Head Coach at Lillehammer FK & Scouting Phil Foden - Russell Hullett

'For me in Norway, it was getting the coaching structure right throughout the whole club and developing our own local talent, which I learnt whilst studying in Holland visiting clubs like Utrecht, Willem II and Feyenoord....'



Name, age, where are you based?

Russell Hullett, 46, Sutton Coldfield

Current and past roles:

Lillehammer FK: Head Coach

Manchester United: FC: Professional Scout

Notts County FC: Academy Manager

West Bromwich Albion FC: Head Scout

Aston Villa FC: International/National Scout

Nottingham Forest FC: Youth Academy Coach

Qualifications:

Uefa A Coach

KNVB International Coaching Award

Masters Degree (Msc) Performance Coaching (current study)

UK Athletics Sprints Coach

Talent ID Scout

Any particular achievements or highlights you would like to mention?

Nothing will beat passing my A license as it seemed a great achievement following my long pathway, since taking my first FA Level 1 and 2 award ( or coaching cert and premlin as it was then) as a young 17 year old having just been released by Derby County FC.


Other achievements include setting up a private academy which became the UK’s most successful private academy, producing 98 players that signed to pro clubs in the UK and Norway - nothing is more satisfying than seeing one of your former players sign for a pro club or making their 1st team debut!


I've also been fortunate to have always finished in the top 4 with any team that I have managed, with great credit to players and staff I've had around me too!


Some funny experiences include two totally different extremes in climate during my playing and coaching career. I finished my playing career in SE Asia where it was 100% humidity, as we were on the equator with 110 degree heat. At half time I would have to sit in a large drinks bucket full of ice and water that resembled an old school style tin bath, just to lower my body temperature, and by the end of the game I had lost 7 – 10 lbs in fluid weight!


Whilst at the other end of the spectrum, my 1st pro coaching session in Norway was a very chilly minus 18 and I could hardly move or demo anything as I had that much clothing on.... even my sweat began to freeze !!. I also had more thigh and hip flexor injuries than ever in Norway as its was that cold, your muscles would literally be seizing up and you would kick the balls back to the players and then think “I shouldn’t have done that”, suffice to say the clubs physio became my best friend...


Whilst coaching at Nottingham Forest we had a really good period of developing players and I got to coach Jamaal Laschelles now (Newcastle United), Patrick Bamford now (Leeds United) and a few others who went onto play pro football. Even at the age of 13 they stood out from the crowd.



You’ve got a nice variety of roles behind you. What main experiences have you taken away from them and the different clubs you’ve worked at, which are now useful in your current role?

My aim was always to a get good knowledge base in coaching, scouting and sport science, as I knew I would never be an expert in every area of football. I wanted a sound knowledge of each discipline to help me be successful in my future goals, and it’s the reason why I wanted to do both the coaching and scouting roles. I knew this would give me first hand experience and knowledge of the demands/skills/ potential problems I would need or face.


Working at smaller clubs is just as good a grounding as working at bigger clubs, as you really have to think on your feet. A coach/scout has to be innovative to succeed and the recruitment at West Bromwich Albion proved this, as they were so forward thinking in their recruitment and produced endless amounts of players who progressed to the 1st team - it's fair to say we were the envy of many traditional, larger clubs.


They made sure that not only the scouting was spot on, but also the coaching program was too. The openness, information sharing and relationship between coaches and scouts was spot on and was something I hadn't witnessed before, as usually, the two departments work totally separate.


Were there any major differences across clubs’ youth structures in terms of priority focus and how they operate? In your opinion, are English youth academies on the right track with regards to developing youth to the highest levels possible?

I think the UK has really set the standard now in youth development but academies do vary greatly, in the way they operate and it's no surprise seeing the ones that are more successful. It's not just about money and facilities, but more about having the right staff in place and all pulling together in the right way.


We talk a lot about players being 'coachable' but sometimes coaches/ club owners are the least flexible and don’t like change, and this is something I have encountered a few times, both in the UK and overseas.


Clubs need to set out a clear vision on what they want to achieve and be honest with themselves. At West Bromwich Albion, local recruitment was everything, Manchester United local and world wide recruitment. For me in Norway, it was getting the coaching structure right throughout the whole club and developing our own local talent, which I learnt whilst studying in Holland visiting clubs like Utrecht, Willem II and Feyenoord.


I think bio banding has been a big development in UK academies and the long term vision for a player over short term performance, has been a big step in the right direction. When I did my KNVB international course in Holland in 2010, they joked that Dennis Bergkamp would not have made it as a pro had he been raised in England at the time. At 15 he was still small, yet by 17 and at the time he made his Ajax debut, he had a huge growth spurt and grew to 6ft 2!


However some clubs have taken this to the extreme and all their players are now on the smaller side, and you wouldn’t believe how many calls I get every October – March saying do you know of any 15/16 year old centre halves or tall goalkeepers who we could offer a scholarship too, as they haven't planned correctly.


At my previous couple of clubs we designed a playing profile highlighting the characteristics of what we required from players in certain positions; height , speed, technical, tactical, mentality etc, and gave the information to our scouts as a template. Some players in certain positions had to fit the criteria and have certain attributes eg; No 10 had to be creative with good movement, for us to consider them.


But again flexibility is key, and scouts could still send in players who didn’t necessarily fit the criteria but offered genuine development opportunities. For instance, I recently coached a player who came to us as a centre midfield player but we have now converted him to a top centre half, where he has several academies chasing him, great centre half, good/average centre midfield. It's all about spotting the potential in someone from a scouting prospective and then being able to coach them the right way to help achieve their goals.

Have you watched any top talent in any places or countries you wouldn’t expect to and have there been any times when you was pleasantly surprised during your scouting duties?

I have been going over to Canada for the last 12 years where I have run coaching courses. They have some fantastic talent and it's no surprise to see many now breaking into Europe, especially Alphonso Davies who's now at Bayern Munich and is a fantastic prospect.


A lot of Canadians are 1st generation with European heritage and from strong football countries like UK, Italy, Balkan regions and trust me, this place will continue to produce good players over the coming years.


The best player I ever watched whilst scouting in the UK was probably the smallest on the pitch and was outstanding. The player was Phil Foden for Man City. I watched him in the big derby v Man Utd at U14 and he just had everything and totally dominated the game! I remember going back to my club at the time and saying 'if this kid ever becomes available, you must sign him but I doubt he ever will'. I even kept the scouting report as I knew he would be a big star one day.


How transferable are scouting and academy roles and is there any way that scouting experiences, help to understand a deeper level of how players need to be developed?

I think they are very transferable and give you a very good grounding in identifying talent that’s suited to your clubs needs and philosphy, including how best to development that talent further.