Taking an opportunity on an island off Iceland, Gregg Ryder found himself in Serbia at the age of 24, leading a team in the Europa League against Red Star Belgrade...
Name, age, where you are based?
Gregg Ryder, 32 years old, Reykjavik, Iceland.
I have just finished my 6th year as a Head Coach in Iceland with Þor Akureyri. I have worked with two clubs as a Head Coach, Þrottur Reykjavik for four and half years and Þor Akureyri for one year.
Prior to that, I worked as an Assistant to IBV first team as well as holding roles such as Head of Coaching, (Þrottur) and U19 and U16 Boys lead coach (IBV). Most recently I have been helping the Icelandic FA as a UEFA B tutor for coaches.
I have my UEFA A and I am trying to get onto my UEFA Pro licence. I also have a bachelor degree in Business Management.
How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?
Different! I went to the USA on a soccer scholarship and it was while I was there, that I really started to get into my coaching. My first ever coaching role was with a high school girls team which I coached in the spring, and a U15 boys team which I worked with in the summer.
After finishing my scholarship I returned to the UK and a connection I had made through coaching in the USA, put me in touch with someone at my local club, Newcastle United. I did three or four development center sessions before they asked me if I would be interested in going out to Iceland to work as an U16 and U19 coach.
Ironically, I wasn’t offered the position because I had done anything particular outstanding coaching wise (in those four development sessions), instead it was more because I had lived away from home for five years, I was single and therefore a “safe bet”. They had sent over two or three coaches prior to myself and they hadn’t been able to stay longer than a month or two.
I was soon to discover there was a reason for this…. the job was located on an island off the south coast of Iceland, with a population of 4,500. In the winter, the only way to get to and from the island was a three hour ferry or by plane, which rarely flew due to the horrendous wind conditions. It became evident quite quickly why so many had come and gone before me.
However, on the island, they had a premier league football team, both men and women. They had their own, half 3G indoor pitch and the people on the island lived and breathed football. I knew if I could stick this out, it would be worth my while - which it was. I stayed for two and half years. In my last year when Hermann Hreiðarsson was appointed manager of his home town club, I was promoted to Assistant Manager. Hermann brought his best mate, none other than David James, with him as Goalkeeper player/coach. What an experience that turned out to be!
Following IBV, I was offered a Head Coaching role at Þrottur Reykjavik, at the age of 25. When I arrived at the club, they had just finished one place above the relegation zone on goal difference and there was only five players contracted. The club was in a mess. However, I had an excellent chairman and we were able to bring in some fantastic young players, great staff and promote several players form within their academy.
In my first season we finished 3rd (one place below automatic promotion) and then went one better the following season and got promoted to the premier league, for the first time in 9 years. Unfortunately, our stay was a short one as we came back down the following season.
Nevertheless, invaluable experience was gained from my first promotion and relegation; so many issues, hurdles, barriers and ultimately learning experiences that have helped me to become a better coach.
Any Major achievements? Any funny stories? Big name players coached? Big name coaches faced?
Biggest achievements - a few stand out; the first one and maybe most memorable was when I was put in charge for my first game at IBV. Hermann was a player/manager and had been coming off the bench here and there in games previous. However, this particular game was his first start and therefore my first game as head coach...
Location of the game: Marakana, Serbia. Opposition: Red Star Belgrade in the 2nd Europa league Qualifying stage. This was Red Star’s first game in Europe for a record 6 years and so there was a 35,000 plus crowd. I am a Newcastle fan, so I have been in St. James´ Park on a few occasions when the atmosphere has been electric, but nothing like this. We lost the game 2 – 0 on aggregate, after drawing the return leg 0 – 0.
Once you experience an event like this as a coach and everything that goes with it, it becomes a drug - instant addiction. I have been chasing that high ever since. As far as I am aware, at the age of 24, I am the youngest coach to manage a Europa League game, but please correct me if I’m wrong!!!
Another more long term achievement, has been the success of developing players. Iceland is unique in that respect, it has the highest export of players, per capita in Europe. In other words, it’s a hotbed of football. The vast majority of clubs have the same philosophy; develop players to get into the first team, to then sell them on.
Selling players to Europe is how the clubs are sustainable, it’s therefore an ideal environment for a coach to work. Results are obviously important and as a head coach you live and die by them, however, the ability to develop and produce players for the club to sell on, can go a long way. How many managers in England would be relegated with a club and then offered a new a contract at the end of the season?!
My guess would be not many, even if they made it to the end of the season. The work I had put into individual player development at Þrottur and my drive to help the club produce young players basically kept me my job. Therefore, the numerous players which are now playing professionally abroad, or playing with the Icelandic youth or senior national team is definitely something I consider my biggest achievement.