Name, age, where are you based?
Paul Westren, 38, Lesotho, Southern Africa
Previous Football Roles:
Head Coach, Chelsea FC/R&F Guangzhou Soccer School, China
First Team Scout, Oldham Athletic FC
Assistant Academy Manager, Craig Bellamy Foundation, Sierra Leone
BA Hons Communication Studies
Professional Diploma in Marketing
UEFA B, FA Youth Modules, FA Talent ID L1,
Tell us a story
I worked many different jobs outside of football and was a Student Support Officer at Kingston University before leaving London to volunteer with the Craig Bellamy Foundation (CBF) in Sierra Leone in 2013. I used to play at non-league level so had always played football, but this was the first role where I was coaching full-time. From being a volunteer initially I worked my way up to Assistant Academy Manager. I have many interesting stories from working in Sierra Leone but probably too many to mention here! Playing matches against Mohamed Kallon’s club’s youth team, was always a challenging fixture though and it was slightly surreal being on the touchline against someone who you used to watch playing for Inter Milan on TV!
The CBF Academy helped 12 boys gain educational scholarships in the USA, two went to study in the UK at Hartpury College, with one of these, Mustapha Bundu, currently playing for AGF Aarhus in the Danish Super League. Another graduate, Umaru Samora, is now plying his trade in the Ivory Coast, so we had some success. It is just a shame that the ebola outbreak in West Africa 2014, which was obviously a horrific time for the region, ultimately contributed to the eventual closure of the CBF project as there is a lot of footballing talent in the country.
After leaving Sierra Leone I did some scouting for Oldham Athletic for a few months before joining Chelsea FC/Guangzhou R&F FC as a Head Coach at their flagship academy in China. I delivered coach education and acted as a coach mentor in addition to coaching duties, staying there for just under 3 years before Ajax took over from Chelsea. Despite the many challenges we faced in China, I am proud of how the project developed during my time there and a number of the younger players are now training with the Chinese national squads at U15, U14 & U13.
As anyone who has lived in China will testify, the different food options are varied to say the least. I’ve attached a picture of one of the more unusual meal items I encountered… a plate of bees!
Kick4Life is a football club dedicated to social change, based in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho – an enclave entirely surrounded by South Africa. I’m currently Technical Director of the Kick4Life Academy. The Academy is only two years old so is still in its infancy. Ages currently range from 13-16 and we aim to recruit the most talented kids from all over the country. On average we train between 5-6 times a week. The boys are awarded scholarships to attend the academy, and live in a house together close to the Kick4Life centre. They all attend the same local high school for which Kick4Life pay their school fees. Many come from poor townships and have disadvantaged backgrounds so joining the Academy can be life changing. The Academy is underpinned by three pillars; football, education and character, with the aim of developing the person first.
We are currently exploring various exit pathways for our current cohort and are in discussions with some institutions in the USA exploring educational scholarships.
Arranging competitive fixtures is a major challenge as there is little organised youth development in country and I am trying to establish links with South African clubs and Academies so that we can play more matches against different teams. The standard of pitches is very poor in Lesotho although we are lucky that we currently use the National Stadium to train on which has an artificial surface.
For more information please see our website: www.kick4life.org
What’s been the best thing for your personal development
I would have to say networking. A friend of mine has worked as a Kit-Man at a few Premier League clubs and he has helped me gain access and speak to coaches within these clubs. I always try and observe other people work and find it interesting to witness different coaching styles and approaches.
During my time at CBF, I was fortunate to work with some great people in various capacities. On the footballing side, I learnt a lot from Johnny McKinstry and Tom Legg, who are both excellent coaches, and I remain in regular contact with both of them. I also chaperoned three boys to train with Man City U18s for a month, which enabled me to network within the club, and also led to a chance meeting with Lee Johnson, who was then Oldham Athletic Manager (currently Manager at Bristol City). Lee kindly allowed me to observe some training sessions at Oldham and I ended up doing some scouting for him. It was a great experience and I am grateful to Lee for that opportunity and the advice he gives me. I also have good contacts at my hometown club Ipswich Town, who are also very accommodating to me observing sessions and being around the club when I’m back in the UK.
