Rise Of The Laptop Coaches

What do a 30-year-old Scot and a pair of 29-year-olds – one German, the other Singaporean – have in common?

They are all young football coaches who recently made headlines trying to cut it at elite level.

The German in question is Julian Nagelsmann, who became the youngest-ever Bundesliga manager when he was appointed Hoffenheim’s manager in February.

Still 28 when he officially began his job, Nagelsmann helped steer the club clear of relegation last season, and has been an even bigger success this season.

At present, Hoffenheim are one of only two clubs – Real Madrid are the other – from Europe’s top four domestic leagues who are unbeaten in their respective campaigns this season.

While Nagelsmann has been rightly praised for his work, some of his contemporaries are copping plenty of flak.

In Scotland, a debate has been raging after Ian Cathro was appointed Heart of Midlothian manager this month.

The Dundee native has earned a reputation as one of the brightest young coaches in Europe, having spent the last four years as assistant coach at Rio Ave in Portugal, Valencia in Spain, and then at Newcastle United in England.

But his unveiling as manager of four-time Scottish champions Hearts was vocally met with derision by some, including grizzled ex-pros Stephen Craigan and Kris Boyd.

Former Scotland striker Boyd even used his newspaper column to predict that the young coach will be “way, way out of his depth”, and even questioned his “character to handle” seasoned pros.

His scepticism stemmed from an encounter with a “shy” Cathro at a Uefa Pro Licence course.

“He’s probably not been this excited since Fifa 17 came out on PlayStation,” sniped Boyd.

Almost 11,000km away from Edinburgh, another up-and-coming young coach also ran into an obstacle.

The New Paper reported last week that local trainer Firdaus Kassim failed to secure an endorsement from the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) to take his AFC Pro Diploma course in Thailand, where he works as an assistant coach at second division club Chainat FC.

Firdaus was also part of V Sundramoorthy’s coaching team for the AFF Suzuki Cup, where his primary role was to analyse matches and opponents.

On why it turned down Firdaus’ request, he FAS explained that there must be a mandatory two-year gap between a coach earning his A License and Pro Diploma.

Firdaus earned his A License in 2015.

Singapore’s national football body added that it adopts “a systematic and time-based approach in the development of our young coaches who require a certain amount of practical coaching experience and/or hours before they are ready to undergo the next level of coaching courses accredited by AFC.”

The circumstances surrounding Firdaus, Nagelsmann and Cathro vary, but they are held together by a common theme.

All are footballs coaches with little or no playing experience, and this does bring up a talking point.

Should football administrators be more open towards “academic coaches”, or laptop coaches, as they are sometimes derisively called?

There is a predominant school of thought which insists that coaches without professional playing careers cannot make it as coaches.

John Burridge, who was FAS’ goalkeeper coach from 2014 to 2015, shares this view.

“Them coaches that have never played the game should never ever be teaching players,” said the 65-year-old former goalkeeper, who played for 29 different clubs that included Newcastle and Aston Villa.

“You must gain experience through playing, it’s the only way. You can’t learn by computer.

“You don’t know what the hell you are talking about if you have not been out there on the grass.

“If you haven’t (had a professional career), you are only telling the players what you have read.”

The famous argument against this, as the great former AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi once said, is that you don’t have to previously be a race horse to be a good jockey.

Sacchi was a former shoe salesman who only played at an amateur level, but led Milan to their first Serie A title for nine years in his first season, and then two European Cups. He also took Italy to the World Cup final in 1994.

Jose Mourinho is another fine example of a laptop coach who made it all the way to the top, winning league titles in Portugal, England, Spain and Italy.

Khairul Asyraf, another young Singaporean coach, believes there needs to be a change in attitude towards academic coaches.

If nurtured properly, Khairul can’t see why they cannot become successful.

The 32-year-old Khairul, who runs the 2Touch Soccer School with younger brother Khidhir Khamis, told TNP: “In local and maybe regional context, we have not seen a young academic coach take a top division league team so far.

“The perception change has to happen on many different levels – media, administrators, chairmen and even fellow coaches.

“But of course you must have talent to help change this perception, and in Singapore right now, the three brightest young talents are Firdaus, Khidhir and (former Warriors FC assistant coach) Gavin Lee.

“Just like how you would take care of a 17-year-old Hariss Harun or a 16-year-old Fandi Ahmad, these coaching talents must also be taken care of.”

Khairul has only played at amateur National Football League level, while Khidhir, two years his junior, played in the youth teams of Geylang United (now known as Geylang International).

Both alumni of Victoria School, Khairul has had experience coaching youth teams of S.League sides Tanjong Pagar, Woodlands Wellington and Balestier Khalsa, while Khidhir has coached the Under-16 team at Geylang, where he also led their youth development programme for a while.

Khairul said he has never been told directly that academic coaches are not as highly regarded as ex-professionals, but said that he and his brother “get the vibe” that it is the case.

On the scepticism over academic coaches, Khairul said: “If they are fans, I will ignore them.

“If they are ex-pro coaches or players, I will say that a very limiting mentality will kill you as a coach or a player.

“We are coaches and must always have a growth mindset.

“This is the mindset that enables us to never limit a player.

“That same idea must apply to coaches who did not play elite football.

“Gerrard Houllier can’t kick a ball but he has achieved so much.”


Source: www.tnp.sg

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