive in their thinking. We were able to make some real developments on and off the field in my time there.
During the summer of 2019, I was approached by the incoming secretary of the Chinese FA to be part of the new National Technical Department that would look at the development of the National teams at all levels from U15 to Senior. From August to November 2019, I was working with the U19 team as Assistant Coach in preparation for the AFC U19 Championships.
Photo Credit: The AFC.com
Any achievements you would like to highlight?
Qualifying the Jordan U23 team to the AFC Finals was an achievement as the qualifying group was hosted in Palestine. Many of my Jordanian players had Palestinian heritage so it was an emotional experience for them. We saw first-hand, outside our hotel in Bethlehem, evidence of the violence between the Palestinian people and the Israeli troops which was obviously distressing for the players and staff. It was a challenge to try and help the players focus on the matches in such an emotionally charged environment, but we managed to qualify for the finals - I´m not sure which Coaching course prepares you for that!
During my time with Shanghai SIPG, the China full National Team played an International friendly and needed a game the next day for the players who did not play. We were invited to play them which was a great experience for the young players and I was fortunate enough to meet and share the touchline with Marcello Lippi. He was a true gentleman and I got to chat with him at length after the game about his experiences.
As Assistant Academy Director at Liverpool F.C, what kind of talent did you witness and how does it compare to other clubs and countries you’ve worked with?
After working at Liverpool Academy for 10 years in a variety of roles throughout the age groups, my final role was Assistant Technical Director 6-12 Years. The Technical Director at that time was Piet Hamburg who had worked with Will Coerver extensively. The programme was heavily based around the individual technical development of the players are their ability to dominate 1v1 situations.
At that time we had Trent Alexander, Curtis Jones, Ben Woodburn within our U6-U9 Pre Academy Programme and although it would be very foolish to say there were clear signs they would develop to the level they have at that age, I would like to think they received a very sound technical foundation.
My time at Liverpool and with the English FA in which I visited Academies across the North of England, only furthered my belief in the talent that exists in England. From my experiences overseas there is far less emphasis placed on working with the youngest players and therefore very little expertise, knowledge and resource placed in this area. For example in Norway, where I worked as Head of Academy at Molde FK, a social law exists that limits professional clubs proper access to players under the age of 12 and in some cases 15. Whilst there is certainly something to be said for this approach in terms of inclusion and things not becoming too serious too soon, the limitations on the players individual abilities was clear to see.
Unlike the Uk, Jordan, China and Norway, careers in the foundation phase of coaching do not really exist so the temptation is for coaches to aim to move up the age groups which is understandable I suppose.
Photo Credit: The Liverpool Echo
What important experiences did you pick up working with Sam Allardyce?
I learned a lot from Sam Allardyce, in particular the clarity of his messages and the way he dealt with people. As a member of his staff he was very supportive and apart from giving advice here and there, he let people do their job. Don’t get me wrong, he was not averse to giving out a rocket now and again but it was always constructive.
As reserve team coach I would always attend the First team games and after a few months, Sam and his assistant Neil McDonald involved me a lot more. I would sit with him in the Directors Box for both home and away matches and always gained some in valuable insights. He would explain to me the signing of El Hadj Diouf…
...At the time, Blackburn had Morten Gamst Pedersen who had fantastic delivery from free kicks and corners and a number of players, who were strong in the air and could contribute to the score sheet. Part of the reason for the signing of Diouf he explained to me, was that statistically he was one of the most fouled players in the Premier League. Sam played Diouf on the left of a front three and he was often the outlet for long switches of play.
El Hadj was not quick but was very strong and had exceptional technical ability, meaning he could go past players inside and outside. He also had an obvious antagonistic nature which often led to him being fouled a lot which Sam wanted to exploit. Often you would see the same pattern… Diagonal to Diuof – Foul- Pedersen Delivers a Wide Free kick - GOAL !
Photo Credit: Sportmalti.com
Can you explain in words how it feels to be on the touchline during an English Premier League match?
It’s obviously a great experience particularly at the biggest stadiums in front of 40-50,000 people. The pace of the game particularly at pitch side is intense, and you need to be aware of situations quickly in terms of substitutions and changes to set pieces etc.
Although during my time at Blackburn as first team coach we experienced some difficult times including relegation in the second season, we still had some brilliant moments. A Carling Cup Quarter final penalty shoot- out win against Chelsea, a 3-1 Premier League Win over Liverpool Team Including Reina, Gerrard and Torres and a 3-2 Premier League victory over Man Utd at Old Trafford, on Sir Alex Ferguson's 70th Birthday!
You’ve been Head Coach of the Jordan Olympic team and in the Maltese League where you went unbeaten throughout your contract. How does the role change from being a 1st Team Coach moving into a Head Coach position, and any tips to support such a transition?
I think that as a First Team Coach you are able to form a different kind of relationship with the players as ultimately, the players know that you are not the main one making the difficult decisions. I found the players would approach me over certain things, that they would maybe not want to speak directly with the Head Coach. It’s then extremely important, to ensure there are no mixed messages between the communications.
Obviously with the role of Head Coach, you shoulder the responsibility for everything and ultimately the results. The quality of your support staff is hugely vital, and on most occasions, I did not have the option to bring in my own staff. When this is the case, I think it´s important to keep things very clear and to be able to set the standard and lead the people around you.
Set out what you want to achieve, engage the players and staff and finally make sure that you deliver as best you can.
Photo Credit: Stadiumastro.com
How’s your second stint in China going and what are the main differences between their youth players and others you’ve worked with. Have your coaching methods changed to accommodate these differences?
My role with the CFA is a new one and I am part of the National Team Technical Staff that has been put together by the General Secretary Louis Lui. The role will cover a lot of areas including Talent ID, Coach Education and direct involvement with the National Teams through the age groups - Its a very exciting opportunity.
I think you have to adapt to the environment that you are in without moving too far away from your own methods and beliefs. The obvious challenge is the language and whilst it's useful to try and pick up some phrases in particular football ones, even this is difficult. I have been fortunate to have an on-field translator for most of my time in China but often, there is no direct translation for some of the normal phrases I would use. It’s not easy at first but I have learnt to try and be as simple and precise as possible, as working through a translator takes twice the time.
I use a lot of visuals on and off the field through practical demonstration, video and tactics boards and would always try to use Chinese Symbols at all times. I like to ask questions to the players during coaching sessions or team meetings to help to check with understanding which is not something that the Chinese players are used to, so that is an area of communication that I would like to continue to develop.
What’s next for you and any thoughts on the future?
Obviously, the current global climate has delayed the commencement of my new role with the CFA but there are a number of exciting new projects once things return to some sort of normality including:
· Development of a working relationship with the English FA.
· Assisting the Technical Director in the enhancement of the CFA Coach Education model.
· Planning and delivery of an effective player development strategy for the 2001 age group working towards 2022 Asian Games and 2024 Olympics