''My time at Fulham FC was amazing. Working with experienced coaches such as Rene, Ray Wilkins and Alan Curbishley was an education''....
Name, age, where are you based?
Jonathan Hill, 50 years old, Tromsø, Norway
Current and past Roles:
Head Coach TUIL FK (Obos League) until 31/12/2020,
Head of Football-TUIL FK,
Assistant Head Coach-Fulham FC (Premier League),
Assistant Head Coach-Tromsø FK,
Academy Head Coach-MCFC,
Assistant Technical Director & National Youth Team Head Coach-Jordan Football Association, Academy Head Coach-MUFC,
Assistant Centre of Excellence Director-Wigan Athletic FC.
Currently on UEFA Pro Licence (Paused due to Corona Virus)
UEFA A Licence
FA Youth Modules 1,2,3
BSc Hons Sports Science
PGCE in Secondary Education
How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
In a nutshell my coaching career has been steady and progressive, from Youth Football, Part Time to Full Time, and into Senior Full Time football, progressing as 1st team coach to Assistant Head coach, to Head Coach. In between these Senior positions, I was offered the opportunity to become a member of a Sporting Director team, alongside the late Glenn Roeder and Paul Senior.
I took my Preliminary Badge (Current Level 1 & 2) at Crewe Alexandra FC as a 17 year old.
After finishing professionally, through chronic injury, I continued to play semi-professionally in the GM Vauxhall Conference & study for my degree.
During vacations I would take part in Soccer Schools as a coach. Jim Dewsnip, father of Neil Dewsnip, and my ex-manager Dario Gradi (Crewe Alexandra FC) were originally instrumental in motivating me to pursue a career in education and coaching.
When I qualified as a teacher in 1996, I was employed at a top rugby school in Wigan (St John Fisher Catholic High School) 3 of my students were signed for Wigan Athletic FC, and had told the Director of Centre of Excellence (Dave Crompton) that I was at the school. Dave Crompton was England Schoolboys manager and invited me to work with the WAFC, u16s. One of these players (Mark Bitcom-current MCFC 1st team S & C Coach) and the other was Leighton Baines (Everton FC & England).
I worked hard at WAFC, from 1996-July 1999, 3 evenings a week and a Sunday game, on a part time basis, combined with being a full time PE and Science teacher. I gained my UEFA B licence, in 1997, with Lancashire FA-under the guidance of Derek Egan (a wonderful coach educator) In 1999 I was offered the Reserve team position/Centre of Excllence position at WAFC but opted to pursue a different challenge within Youth football. I was offered a part time coaching position at Blackburn Rovers and Everton FC, however as I was commiting to Everton FC, my old club, I received a phone call from Paul McGuiness at MUFC. I joined MUFC, without hesitation. MUFC place an enormous emphasis on CPD so they supported me in completing my UEFA A licence, under the FA Tutor team of Dick Bate, John Allpress, Chris Ramsey, Paul Smalley and Kenny Swain. I remained at MUFC until 2009, still on a part time basis, whilst still progressing in my career in education.
Combining two very extremely challenging and rewarding positions, with being a father to three daughters, meant that I needed to decide on where my career should be heading.
Football has always been my passion and when I was approached to join the Jordan Football Association, as their Assistant Technical Director and Head of Youth National Teams, this was the full-time football opportunity that I had been waiting for.
The job met my football and financial needs. I owe this opportunity to all my mentors at MUFC, (Paul McGuinness, Brian McLair, Tony Whelan, Mark Dempsey, Eric Harrison, Rene Meulensteen, Jimmy Ryan) as without their support and guidance, I would not have been offered this position. However, I wished I had communicated more thoroughly with MUFC, during this process - football is a small world and transparency is always the best option!!
I spent two fantastic years in Jordan. I worked with the Eygptian coach Mahmoud El Gohary (The most successful African and Asian Head Coach in history). I worked within a great federation, lead by HRH Prince Ali Bin Hussein-Vice President of FIFA. I led two national youth teams to the AFC Quarter finals, missing out on world cup qualification. My Jordan experience was my first experience of football within a different country and culture.
In July 2011, after 2 years with the JFA, I was offered the opportunity to join MCFC as their U18 Coach, this quickly changed to be the Head Youth Coach for the U15s. This was the first cohort of full-time schoolboy footballers, under the EPPP guidelines for creating better learning environments for elite schoolboy footballers. This was a partnership that was developed by Mark Allen (MCFC Academy Director and Brian Marwood) with the cooperation of St Bedes Independent School.
