Eastlands Here I Come
November 17, 2009

"Why?”

I’m often asked, when talking about Premier Skills. To which I’ve yet to have the answer for. There were simply too many reasons leading me to applying for the program.
1. I was itching to get back into coaching
2. I needed formal training
3. I wanted to obtain the certificate
4. I have a thing for soccer moms
5. Participants will get free kits and boots
Above all, I believe that I have the potential to become a decent coach someday. For when it comes to playing the game -- and it hurts to actually admit this -- I'm rubbish.

Of course, there are those occasional flashes of immaculate footballing brilliance that I tend to showcase during futsal with my friends. What usually brings me back to the ground, though, is the fact that I could only do so because they are, at times, to put it mildly, equally rubbish.

You look at the best managers of the modern game; Mourinho, Wenger, Scolari, Eriksson… very few had illustrious playing careers. Which goes to show that to mastermind the game, you don’t really have to be that good at playing it. Even the great Maradona struggled in taking his national side into the 2010 World Cup.

That said, given my own dreadful playing career, the stats are on my side.



Premier Skills is a program designed by the English FA where Premier League coaches are sent to various countries worldwide to conduct training sessions with the local coaches for them to then cascade down to their respective communities. A noble effort, in my book. One that got me instantly intrigued. So upon learning that the British Council was organizing one, I applied in a heartbeat.

Supported by FAM, Nike, ESPN, the National Sports Council, the Education Ministry and I believe, Banana Boat sun block (judging by the 18,382 bottles I consumed, to no effect), the program targeted on selecting 40 applicants to experience the fully sponsored 5-day course at the MSN complex in Bukit Jalil. A small pool considering the number of football lovers in our country. So when I got the call, I was so overjoyed I sounded like a Teletubby by the end of the phone conversation.



Expectedly, I felt like the new kid in school on the first day. Most of the other participants had already known each other. Consisting of state, academy, club and school coaches, the majority of them have been in the circuit for a while. So there were, admittedly, these few awkward moments where I had to just dive in to a huge group laugh without knowing the head and tail of the joke. Before drifting away into laughing alone.

But I was quite fortunate. The guys were a warm bunch. One bad joke after another, it wasn’t long before they opened up and gradually absorbed me into their groups. It does help that I have the capacity to speak in different dialects. Which made it easier for me to get along with the East Coast and Northern guys. And harder when I’m hanging out with them both at once. Where I’ll end up talking like a Penangite to a Kelantanese.



I thought we had the finest group of coaches possibly assembled to facilitate the program. Headed by Bob Glozier of the West Ham Academy, the other coaches were Mark Gaitskell of Fulham, Lee Collier of Wigan and Mark Philips also of West Ham United. Some of whom who’d previously facilitated the program in Egypt and China.

I was in Mark Philips’s group. A Hammer since forever, Mark is probably the nicest guy you’ll ever meet. There was simply never a dull moment. The man’s passion for the game is incomparable and every bit of it can be seen through the energy he emanates when he’s instructing. So energetic that you’d want to avoid standing too close when talking to him on the pitch. As otherwise, like yours truly, you’ll be drenched from a shower off the gracious gentleman’ salivary glands.

Nevertheless, Mike, if you’re reading this. No, wait, if you manage to switch on the computer, get on the Internet, and then read this, we love you. You’re a top man. The Hammers are alright. Though Man City is always classier.



I was under the impression that the course wouldn’t be too physical. Given that it’s a coaching, rather than playing program, I’d imagined that the bulk of the education would take place in the lecture hall. So looking at the schedule gave me quite a ball-shrinking scare. Throughout the five days, participants are expected to be on the pitch for four hours everyday; under the scorching hot sun.

Two days into the program and a dozen darker tones later, I couldn’t have imagined a better method of carrying out the course. You simply have to go through the drills yourself before you could impose them to your players. For that’s the only way for you to capture the essence and understand the philosophy behind the techniques. The well-crafted structure of their system had taught me the importance of a clear, practical and balanced training program.

Gone will be days of my pointless drills. I shall never make my players juggle the ball with their shoulders anymore.



The last day loomed over us like an unwelcomed mother-in-law. Just as we were getting the hang of ripping and taking the piss on each other, it was time to bid auld lang syne. Drills were learned, friends were made and badges were earned. Not to mention pointing out that "the only club in Manchester is blue" on TV. Thanks for the interview, ESPN.

We’ve all proudly become graduates of Premier Skills Malaysia 2009.



As clichéd as it may sound, what seemed to be the end of a journey, was actually the beginning of a bigger vision. We left for our hometowns with the promise of giving back to the community and eventually, Malaysian football. The privilege that was given to us to undergo the program was only for us to share with the people.

It’s been three weeks now since I first began my role as a coach with the Subang Jaya Community Youth League; with the Under-14 and Under-12 teams. The experience has certainly been a refreshing one and getting involved in football this way has given me a gratification like no other. Plus, the absence of politics in youth football only flourishes the beauty of the game further. Kids would tell you upfront if they hate you for making them run ten rounds.

Before you make them run another two.




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A truly inspirational piece Asrif :) Thanks so much for sharing this with us at the British Council!! Looking forward to seeing more of you... in all shades :)
 

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Photography by Azalia Suhaimi

About
  • Asrif, b. 1983
  • Subang Jaya, Malaysia
  • asrifomar[@]gmail[.]com
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