Ryan Northmore has spent the last 21 years of his life coaching football and it’s been difficult to adapt to life in the world’s most densely populated city, Dhaka.
Having moved to Bangladesh in April 2017 to become Head Coach of Saif Sporting Club, it has been a big learning curve adjusting to the lifestyle in Asia, including differences of how a club is run and the mindset of the players.
Please can you introduce yourself
My name is Ryan Northmore and I am 37 years old. I was born in Plymouth, England but moved around the country playing football. My current role is Head Coach of Saif Sporting Club Ltd who are playing our first season in the Bangladesh Premier League. I have been here since April 2017 and we also recently qualified for the AFC Cup play offs.
How have you found your working environment and how’s it been working with your players?
It has taken time for me and the players to adjust to each other. Understanding the mentality and qualities of the players is important, so that you can design a road map to take them towards the goals set by the officials of the club. Football here is underdeveloped so basic infrastructure taken for granted in Europe is not here. But the players don’t know any different, meaning it was my attitude that had to adjust at first. I had to teach the players how to train before I could teach them how I wanted the team to perform. I’ve increased the intensity and introduced more tactical work but slowly, as the players need to take one step at a time.
We are building trust all the time in training and when it comes to matches we are now all working from the same blueprint. The matches are tough, the games are all played at the same national stadium so the pitch condition varies considerably. Most teams here are defensively minded so playing with a higher tempo is important. I don’t like last minute surprises so I try to cover every scenario in training. I think this gives the players confidence and keeps them ready for anything. We have had some positive results, so players are always willing to listen when they are improving and getting success.
How do they compare with players you’ve worked with before?
There are some differences but the bottom line is, footballers are footballers no matter which country they are. Our players at Saif enjoy the small sided games and shooting like my players did in England - I think a coach’s job is to inspire better performances from his players . So many of my methods are applicable here but you need to make adjustments to meet the players needs. Here you need patience and take the time to explain and show what you want from them, while you absorb the pressure of expectation from the officials.
When coaching, you need to change your language and use different methods to get your points across. The players have high respect for authority so players follow instructions when given. But the next day, they tend to do what they did before, and this continues until you convince them what you are instructing is right for them. In England you reach this point by talking and sometimes arguing to reach a conclusion (that the coach is right!) but here that process is missing, so you have to break through in a different way.
Players here have good technical skills and plenty of players love to dribble, so I am happy but the tactical, psychological and physical attributes are not so strong.
What are the expectations at your current club?
Expectations are to win every game and every competition we are in, which is difficult given that this is our first season in the Premier League. Having an inexperienced squad makes it even more challenging , but managing that expectation is part of the overall challenge. I was targeted to reach the AFC Cup play offs and we have done that, so now expectation will increase next year I am sure. My contract has now expired so we'll have to wait and see what happens next!
What interference – if any – do you get from “above” and how does this impact on the way you do your job?
Interference from above is inevitable. It is the managing director and owner managing and directing the staff of their club. So it is normal in any company to have to discuss your work with your boss. But I saw a quote recently from Steve Jobs, he said what is the point of hiring experts and then telling them what to do and how to do it. It’s good advice for owners. I am at the club as the football expert and you have to be strong with your views but maintain a respect for your bosses. Be prepared to not get everything your own way. At times you have to decide if you need to make a stand or let things slide depending on your principles and the situation. You have to balance and remember you are the expert but it’s not your club and operate in between the two.
There are many imposters here who claim to know about football with limited to zero football education or experience. You need to watch your back with them, have a loud voice and a strong owner to keep them from destroying your work.
How are you enjoying it?
Enjoying it is not really the word I would use. It is a big challenge both on and off the pitch. There are moments where you want to book a flight home, and then you see something that you have been working on come to life and it’s all worthwhile. Mostly it is about pushing for more improvement constantly, I get a real buzz from helping the players do better but there is not a moment to stop. The time for enjoyment is at the end of the season when all the targets have been hit.
What things have you found difficult or challenging?
Where do I start?! Personally, I miss my family a lot and life here is totally different so you have to adjust and lose what you know to be true in England. Here it is very different, for example I know in England when the traffic light is red you stop the car, but here no one stops!