After a season at MCFC, I was approached by Tromsø FK (TIL) an elite division team in Norway. They had just played in the Norwegian Cup Final and their assistant head coach (Mark Dempsey) was joining Ole Gunnar Solksjær at Molde FK. In the season I was at TIL we qualified for the Europa League Group Stage and we were recognised, officially, as the highest possession team in European Football.
During this period Rene Meulensteen, who has been 1st team assistant manager at MUFC and Anzhi and later Head Coach at Anzhi, was appointed Head Coach at Fulham FC. I joined Fulham as the Assistant Head Coach, alongside Ray Wilkins, Mick Priest and Alan Curbishley.
Fulham was enjoyable, but surprisingly short lived, as the stresses in a relegation battle, meant we were replaced by Felix Magath and his staff.
in 2014/2015 season, I returned to Norway, where my partner Karoline lives. I joined the local team at TUIL FK (an elite club-but a club more noted for being a player developing club). My role was more, player developer, 1st team assistant trainer, head of football development. I also worked at the local college working with 17-19 year old footballers, who were aspiring to be professional footballers. At TUIL FK, I was responsible for implementing gradual change, whilst working with the A Team Head Coach, the reserves and the Youth team players and coaches.
In May 2015 I was approached by SWFC, who had been taken over by Thai owner Dejphon Chansiri, to join a 3-man sporting director committee, one of my colleagues was Glenn Roeder. What a privilege it was to work with him. A great football man and what a humble, charismatic and humorous man. SWFC during this season, missed out on premier league promotion, by a missed penalty, under the Head Coach guidance of Carlos Carvahl, whom the owner had appointed and asked me to become his assistant.
In late 2016, I returned to TUIL FK, working in a similar position as before, then progressing to the Head Coach in 2019 season. TUIL FK has changed slowly during this period. Although it is regarded as an elite Norwegian club, it is semi-professional in nature, competing against clubs in the same division, who are full time professionals. The club has recently invested in amazing facilities, they have been open to “football cultural change” and during my 2 seasons as Head Coach, we have been relegated, we have sold 5 players below the age of 20 to elite clubs in Europe. All players, coaches, support staff and anyone associated with the club, know that they belong to one club and not to a team within the club.
After much reflection I took made the decision that I needed to step away from TUIL FK. A difficult but important decision. I believe my Norwegian assistants were better equipped to work with the squad and I needed to work in a full-time professional environment.
Any achievements or anything you would like to highlight in your career?
My 3 daughters are my major achievement.
I have been fortunate to work with some great coaches, medical and support staff over my coaching career. No one coach is responsible for the development of an elite player. It is the work of many coaches and influencers.
I am very detailed, logical and realistic in my coaching and communication. Not all of my colleagues have the same coaching style and personality, as me, and fortunately this is good. Its important to be yourself. MUFC recognised this in players and coaches.
A big ego smashing lesson is that MUFC compared developing a youth elite player to baking a cake. The final product - 'the player' is the cake. The coaches are the chefs and their coaching sessions and syllabus are the ingredients. We all put our special ingredient into the cake. No one cake will ever be prepared the same and will never taste the same, but the principles of baking the cake will remain the same and the end product will be a cake worthy to taste at any table. It’s a team effort, not a one man show.
I have been fortunate to see the development of some elite youth players who have made the sacrifices and struggled with the journey in elite professional football. From my experience, of those players who I have worked with, the one quality they all share is their commitment towards being the best they can be-No excuses.
Some of the Youth players, that I have worked with, have gone onto have good careers at premier league and championship clubs and have gained international honours. Danny Welbeck, Thomas Cleverly, Danny Drinwater, Michael Keane, Oliver Norwood, Matty James, Jesse Lingard, Marcus Ratchford, Ravel Morrison, Cory Evans, Josh King, Phil Foden, Mousa Dembele are all players that I have coached for sustained periods of time, and I hope at some point I have had a positive influence on them, not only as a coach, but as someone who they could trust.
My time at Fulham FC was amazing. Working with experienced coaches as Rene, Ray Wilkins and Alan Curbishley was an education. Having the daily opportunity to work with premier league players such as Dimitar Berbatov, Scott Parker, Steve Sidwell, Darren Bent, Kieran Richardsen, John Arne Riise, Brede Hangaland and many more was exciting. Top players who all demanded from themselves, their team mates and the coaching and support staff.
