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The considerable challenge facing Asia’s coaching elite

Ange Postecoglou

The Asian Football Confederation (AFC) is home to a litany of successful, transformative and triumphant coaches, many of whom have left an indelible mark on the region for years to come. However, the extensive measures put in place by the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) leave these coaches facing a monumental effort in their attempt to progress their career – coaching amongst the elite of European club football.

The documented challenges faced by Socceroos Asian Cup winning coach Ange Postecoglou in taking on the managerial role at Scottish powerhouse Celtic FC is a significant example recently. Postecoglou’s Australian Pro coaching license – which is the highest level of coaching qualification in Asia – was not recognised as an equivalent to UEFA’s Pro coaching licence, a requirement for coaches in the continent.

In Postecoglou’s case, the appointed Celtic Head Coach was recognised by the UEFA Coaching Convention for his prior experience and success and pro diploma in the AFC, with the clutch that he had to undergo a Recognition of Confidence procedure to determine his aptitude. Following this UEFA convention process he received a ‘certificate of competency’ that now allows him to coach Celtic parallel to completing his UEFA Pro licence.

Ange coaching

Such a process is no doubt unnecessarily extensive, particularly for a coach of Postecoglou’s calibre. Moreover, it is an even greater toil of a process for AFC coaches who lack Postecoglou’s years of experience. As even though an AFC Pro Diploma relates to the UEFA A License, it is not the UEFA equivalent.

FIFA’s efforts to establish a cross-confederation recognition of coaching licences have gained little traction within the UEFA confederation to date.

Coaches with non-UEFA credentials are forced to undergo a process whereby they are assessed by a bureau of the Jira Panel – the body responsible for the developing and fostering of coaching and coach education across Europe – on a case-by-case basis and on request. There is no official agreement between UEFA and other confederations regarding the mutual recognition of coaching qualifications.

An initiative led by Head of Football Education Services at UEFA, Frank K. Ludolph in October 2019, represents the most recent effort to amend the UEFA Coaching Convention in support of non-UEFA coaches seeking recognition of their respective confederation’s pro licence by UEFA.

Among other recommendations, the initiative suggested that for recognition of non-UEFA coaching qualifications to be considered, the coach would need to have at least five years’ experience coaching a team of the club or the national team of a FIFA member association at the relevant training level and the relevant coaching qualification which meets UEFA’s minimum criteria.

“The procedure determines whether these competences are ‘recognised’. This means coaches will need to compile supporting documents for the procedure, go through the assessment and convince the assessors (expert panel) that they possess the required competences,” Ludolph stated in his letter address to the Jira Panel.

“If the assessment is successful, the coach will receive an official UEFA Recognition of Competence certificate, not a UEFA diploma/licence. This certificate will be valid for three years and will be renewed if the coach in question completes 15 hours of further education with a UEFA member association in that time, in accordance with the further education requirements applicable to UEFA licence holders. Recognitions of competence will remain transferable between UEFA member associations that are parties to the UEFA Coaching Convention.”

Postecoglou and many Australian coaches – including Bristol City’s Tanya Oxtoby and the recently announced Juventus coach Joe Montemurro – befit the aforementioned recommendations, however change has been a slow and laborious process with little eventuating from these recommendations.

Tanya Oxtoby Bristol City

The challenging circumstances that Australian coaches have found themselves in overseas have been well-documented, but it is often out of a sheer desire to make the step up that leaves coaches trapped in complicated and indefinite contracts.

Speaking at a Football Coaches Australia (FCA) webinar last year were international lawyers Josep Vandellos and Susanah Ng and Australian lawyer Peter Paleogolos. Their inclusion in the webinar was essential in shedding light on the at times vague and difficult contract situations faced by coaches overseas.

FCA CEO Glenn Warry, who facilitated the webinar, said that the following key issues emanated from the experts’ presentations that focused on how a coach’s role can be defined within their coaching contract overseas according to their qualifications.

“Ensure your role as coach and other appointments such as football director and head of football are clearly defined in the contract,” he said.

“Only football coaches and clubs will have the standing to stay in proceedings before the FIFA legal bodies. Therefore, it is crucial that the designation of a ‘coach’ is included on the Contract (and that the job scope at the very least refers to some coaching duties) if the coach is to be appointed in a dual role.

“The object of contract represents the work that the coach engages to render in favour of the club. It is important to make sure the job for which the coach is recruited is accurately defined as: Head Coach, Assistant Coach or Goalkeeper Coach.”

