Steve Darby has worked all over Asia and the coach has provided Kick Off Asia with a guide on how to a coach, as well as players, can survive and prosper on the world’s biggest continent.
All over Asia there are an ever growing number of players or coaches who are ‘the foreigner’. Football is the perfect symbol of the global village.
To succeed as an outsider it may be worth noting the following article is drawn from experience (and many personal mistakes) and while mainly applicable to coaches many can also be applied to players.
Learn the language
Whilst English is widely spoken all over the world and appears to be the most common second language, it is amazing how far a few key words of the native language in the country you are working in can get you.
Even basic courtesy words such as ‘please, thank you, good morning’ can really help break the ice. It also shows a respect for the hosts as well as being obviously useful. In the short term, fluency is not expected, but try learning five words a day and basic grammar and soon conversations can be struck up. Some countries do not have cable so home can be a lonely place if you can’t understand the television. When you can tell jokes in your second language you have made it. As a player, acceptance in the dressing room often helps performance and language/jokes are vital.
Football terms are universal. “Shoot!” “Goal!” and others but it really helps if you are working with an 18 year old striker to know how to say “bend your run” or “arrive late” in his language. It is even more important to say “well done” or “excellent” in that language. Immediate and personal praise is a wonderful motivation to learn.
Understand the culture
Try to understand the culture of your host. No country will expect you to convert to their religion, but conversely don’t try to expose your religious or political beliefs or be trying to convert players. It is enough of a job to get them to win!
I was working in a country where I was appalled and upset about the poverty of the people who supported the team. A wise administrator asked me if I really thought I could change that situation. And perhaps the local team winning was a great support to this community. Idealism is wonderful but be realistic in what you can achieve. Footballers are often privileged and should help less fortunate people wherever they can but keep it in perspective. Also try to learn what is offensive. Drinking alcohol, swearing, going without a shirt, showing your feet, are all habits which may be acceptable in one country but offensive or even illegal in another. Remember you are a guest in the country and it doesn’t really matter what they do or accept in England, Germany or Brazil.
Although often laughed at, try to also understand the food! From experience I can safely say that it is not funny when you are in bed for five days and have lost about eight kilograms and unable to even think about working. Learn what you can eat and drink and never experiment on the day before a match.
It is your responsibility to be fit to play/coach and diet is part of this. Also it is naïve to demand European diets for Asian players. Intelligent research can reveal local equivalents, which have the same nutritional requirements. Players may actually get sick if they are forced to eat alien food and it is pointless to expect players from poor economic backgrounds to buy expensive pasta when rice is far more accessible. Also in most cases you will have to educate the mother or wife and not the player. Not an easy task when you will probably never meet them.
Develop key relationships
A coach must have key relationships with three groups of people. Obviously the most important are the players for if you do not have their respect and support then everything else is irrelevant.
It is also essential that the coach has a good relationship with the ‘administration’. This obviously varies from nation to nation. In some nations a club is ran by a large administrative staff while in others one man is the boss and like it or not, that is where the wages are coming from.
It is very important that early in a contract that clear roles are agreed. The most important being of who picks the team! Remember it is the coach who gets the sack, never the selection committee, so my advice is always be prepared to die by your own methods rather than by somebody else’s.
Know what your role is, what you can comment on and learn the policy of the club. In reality your role is to get the team to win! Try to gear everything and everybody towards this aim. . If possible try to control the environment that you are working in. A sad reality is that long-term in Asia often means next week. You are lucky if you have intelligent administrators who see a job may take two year though this applies to football world wide. The great sides of the world have consistency of management at all levels.
A wise coach will listen to people he trusts, as nobody gets it all ri
ght all of the time and there are cultural differences which are perplexing at first such as the effect of marriage on an Asian player being an example, or even simply the role of gender in the society. But the aim is to establish a strong professional and personal relationship with the key people in the club and it will make the job far more enjoyable and success more likely.
The third key group in Asia is the media. Once again this varies from nation to nation but in some countries journalistic ethics are quite flexible, and a vindictive journalist can ruin a playing or coaching career for a ridiculous reason. Try to get to know the key media early in the contract. Be honest with them and try to treat them fairly and equally. Remember they have a job to do and are under pressure from their editors. So don’t lie to them with team selections (does any professional coach actually fool anyone with lies about selection?). Also give them stories and make their jobs easier. I have also found that by giving ‘off the record’ information early on, which in fact is inconsequential will enable you to find out who are the true journalists with ethics and love for the game or just circulation hunting hacks.
The media is the essential link to the fans. Remember you were once a fan as a young boy and wanted to know all about your team – so why deprive young fans of this knowledge? We want people to love the game and we should encourage their passion. Help the media and in return they usually will help you. They are often an incredible source of knowledge about player movement and their backgrounds which is vital in the transfer market.
All over the world there are horror stories about players and coaches having money worries due to broken contracts. It is essential to remember that no nationality has a mortgage on corruption, dishonesty or even stupidity! There are examples everywhere. It is also a two-way story with dishonest players and coaches as well as administrators.
It is essential for administrators to realise that it is impossible for anybody to work at their best if they are worried about money. If people want good results then they must treat people as they would a doctor, lawyer, mechanic and pay them correctly for their services. It is better to promise a lesser wage and deliver on time than to have troubles caused by late or non-payments.
When negotiating a contract the essential ingredient is honesty. Once a contract is signed then that is it and neither side should put extra demands on the party. This is a two way process as I have seen strikers demand extra money for important games. While only a few professional players do this, they ruin it for the vast majority of honest professionals.
If clubs occasionally pay a special bonus for a special victory that should be taken as a surprise and not an obligation. Conversely basic wages should be paid on time, irrespective of results. Very few players enjoy losing and it is a reality of the game that somebody will lose, so results must be put in a sane perspective. Are Laos going to play in the next World Cup? No! But have Japan or Korea a realistic chance of making the last eight? Yes! This logic must be applied at all levels of the game. As Arsene Wenger of Arsenal has stated, learning how to react to a loss is a great skill for a coach.
Lodging a copy of your contract with the national body is usually a wise precaution as they always act in an appropriate manner. However, they can only act on official contracts and not ‘under the table’ promises.
In summary being a pro in the game as either a player or a coach is a great lifestyle. However, it is a profession and must be treated as such by working hard, setting high personal standards and continuing to educate and improve. Treat all people how you would like to be treated, with honesty and respect and you will enjoy the job. There are millions of people who love the game and it will give you the greatest moments of your life and you will meet wonderful people from all cultures.
You may also experience incredible situations such as being tear gassed in the Middle East, or playing in front of one thousand monks in Thailand but usually footballers are the same over the world and the dressing room laughs are universal. So avoid the colonial mentality, share the passion for the game and, yes, win a few games as well! It really helps.
Steve Darby is a FIFA Instructor for Oceania and an Asian Football Confederation Coaching Instructor with experience playing in England, USA, Bahrain, Australia and Fiji. He has coached in Malaysia with Johor and Perak, winning cups with both, and won a SEA games Gold medal with Vietnam. After Singapore League and cup success with Home United he coached the Thailand National Team working with Peter Reid and then Bryan Robson. He is currently an Asian Coaching Consultant for Everton FC.