I have many funny stories to tell, but none that I would share publicly. I’m sorry but I respect privacy and my colleagues.
You have worked at Manchester Utd, Manchester City, Wigan, Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday. Were there any major differences in terms of working environment and what was some of the talent like?
All clubs have differences, due to finances and what they view as their priorities. I think its important that clubs identify what their priorities are, what makes them unique, what is their DNA? I don’t think a club can copy-paste the DNA of another club, they have to create their own club culture and identity. Its OK to take examples of best practice, from the best, but you have to put your own mark on your own club.
When I was working at MUFC, MCFC and Wigan, I was working with Youth players and the emphasis was totally on developing players. At MUFC winning for the coach was not a priority, the monthly coaching theme was the focus for the coach. Within every coaching session, of every week, of every month, of every season the players knew the coach and his desire to win, so when it came to a game on a weekend, there was no need to motivate the MUFC player.
To explain further, if our training theme was defending and reducing goal scoring opportunities. That’s how we would assess our performance, regardless of the score line. We could win 6-3, but allowed 10 goal scoring opportunities. Would the players and coaches be happy? No!
Yes, we had won, but we had failed in what we had been working on. Winning for youth players at MUFC and MCFC is expected and it is part of their DNA, they expect to win and demand it from each other. Its as simple as that. Only the winners survive at this level.
At Fulham and SWFC I was working with Senior players. It was about winning 3 points. It was all about creating an environment and energy that allowed the players to arrive at the game 100% prepared. Working with Rene, who had been massively influenced by Sir Alex Ferguson, demonstrated to me that although we had to win, we should always be prepared to give the most talented Academy players the opportunity to begin their career. Moussa Dembele was afforded this opportunity by Rene. That took courage by Rene, but it was strategically planned so that Mousa was well prepared, so his debut was a successful experience. The rest is history, Moussa has played and scored at Fulham FC, Celtic, Lyon and is now on loan at Atletico Madrid.
Having been a professional player yourself and experienced being part of a Centre of Excellence playing for Everton, have your own experiences influenced how you work as a coach?
I was born in Orrell, Wigan, played for the town teams etc. I wanted to sign for my hometown club, who were in the old 4th division. Wigan Athletic recruited more physically mature players at younger ages. Their emphasis was more on winning. Eventually at 13 years of age, after my hometown did not offer me an associated schoolboy contract, I was recruited by Everton FC, champions of Division 1, in 1983/4. They looked at the more technical player and had more patience in the process of developing players.
I guess I have some empathy with the late maturer, at Youth Level, as that is what I was. I shared my experience with Tom Cleverley at MUFC, when he was 15 years of age. Tom was comparing himself with other teammates, Danny Welbeck etc, who were physically more developed than him at this age.
Tom was a late developer, but the coaching staff at MUFC had belief in Tom’s ability and his outstanding MUFC mentality. We reassured him to focus on what he could control. Physical maturity was something no-one has control over. This was carefully managed and communicated with Tom. After being anxious about his future at MUFC, Tom went onto play 55 times for MUFC, 15 loan appearances at Leicester City FC, 33 loan appearances at Watford FC, 25 loan appearances at Wigan Athletic FC, 31 loan appearances at Aston Villa FC, Everton FC 32 appearances, 17 loan appearances at Watford FC, 83 appearances at Watford and 13 Full England appearances. Not bad for a young player who was thinking he was not good enough. I think patience and good communication is the key here.
What were the expectations of the Youth players at Manchester Utd and how did the Academy Coaches go about supporting them towards reaching those expectations?
It’s funny really. Expectations, in terms of playing, were never mentioned, with little, if any stress placed on the players or the coaches. It was a relaxed but hardworking environment, and it was natural that the coaches and players inherently knew what was expected. Occasionally senior Coaching staff would give the coaches and players a subtle reminder of where you were and that there were players in the UK, Europe and the Rest of the World who were looking to step into any vacant squad positions at MUFC.
The younger aged coaches, under the guidance of Tony Whelan, would remind the Parents of the younger MUFC players, to enjoy the journey and trust the club. MUFC had employed experienced coaches to support their son in their development. Leave it to the coaches, be parents, support and encourage your son, don’t be a coach. Tony Whelan always emphasised and reminded the parents that it was an achievement in itself, that their son was already at MUFC.