The struggles experienced by Australian and Asian coaches in attempting to progress their career are inherently stifled by guidelines that appear to act as a preventative, rather than as a method to ‘upskill’ coaches who would no doubt be capable of matching it against the very best if given the role. Warry elaborated further by stating: “Australian coaches who wish to coach in Europe should carefully plan their professional development and coach education pathway. For Australian players who play in Europe, or coaches with dual nationality, the UEFA Coach Accreditation pathway may be more appropriate.

Montemurro Coaching

The appointment of Postecoglou and Montemurro to the Celtic and Juventus roles respectively is pivotal for not just the recognition of Australian coaches, but coaching professionals right across the AFC. And, dependant on the success that comes Montemurro’s and Postecoglou’s way, it may be the instigator of change that the region is crying out for.

Football Coaches Australia presents ‘The Football Coaching Life Podcast’ S3 Ep 2 with Gary Cole interviewing Steve Corica

Corica FCA

Steve Corica is Head Coach of A-League Men at Sydney FC, where he narrowly missed out on three A-League Championships in a row, losing to Melbourne City in the Grand Final last season. What a remarkable start to his first senior head coaching role!

He played his junior football in Innisfail in North Queensland, before heading to the Australian Institute of Sport and playing just under 500 professional games in Australia, England and Japan.

Steve’s preparation for coaching began while he was playing, and he started to gain his coaching licences before taking on an assistant role with the Sydney FC Youth Team.

He served a seven-year apprenticeship at Sydney with the Youth Team and then as an assistant to Vitezslav Lavicka, Frank Farina and Graham Arnold before taking on the Head Coach role in 2018. He learned from each of these coaches and also learned, like most ‘he didn’t know, what he didn’t know’ when taking on the Head Coaching Role.

Steve believes that team and club culture are key to success. He understands that while he is the driver of the culture, that buy-in from all of the players is integral to behaviours being demanded from the playing group of one another.

Steve’s ‘one piece of wisdom’ was ‘to be yourself’. Know how you want to play, the style of football you want to play. Be strong when you do get setbacks, but believe in what you’re doing, stay strong and keep believing in the style of football you want to play.

Please join me in sharing Steve Corica’s Football Coaching Life.

Catherine Cannuli: “It wasn’t easy to pursue coaching as I felt like I was back at square one again”

Catherine Cannuli

June 1 this year saw long-time stalwart of the Western Sydney Wanderers – Catherine Cannuli – appointed to the role of Head Coach of the Women’s side for the upcoming 2021/22 A-League Women’s season.

In addition to having built up an impressive resume through her role as Women’s Technical Director at the Southern Districts Football Association, Cannuli has been announced as the latest addition to the Executive Committee at Football Coaches Australia (FCA).

Her landmark year of achievements thus far reflects her immense efforts in working to reach what she acknowledges as a personal high point in her coaching career. Cannuli’s success is undoubtedly a testament to her determination, but her transition from player to coach was self-admittedly challenging one.

The lack of clear routes towards securing coaching roles at all levels of the game has led FCA and Professional Footballers Australia (PFA) to announce – within their Memorandum of Understanding strategies –all members of PFA’s Alumni will have their joining fee to FCA waived in an effort to provide additional support to aspiring coaches.

In a wide-ranging chat with Soccerscene, Cannuli spoke on her efforts to reach the point she is at now in her career and highlighted the significance of this recently announced FCA and PFA Alumni partnership.

Coaching

It was announced in June that you were to become the new Head Coach of the Western Sydney Wanderers. What has that been like for you so far?

Catherine Cannuli: It’s been exciting and challenging. Obviously, with the current COVID-19 situation that we’ve been in, I probably had four or five weeks in charge as the head coach and then we went into lockdown. So a lot of it has been done from behind a computer. But it’s been a great time to be able to plan and make sure that everything was ready to go come first day of pre-season.

In terms of opportunities for females in football following the end of their playing career, can you give us some insight into what was going through your head as you were coming to the end of your playing time?

Catherine Cannuli: I really didn’t think about coaching straight away to be honest. I retired and I thought I was going to get my weekends back and be a normal person. My friends were always having a go at me for missing so many significant birthdays or weddings.

It was after being off for about six or seven months, and not having football, where I realised more than anything what it left in me as a person. Football’s been such a big part of my life. It took me some time to realise that I couldn’t be a player anymore, because the commitment at the time was really hard – juggling full-time work and doing everything that I wanted to do. I was at a crossroads in my career at that point. It was thinking ‘do I sacrifice another four years or do I just focus on work and preparing for life after football?’.

