'One of the main things from my journey to date are the relationships you build along the way. From people you meet working overseas, to peers you meet on education courses. Everybody has their own story & opportunities, for me it’s one of the best parts of a career in football'...
Photo Credit: Dubai City FC
Name, age, where are you based?
Sam White, 30 years old, Dubai, UAE
Current and past Roles?
Youth Development Phase & International Program Lead (1st Team Assistant Head Coach) – Dubai City Football Club
Youth Development Phase Lead Coach – AFC Bournemouth
Variety of Roles over 12-year span (both full & part time) – Southampton FC
Head Coach of Men’s Football – University of Southampton
Director of Coaching – Challenger Sports (Sacramento, CA)
Highest Coaching Award: UEFA A License.
I would also like to drop a personal message into that. Whilst completing the award, Jon Gittens was my support tutor. An incredible coach, developer & gentleman, who provided an incredible level of support and detail through that process, also a great golfer! Jon went above and beyond his support role, eventually connecting me with my role at AFC Bournemouth via a mutual contact and some good words.
Sadly, Jon passed away in May of 2019, and although I had passed my award some time before that, I never got to thank him properly for the role he played in my journey. A great man who I will always owe a round a golf to! Thanks for everything Jon!
How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
I guess like a lot of others, when the realisation of a playing career is an unlikely achievement, you look for the next best option. For me at the time, that was coaching. My pathway has been amazing, the people I have worked with and the time spent at Southampton (whether community or elite roles) really shaped me. I have been lucky enough to work under some incredible coaches and around one of the most forward-thinking & productive clubs in the world.
One of the main things from my journey to date are the relationships you build along the way. From people you meet working overseas, to peers you meet on education courses. Everybody has their own story & opportunities, for me it’s one of the best parts of a career in football.
Any Major achievements or anything you would like to highlight?
Achievements. In comparison to most things this is really very small, but I think in terms of what it meant to me at the time, it was huge. Winning BUCS 2A with our 1st team squad when I was Head Coach of football at the University of Southampton was massive. We were a really close group.
At the time it felt complete from an all-round perspective. Socially we were a really tight group, we would socialise away from the game too. Technically the boys were excellent, a great mix of players from different areas & backgrounds, as you get with any University team. Tactically we knew what we were good at, I felt so confident regarding the clarity in what we were doing in games.
Physically, the boys kept themselves in very good shape (considering everything University life throws at you) and psychologically we were such a confident group, enjoyed travelling away but at the same time had our own little fortress at the University grounds by Southampton Airport.
As major achievements go our first win in the UAE pro league away in Abu Dhabi with Dubai City FC certainly sits at the top of the pile. My family had travelled out to the UAE that weekend for my birthday & were at the game which was brilliant. The work and planning that had gone on behind the scenes building up to this season, from a full club perspective, was absolutely huge, and I think it really meant a lot to everybody involved.
How was working at Southampton FC and having spent over 12 years throughout the club in different roles, were there any major changes across the academy environment and the way players were educated?
I have supported Southampton since the day I first discovered a football, so to even have the opportunity to work at the club in any capacity was an amazing experience for me. During my time at the club, I had done a bit of everything really. My first full time role was a Foundation Coach in the community program, working across a number of projects & then into development centres, assisting academy age groups & then working around the Foundation Phase.
Just being around some of the coaches at the club at the time was the biggest part of my development as a coach. Andy Martino, Andy Marks, Terry Moore, James Baxter, Tony Salentino, Anthony Limbrick to name just a few, and probably without realising they had a massive effect on my development as a coach in the early stages of my journey.
The biggest thing I can remember being implemented at the time was Bio-Banding, and this was a really new concept back then, I think the club invested massively in this & the welfare of the players – it didn’t turn out too bad at the time either. As it happened there was a conveyor belt of players working their way into the first team squad.
Whilst coaching with Southampton FC you were also the Head Coach of the ‘University of Southampton’ 1st Team. How useful was it to gain experience at both academy level and then as a Head Coach of a 1st team, and what were the main considerations you needed to make in terms of the different player ages and abilities?
As I worked through my UEFA A License with the FA it was paramount that I worked within the 11 a side game, and having only been working within the pre-elite & foundation phase age groups around the academy, I needed to branch out to get some other experiences. The University squads gave me the perfect opportunity to make mistakes, see what worked & what didn’t and essentially begin to build my own philosophy on what I thought football should look like. The players’ age was never a thought really.