On reflection, there were more expectations off the field. Punctuality, togetherness, politeness, manners and respect were all qualities that were hallmarks of an MUFC Academy Player. Wherever an MUFC team played, whether it was in England, Europe or further afield, it was important that we left a positive impression on everyone we met. I remember every flight we went on with MUFC, the flight attendants and pilots, would immediately be given a MUFC pin badge, tie or piece of memorabilia. The same with the hotel managers, chefs, domestic staff. Everyone was respected and the players realized that being respectful, earned respect. The staff transporting you to a game, the staff taking care of you at the hotel, where an extended part of the MUFC team.
At the end of the day, we all knew that it is extremely hard to join the MUFC academy at 7-8 years of age and progress to the 1st Team. All those players that have achieved this, have really earned that opportunity and should be praised and be proud of their achievement. The journey is not a straight line, there are many highs and lows, along this journey, that many people do not see or recognise.
Those players that did not get the opportunity to play for MUFC 1st team have gone onto have great careers in the premier league, championship, league 1 & 2, European clubs. This is also success to MUFC. Creating players that can have a career in professional football, who are responsible and respectful young men is success to MUFC and there are hundreds of these success stories.
How valuable was your previous experiences in English Youth Academies, when becoming Technical Director for the Jordan F.A.? What was your role like there and how was the environment to adapt to?
Working at MUFC and Wigan allowed me to have a clear idea/picture of what I was trying to achieve. My biggest difficulty was communicating these ideas and standards or performance indicators, in terms of quality of players, performances, training environment, coaching standard etc. I learnt patience and never to assume someone knows what you are thinking. This takes weeks, months, years of dialogue. That is why we see so many head coaches taking 2 or 3 trusted and like-minded assistants. They can be given responsibility and not be micro-managed. In the end the job of head coach will eat you alive if you do not delegate and trust your staff.
I was fortunate to have an assistant coach who acted as a translator, Bibert Khagado. He was a very open minded and forward-thinking coach. To have Bibert as a colleague was vital as we could work more efficiently. Quickly our methods, standards and expectations for working were understood and replicated within the National Teams program and the emerging younger talents, throughout the whole country. I had a multi functional role: player, team, coach, methodology developer, whilst also supporting the Technical Director.
Our methods of working were facilitated with some early wins, in Asian tournaments, and we were supported, in the media, 100% by HRH Prince Ali Bin Hussein and his advisor Captain Mahmoud El Gohary. Two men I truly admire and respect.
Being an ex MUFC coach was quickly forgotten in Jordan. This was about me having to learn how the Jordanian football coach operated, developing their strengths and nurturing their weaknesses. Embracing the Jordanian culture was important for me to integrate into the role. I rarely socialised with the Ex-Pat-English speaking community in Jordan. To this day, I am in contact with many of the Jordanian National team players and many of the coaches, that were so receptive and supportive towards me. I hope and believe that I had a part in the start of their coaching careers. Many have gone onto become National Team Coaches or Coach educators, within Jordan, the Middle East and some are FIFA coach educators. Again this is credit to the MUFC way and my involvement in Education. Everyone has potential, but its finding what that potential is and trying to nurture that potential and motivation.
You’re now a Head Coach in Norway and have held roles at other Norwegian clubs. What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced and how did you go about overcoming them?
Norway has been a great adventure so far. I met my partner Karoline and her 4 daughters here when I arrived in 2013.
Working at Tromsø FK (TIL) was a great experience. My first taste of working with senior players. I was given this opportunity by Agnar Christensen. Agnar was a very good Head Coach. He was taking over from the previous Head Coach, Per Mathias Hogmø, who had been appointed as the Norwegian National Team Men’s Head Coach. Agnar gave trust to me as his assistant. A difficult skill for some coaches. We had success in the Europa league, progressing to the Group Stage. Something that I am very proud of, reflecting many years later. Elite level football in Norway is very similar in its demands on the players, however the playing and coaching salaries are not comparable with the elite European Leagues and therefore attract a different standard of player.
