After ending his playing career in Australia, British football coach Chris Steel started his coaching career in the same location of Queensland. Gathering experience with each step, Chris has worked in India with the renowned ‘Coerver Coaching’, at AFC Champions league winners Western Sydney Wanderers and in Scotland with Motherwell, St Mirren and Partick Thistle. He now finds himself in North America as Academy Director at Canadian club, Vancouver United.
Name: Chris Steel
Club: Vancouver United, Canada
Role: Academy Director
Qualifications: UEFA A Licence, UEFA A Licence ‘Youth’
How has your career planned out so far, any interesting experiences from your travels?
I’ve gone from playing to coaching in a career that has taken me to four continents and seen me take positions as a Youth Team coach, Game and Opposition Analyst, General Manager, Director of Coaching, Assistant Head coach & currently Academy Director. I can’t say that I imagined my career taking me to Canada, but it has and it’s going well. The person I am, will always be open to new opportunities and adventures.
If you start playing or coaching overseas, you will end up with enough stories to fill a book. I’ve been congratulated by a Manager and his staff for a successful trial in Hong Kong, only to be told the next morning that the chairman is rescinding the contract offer for no given reason. I’ve been told I “had” to sign a contract in India immediately so the team could get me registered before the weekend’s game – but not to worry about the terms and conditions of the deal. I’ve personally rewritten a contract from a club in Australia three times about a player/coach role only for the club to send through the same mistakes each time; and then accuse me of having standards that are too high! The best lesson each story has told me, is to trust my instinct. If it doesn’t look, sound and feel right, you have the right to walk away. I’ve done it more than once and don’t regret those times.
Tell us a bit about your current role
Vancouver United (VanU) has about 2600 players, ranging from 4 years old to 18 years old. I look after the Academy which has a strong focus on technical development. The players don’t play league fixtures in their academy groups however, they do so with their normal divisional teams. VanU is a grassroots club meaning, we’re not building players for our own first team in a high-level league. The underlying goal of the club at the moment, is to support the development of players to move to a higher playing level. We also provide a platform for those not at the highest level, a kind of forum to keep enjoying the game throughout their youth. It certainly is a challenging role personally, as my last position was working with Scottish Premiership team Partick Thistle (U20’s & U12’s). Adjusting my mentality, and being able to put ideas and thoughts across to a parent base, coaching community and player group that are generally less educated in football than their British counterparts; can be challenging at times. Whilst this has been testing, it has also provided me with a valuable opportunity to grow.
As a coach abroad, have you received any support from the ‘home’ FA’s, and could educational pathways be improved in any way?
I have paid for every one of my coaching qualifications personally. At times, I’ve also had to make big sacrifices to help push my career forward. When viewing the cost of coach education around the UK in comparison to countries around Europe, the price difference is scary. I believe the home nation FAs could look towards the Japanese FA, for example. The JFA have helped support coaches in positions throughout Asia by linking with clubs and associations to offer overseas coaching positions. The JFA help to financially support the coach and financial subsidise the cost of high level coaches for the clubs they work with. The idea is simple. ‘Give our coaches real life experience, help develop the Asian game, which in turn helps develop the Japanese game, and we gain a wider understanding of the game across the continent’. If our home nation FA’s do not wish to reduce the cost of courses, could they redirect the money brought in to help subsidise coaches working abroad?
Did you feel you had to move abroad to work in football?
Absolutely. I had a UEFA A Licence, a UEFA Youth A Licence and still wasn’t getting responses to applications for jobs never mind interviews. Seeing the merry-go-round of coaches losing jobs and getting jobs was disheartening to some extent. The good thing was, I knew when to call time on it and started thinking outside the box to create more opportunities for myself.
Have you encountered any stereotypes of British coaches whilst working abroad?
In some countries I’ve worked in, foreigners are often viewed as mercenaries. They come in, get paid large sums of money, don’t do much, and leave after short contracts. Of course, this is often a false perception about coaches but it is one that I have encountered a few times. I believe the majority of coaches are truly looking to develop the club, region or nation that they’re in, as well as themselves. Coaches going out into the world and doing great jobs, such as Simon McMenemy and Graham Potter, can only be positive for British coaches hoping to further their careers. Mostly, they just need to apply themselves correctly.
Ultimately, I would love to work at Champions League level however, the distance between that and where I currently am is significant. I love Asia, having visited Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong more than a dozen times; and can see myself coaching anywhere within the region. I’ve still got time left on my contract with VanU, and I’m very happy with the club and the direction of the Academy but, who knows where the wind will take me? My granny has said before, it doesn’t take more than a bus ticket for me to be away!
Anything inspire you?
I think sportspeople in any discipline are great competitors and I use that as part of my motivation. I see my peers at other clubs, or coaches I’ve been on courses with and see their successes…and try to better that. I don’t use it as a negative motivator, but a positive one – How successful can we all be? How can we help push each other to get better and better? As a coach, I ultimately want to see my players develop; the better they get, the better I need to become to coach them. Can I take a player to the next level of play, can I help a player improve their weaker foot, can I help educate a coach to become better? That last one has become a big motivator for me over the last few years.
Follow Chris on Twitter & Instagram at @Chris_Steely
Check out the latest happenings at Vancouver United and keep up to date with the 2nd Part of their 'train and coach like a Pro' event.