Working through a translator in China was also helpful for my development as it forced me to consider my communication skills and become more concise with coaching points.Being able to work collaboratively in multi-disciplinary teams is a huge part of football now and my background and various experiences to date have helped me become an effective communicator.
What things have you found challenging?
Cultural differences. Working abroad in developing countries brings many challenges both professionally and personally. Coaches in your past interviews have highlighted this area already and naturally being away from friends and family can be difficult. However, I think it’s important to focus on the positives and appreciate the experiences you are getting.
What things would allow you to develop more and has anything developed you more than if you were working in UK?
I think working abroad broadens your horizons on many levels. Some of the challenges you face make you a more resourceful and adaptable person which I think are important traits for any coach to possess, especially seeing as ideologies and tactics within the game are constantly evolving.
How supportive has your home FA been with you while abroad? Have you had to develop yourself through other countries FA?
I don’t feel my development has stalled necessarily, due to the experience I have gained. However, I don’t have too much contact with home FAs. The FA licenced coaches club is a good concept and I have utilised some of the resources on there including the online CPD options/webinars, although it is frustrating that the site isn’t kept up to date.
Being abroad, I feel you have to largely take responsibility for your own development and I’ve had to seek out a lot of information for myself through podcasts, books, internet, social media, linkedin etc. I haven’t been able to utilise other countries FAs to date due to a number or reasons. The Chinese FA are actually trying to implement some positive changes in youth football, but language barriers restricted my involvement there. I’ve actually helped out the Lesotho FA by assisting them with national youth training camps and I’ve established a good relationship with the LeFA Technical Director, so maybe this will help in the future.
What do you feel could help open more opportunities for development in the UK?
Are current pathways suitable to help bridge development gaps between home country and current country of residence?
I don’t think enough value is placed on experience gained from coaching abroad and many people in the UK can be insular in their outlook. Rightly or wrongly, the home FAs give priority to UK based coaches on their courses and this has halted my development from a qualification standpoint. Subsequently,I don’t have the necessary qualifications required for many of the jobs I look at now. I will apply again next year for A Licence courses but even if accepted the expense for attending will be extremely high, especially when working abroad for a charity. I know there are bursaries for BAME coaches, which is a positive initiative, perhaps there could be some additional support for developing coaches who are working abroad too…
Do you feel moving abroad can help in develop a career in football?
In short yes, mainly due to financial reasons and the high cost of living in the UK. I have been offered coaching roles in the UK but I would have needed to supplement my income in other ways.
Perception of British coaches and Our Development
I can only comment on my own work, but in general I have always felt respected in the countries I have worked and the views on my coaching have been positively judged. I think the recent success enjoyed by England teams at youth level, has helped raise the profile and reputation of British coaches somewhat. On the whole, I think the coaching profession is undervalued. In my opinion, to be a good coach at any level requires a strong skill set in a variety of areas and the best coaches are the ones who are open to new ideas and constantly strive to improve and evolve, regardless of which country they are from.
I’m pleased the likes of Graham Potter have recently been given a chance in high profile positions. Hopefully he can build on the success he has already had in Sweden, and achieve more in the UK as this may help alter the mindset and opinions about foreign experiences back home.
Judging by the job descriptions I have looked at over the last year or so, I would need to complete my A licence prior to returning to work in the UK. Depending on the position, finance and location would be other considerations for me.
Having spent a number of years in youth development I would like to test myself at senior level at some stage, although I haven’t put a time frame on this. I do enjoy travelling and experiencing different cultures so I haven’t ruled out remaining abroad. Generally the lifestyle and weather is more enjoyable than the UK too! Saying that, I would of course consider a role in the UK if I felt it would help my career progression.
Helping players grow as people and develop on the pitch gives me a lot of satisfaction. A career in coaching offers plenty of variety and although it’s a cliché, coaching really is a journey that constantly challenges you. For those of you considering embarking on a coaching pathway, be prepared for testing times - it’s not an easy profession and the job market is highly competitive. Saying that, if you have drive and ambition, then coaching can be hugely rewarding and literally take you around the world.
Mark Twain said ‘find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.’ I do feel fortunate that I work in a sport I love. For me, coaching is the next best thing to playing!