Norwegian football is viewed as a relatively new profession. Large percentages of Norwegians are obsessive about football, especially English Football. Norway is culturally a very democratic country and this is very evident within the football environment, especially at a Junior and Youth level. The climate, the size of the country, creates challenges. Towns and areas are seperated by huge distances. (To travel from Tromsø in the North, to Oslo, takes a 2 hours flight-its actually quicker to fly to Rome) However, commuting 6 hours, via 2 ferries, for a game at Youth level is not uncommon.
With this in mind, the local amateur, semi-professional, professional football club, becomes vital for the community, as competitive school sports is not common in Norway. In Norway, players typically only start receiving professional coaching at 16-18 years of age. Until this age, all clubs have a social responsibility to all its paying members. The NFF encourage “As Many Players, As Long as Possible” to play football.
TUIL FK, my last club, where I was Head of Football Development for 2 years and Head Coach for 2 years, is regarded as an elite club. It is semi-professional, with players combining studying or work with football. The players are enormously committed and a normal season involves them being away from home, every second weekend. Every Away game, for a team in the North, is like a European cup tie-a 2 hour flight. The cost to a club, in terms of finances and human resources is enormous. Most support is done on a voluntary basis, a community act called “Dugnad”. Dugnad is part of the Norwegian Culture and something that all Norwegians take pride in.
TUIL FK were relegated in 2019 season, my first season as Head Coach. TUIL has always been a club that has played at Level 2 or 3 in Norway. It is a club that attracts and develops players, who either progress into full time players or academics, who want to combine high level football with studying (law, accountancy, business, finance, fishing, logistics or medicine at the local prestigious Tromsø University). In 2020, 5 players, all below the age of 20, have progressed to elite clubs in Europe, and are all playing 1st team football, we finished mid table. I believe it was a successful season. The club is in a better position to be promoted and sustain a healthy level 2 position. Maybe in the next 2-3 seasons they may get close to a final 16 cup run and still develop and sell younger players, who have the ability and drive to play football at a higher level, as a full-time professional footballer.
My colleagues at TUIL have been amazing, from the Volunteer Chairman-Morten Lind Olsen, to the employed CEO- Roger Ness, Martin Myrlund, Inge Takøy, I have learned so much in terms of process, expectations and diplomacy in Norway. Familiarise yourself with this. Don’t assume what is accepted in the UK will be accepted in the country, where you are being employed. Listen and ask! if something does not make sense, it probably won’t. Your in a different country, with different expectations and values. One is no better than the other, be flexible and open minded and you will save some unnecessary headaches.
Towards the end of 2020 I had realised that I was not enjoying the role as Head Coach, as much as I thought I would. I believed with the squad of players we had, my assistants would be more effective as Head Coach and that would be better value for the club. The sports chief was extremely supportive in this decision. This is Norway. Here is a big lesson I have learned in Norway, your last weeks in your current employment, should be your best weeks of your employment.
On reflection I believe my skills and experiences are better suited to working with full-time footballers, whose 100% focus is football. Its what I know and understand. Therefore, think before you accept a role. So as I write this, I am in dialogue with a number of clubs, within Scandinavia, Europe, US and Asia, regarding a variety of roles. I will take my own medicine here! and evaluate the following, what can I offer the club? what can they offer me? What are their expectations? What are my expectations? If the role, the status of the club and the working conditions make sense, then it’s a good starting point to take this opportunity or dialogue further.
How have your previous playing and coaching experiences impacted the way you coach and manage now? Have you adapted any processes since moving abroad?
I think I have demonstrated that I have developed not only as a football coach, but as a human being.
For those of you who are considering a move away from the UK, yes football and life does exist outside of the UK border. Yes, it is home, and it is a great country, and you will miss the familiarity and routines of the UK. You will get home sick when you are away. Yes we should be proud of our football heritage and our UK nationality, but don’t let the UK limit you, there is so much to see, learn, experience. Take the leap, it’s better to fail trying than to never to try at all. At the worst you will always have a cheap holiday accommodation, when you return to visit, because I promise, you will make life-long friendships. Friendship is football’s free gift.
How’s the future looking?
I’m positive about the future. As I stated earlier, I will not accept any job in football. It has to be right. I have a duty of care to myself, my older family, my partner and my 3 daughters and 4 step daughters. Football is all consuming. We need to recognise this and set boundaries for working hours. Again, something that Norway has taught me. Norwegian society puts high value on a good life-work-family balance.
I have a well-rounded CV and set of skills and experiences and I hope that a progressive thinking football organisation/club can see the value in approaching me and using my experiences to help develop their organisation.