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Farewell To China For Now

My contract with Shanghai Shenxin in China League One has now come to an end. Huge achievements to be proud of at the club and big experience gained and most of all, dignity. I now head towards my new challenges of fatherhood for the first time and continuing upwards in the world of football which is amazing, but at the same time can be insincere. I head to Australia in February to continue my coach education and will be good to catch up with some friends and see how things are working out for them down under. I’m currently in talks with a National Team and two clubs in Asia and I’m grateful for opportunity and guidance which has put me in such a position.

My time in China gave me the chance to work with two English Pro Licence coaches, who was highlighted by the English FA as two of the top 16 coaches in the country under 40 years old. What a shame that such an accolade, still leaves it so difficult for good English coaches to get a top job in their own country that apparently ‘values’ their skills. Fortunately for me, what is the English FA’s loss was certainly a gain for me! The Gaffer Gary White, is the only person who could have galvanized a club that was heading for relegation to China League 2. His man management of the players gave them new energy and hope which in turn, confirmed to me that for any Manager to achieve results, the players must want to play for you. If players want to play for you it is not guaranteed to get you a win every week, but what it does do is ensure that they give you all they possibly can in their time on the field. Players that don’t want to play for you simply won’t play, or at least won’t go that extra mile. Next to the Gaffer there was Louis Lancaster, the human ‘Swiss Army Knife’, who has something for anything. When we from England talk about differences between managers and coaches, I have no doubt that Louie will become one of the best Coaches in England (according to England FA he’s already in the top 16, under 40 years old…… ) and any top Manager will benefit from what he can give. A Manager/Head Coach manages, leads and coaches, with a good coach giving everything that the manager needs and together they work in strong synergy.

I have already heard of other British coaches working abroad being dismissed for a job in England because; “they don’t know about English football”. That’s possibly the strangest thing to hear because I’m pretty sure almost every football fan in the pub in England ‘knows about English football’ and I have no doubt that English coaches who are qualified to coach and manage football teams also ‘know about English football’. How much did Arsene Wenger ‘know about English football’ before he made the move from Japan? How about not so successful managers such as Christian Gross, who must of ‘known about English football’ because he had the chance to manage Spurs?.... Then there’s that other funny argument of “not having lower league managing experience”, but I would certainly like to see a lower league club turn away highly decorated names such as David Ginola or Romario (as an example).

Not for my own sake but for all the already and upcoming quality English coaches we have around the world (including England), I hope football in England will continue to become more open minded, just as they are in Germany who give promising home grown coaches a chance to prove themselves. I’m not naïve and I understand where there’s money, there is also a desire for big Hollywood football names, but even so, perhaps English coaches should be a bit more arrogant and hold themselves in higher esteem.

On joining Shanghai Shenxin midway through the season and in the relegation zone, nothing can amount to the experience gained for me when not only did the club escape relegation, but we came within 3 wins away from a 4th place finish. As of true of any country in the world but especially China, the situations arising daily are enough to give any manager or coach good grounding and experience for a job in any country….. even England. In my opinion, anyone who has worked in China is fully capable of transferring there trade to another country, just because of the sheer money, power and cut-throat environment involved in the game there and this in turn, makes it better than any training course. China has huge ambition and the money to back it up. I really hope they succeed in finding the greatness they search because it will prove that ambition will pull through. The stadiums and facilities around China are great and can match with any top footballing nation, with owners willing to pay mega money to make their club more attractive and appealing. I can’t answer if clubs get value for money but I’m sure time will tell.

There’s an abundance of talented Chinese players and the ones I’ve worked with are top lads and excellent professionals. These guys know their football and take everything in their stride. They are fighters, respectful and will play their hearts out. Our Chinese players at Shenxin were always willing to learn and this was enjoyable to see, especially seeing their growth and development in a short period of time. I was fortunate to see the rise of a number of our younger players and make the move from the Reserve team to the First team, and these same players going up against Ex- Chelsea player Ramirez and one of the top scoring Brazilians of all time, Fabiano. It really shows the magic and romance that football creates.

As I leave China, Ex England Manager Sven, has just replaced Clarence Seedorf in China League One with Shenzhen. A beautiful city and a very stable club. This shows the kind of pulling power even a 2nd tier team has and for now, this is the present and immediate future of Chinese football. I wish Shanghai Shenxin all the best for next season and I hope that the lads do well, they deserve it and I hope someday to cross paths with some of them again.

From all of the great experiences China gave me, the most thought probing question it has allowed me to ask is; I wonder how many Managers and their staff in the world can say they beat a relegation battle, beat a team led by Ciro Farrara and his backroom staff from the England National team, beat a team led by Fabio Cannavaro who were multi multi multi-millionaire league leaders and also a team led by Barcelona B’s ex -Spanish Head Coach Jordy Vinyals all in the same season? Not bad for a group of English coaches who “don’t know English football”.

Thank you China and thank you Shanghai Shenxin F.C

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