I enjoy the relationship & psychological side of the development & competition process. The biggest difference for me was the aspect of players challenging you and your methods, ideas, and strategies. It certainly taught me to have a clarity in my communication and have a clear idea of what I wanted before getting that across. A process I really enjoyed thinking back to it actually.
I was tested more than I ever thought I would have been. Ultimately the players provided me with every eventuality I needed to get through my UEFA A Licence at the time.
How did the move to Dubai FC come about, what are they about and how have your previous experiences in past roles helped your progress with current roles and responsibilities?
Mason McClelland is the technical director at the club. We completed our UEFA B Licence together back in 2011/2012 and have always kept in touch through our careers. The role came up when I was at AFC Bournemouth and I met the Director of Football Terry Kidd in Manchester for some initial discussions.
To be honest there was no selling needed from their side, for me it was a no brainer, I love the UK, but this is Dubai. An opportunity to continue to develop my own thoughts and process around the game. What we are building and creating in Dubai is absolutely incredible, I’m genuinely proud to be a part of everything we are doing, in such an up and coming area of real cultural importance, sport & specifically football is going to hold huge importance.
The knowledge I have got from coaching around the globe has been invaluable from a cultural perspective, but the standards that are set at clubs like Southampton and AFC Bournemouth are just incredible.
How have you found the experience in the 1st Team setup and how have you tried to make the environment as professional as possible?
The first team this season has been an absolute whirlwind, we regularly say that we should have written a book about the inception of this. The club has taken the most incredible strides in a very short space of time to end up in the UAE Division 2 with a senior first team squad. Credit to the staff that have been there since day 1.
If I am being honest, we were nowhere near ready, but living and working in Dubai, you have to be so innovative and forward thinking, there is no time to stand still. My duties would include everything from dealing with FIFA regarding players’ documents and transfers to speaking with local food establishments for post-match meals. There are so many things that come with being involved with a 1st team, before you can even think about systems, strategies, and patterns.
We have done our very best to create the most professional environment possible, working on a budget of next to nothing. I have never learnt so much in a short space of time about myself, support staff & the general environment of 1st team football.
It has been an experience to date that has certainly seen lessons learnt & mistakes made but we have seen so many successes on and off the pitch. What an experience. We can’t wait until next year to be honest.
What’s been best for your career development so far and what are you doing to keep upskilled?
Career development wise it was my UEFA A Licence. Not so much the course (which is excellent) but more the support and networking that comes with it. I am hoping to get on my Pro Licence in the next year or 2 (fingers crossed) well get my application in at least. So any other ways coaches and specialists have upskilled themselves around those courses, I would love to hear about them.
Like many others, I am always looking for ways to develop, right now webinars and online learning tools seem to be a plenty. I must have consumed 50+ different topics throughout our current lockdown.
I have built and developed my knowledge on so many areas over the past 3 months, the most important so far is the development our of ‘Game Model’. Mason McClelland (Technical Director, City FC) and I have spent 100s of hours on our current document. It’s like our bible. We have similar thoughts about football, but also enjoy an argument & challenging each other so it’s a really good balance.
What have been the biggest challenges you have faced and how were you able to overcome them?
Challenges. So many! Some that can be spoke of and some that can’t ; )
One of the biggest challenges was actually getting a place on a UEFA B Licence. Weirdly I still look back at this sometimes. It took me 3-4 years of applying for the course to get myself a place, with that comes stunted development because of jobs (especially in the UK) available to you as a young coach.
Like it or not, there is still a stigma around qualifications vs experience vs knowledge and getting over that is a very difficult one. Again, everything happens for a reason and the course I did manage to get on (with thanks to Jamie Robinson – the tutor of the course) happened to be where I met Mason and ultimately provided me with the opportunity I have now.
How’s the future looking, what’s next?
The future. What a question. That’s a difficult one in these times. Who knows how well football will come out of this situation. In an ideal world, I just want to think about the development of the club here in Dubai. If other opportunities come along the way, then I am always interested to hear about other people’s ideas & visions.
Having worked there previously, the USA has always interested me. But I am keen to be a part of Dubai City Football Club for a very long time! I think at this time, I am just keen to network, develop myself and learn from anybody about any experiences they have in the game.
I want to delve further into the senior game at whatever level I can, but I don’t think I am ready for that just yet. There is plenty of learning to do before I feel ready to jump into that game.
I think at this time, I am just keen to network, develop myself and learn from anybody about any experiences they have in the game.
Listen to the full episode here: How to make players play for you whilst winning in Asia, Vietnam Dong, Translators, & Thailand with Bryan Robson & Peter Reid...