It was at that point that I got into contact with the Southern Districts Association and explained that I wanted to give back to our community and asked what I could do to get involved with the girls. I went down and did some sessions with the team at the time, and within six months I’d landed myself my first coaching gig. I took over the First Grade Women’s team there and that was it. I fell into coaching.

What was it like mentally traversing that transition period between playing and coaching?

Catherine Cannuli: It was clear, because everything that I’d spoken to the club about they were on board with what I wanted to do and the vision that I had for young girls in the South-West region. For kids in the Liverpool and Fairfield areas, young girls like myself didn’t have the opportunity to be mentored or be coached. They didn’t have an environment where they felt they’d be able to really excel.

For me it was pretty clear from day one that I wanted to make a change. It was hard to transition, because after my first couple of years in coaching I remember going back to some of my coaches that had coached me for a long time and apologising. Because I didn’t realise what it actually took to be a coach. As a player, you turn up; you train; and you go home. As a coach there’s so much planning going on in the background that players just wouldn’t have an idea about.

The transition was definitely difficult, but after my first 12 months of coaching, I chose to dedicate myself to it. I had a business at the time and I stepped away from it to be able to then go into coaching. At the time I was working at Westfields Sports High School and Southern Districts and learning my trade, and it wasn’t easy when I decided to pursue coaching as I felt like I was back at square one again.

But it was really important for me to experience it that way. Even now that I’m at the top of my game as the Head Coach of the Western Sydney Wanderers, I feel that as a coach it is really important that you learn your trade, go through different environments and see different things before you actually get there. It shapes you as a person and as a coach.

Cannuli

What have been your key learnings in your role as Women’s Technical Director at the Southern Districts Football Association?

Catherine Cannuli: I think that the main one has been learning to build an environment for not just your players, but your staff and everyone to excel in. I think it’s important that everyone knows what your vision is and what direction you’re wanting to go in within your program and your football. It’s important that everyone understands that if they’re on this journey with you, they have a clear understanding of what the message is and what you want to do.

Whether I’m at Southern Districts or at the Wanderers, having that clear message with your players and your staff of ‘this is what it’s going to take to be successful’, and that we can do it as a collective.

Sometimes you see people saying ‘it’s my way or the highway’, whereas with me it’s about bringing people on the journey with you and making them understand what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it.

Do you feel the partnership between FCA and PFA Alumni will aid aspiring female football coaches?

Catherine Cannuli: I think back to when I did my first C License and how far coach education and support has come. FCA have been a massive game changer in the coaching space, not only for females, but for males.

For any coach that aspires to be better and wants to be helped, even for those A-Leagues players wanting to transition out of playing into coaching, I think it’s important that there’s a mentorship and a process in what we want to do and how we want to do it.

Sometimes when we jump straight into the deep end it becomes difficult to have an understanding of what the role of a coach is. If you are a player, the role of a coach is a very different role to when you’re a player.

The partnership between FCA and PFA is huge. I’ve always said that football needs to come together and we need to work together as one. This is showing that together we can be stronger. And these partnerships are only going to allow our players and people to grow and further develop their skills in that space.

You’ve recently been announced as an addition to the Executive Committee at FCA. What initiatives will you be looking to drive as a part of your work there?

Catherine Cannuli: I think the main one is to give as much coach education as we can for all coaches. Giving all people from all different levels the number of resources that they can get onto. You can already see that with a lot of the workshops that we’ve been running. The numbers that we’ve been getting for these have been fantastic.

For me, the key thing with FCA is to drive its existence for people to understand that FCA is there and what it can do for coaches. Because I’ve already seen how it supported me over the last two years as a member. And I think, down the track, FCA is going to have such a significant impact on the coaching life. It’s going to be amazing to see where it’s going to be having known where it started.

FCA

What changes and opportunities for the women’s game are you hoping to see come to the fore leading into and after the 2023 Women’s World Cup?

Catherine Cannuli: The greatest achievement for me with receiving the opportunity to be the Head Coach of the Western Sydney Wanderers is that other females can look to this and say: ‘Hey, I can be a Head Coach at the A-League Women’s as well’. That’s the most important, that young female coaches can actually aspire to be a coach in the A-League Women’s.

The more that we see it on the TV and the papers that there are female coaches leading the way, there’s going to be even more opportunity for young females to come through NPL clubs and do coaching.

At the moment, the number of coaches in the female space in a professional environment is probably quite low. And that’s something that we need to keep driving change for; changing the dynamics around females not thinking that there are those opportunities for coaching when there are.

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