Dhaka is the most densely populated city in the world, so you have to expect to be in traffic a lot and moving around is difficult to training and games so where you base yourself and the team is important.
From a football perspective the infrastructure and organisation represents the biggest challenges of all. Training and match day facilities, are underdeveloped and this impacts on the quality of players produced here and the quality of play produced on match days. The standard of officiating in games is also very much behind the rest of the world.
What has been the best thing for your personal development?
I was handed the squad, apart from one signing, so I had to mould the style and tactics of the team to suit the players. I prefer to have my plan and then recruit the players to meet the profile so for me, to approach the season in this way has been great for my development. I have to think more about combinations and what is possible for the team rather than just what I want to do with the team. For the AFC Cup I have been able to bring in 10 new players from a selected group, but I have only a few days to work with them so it will be more like managing an International team for the AFC Cup which is another interesting challenge. But nowhere near the type of perpetration I would like to have.
What support do you get from the Bangladesh FA?
The National Team Manager is English so immediately there’s a connection. I give my opinions on things here and he does the same, but it’s talk about players more than anything else. I have not needed anything from the Bangladesh FA as my club give me plenty of support.
What is the perception of British coaches in Bangladesh?
I think the English Premier League gives instant affiliation to great football, so I think British coaches are well received and we are expected to deliver a similar product. The days of British coaches being about mostly percentage football and set pieces are a thing of the past.
When and why did you first get into coaching?
I first started coaching when I was 16 years old while I was an apprentice at Torquay United. I would help with the Centre of Excellence training. I continued to coach outside of my playing career so although I am 37 years old, I have been coaching for 21 years including after school clubs, academy, senior, semi professional, professional and now International players.
Where were you before moving to Saif?
Before moving here, I worked in England with Weston-s-Mare AFC in the National League and Bristol City Academy in the Championship.
What circumstances led you to taking your current job?
At Weston I had been there for 12 years in total and done many things for the club. I set up the Academy and community trust there and even sold a few players onto league clubs. Most recently Dayle Grubb was sold to Forest Green and I was his coach for probably 400 games or so from youth team to first team. It’s great to see others from the club move on in search of progress.
I had a break from football and then I came to Saif Sporting Club through a friend. He came here first and after talking on the phone he brought me in to the club. I would love to say that Saif heard about my wonderful sessions and brought me in, but it was just being busy and having friends in the game that helped!
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
As a player my biggest inspiration was Neville Southall. I was his understudy for 2 years before he moved on and I became first choice. It was a massive learning curve for me.
As a coach I draw inspiration from many different people. I try to be original with my work so I often look outside of football to bring new thinking to my practice. I worked as a teacher and in recruitment and consequently my skills as a coach have improved greatly.
Within football I admire coaches that get the best out of what is available to them, Sean Dyche, Pep Guidiola, and Sir Alex Ferguson spring to mind. I also admire what the Cowley brothers are doing (at Lincoln City), but my biggest inspiration is Paul Tisdale, the Exeter City Manager. He gets results and at the same time has built a very successful club, selling player after player including Oli Watkins, who I had at Weston-s-Mare AFC and Ethan Ampadu who is a very special player.
How supportive has your home FA been with you while you’ve been working abroad?
I’ve not had any contact with them to be honest. I completed my A Licence with the English FA in 2009 and since then, I have looked outside of the FA to develop my practice further. I have been ready to do my pro Licence for years but at the current price and stipulations I don’t know if those barriers for me can be overcome easily.
Where would you like to go from here?
As mentioned earlier, my contract has now expired so my next move, I would like to go to a club that will be right ‘for me’ for my next challenge. I always want to work with better players in better competitions, but only once I have learnt the lessons of where I am. I want to be successful and I am prepared to follow the process and do the things in the order they are meant to be done. I don’t expect to be moving to Madrid next, put it that way, but I would like to coach in a few more Asian countries, then perhaps in Dubai before returning to Europe or South America. I am learning Spanish so it’s a serious plan, but like all plans, things can change!