Having done an interview with Bruce Djite on The Roar, I have learnt about football from an administration perspective as he is the director of football at Adelaide United.
In recent times, I was interested in learning about football from a coaching perspective. Given that Craig Deans was recently appointed as head coach of the Newcastle Jets and he has been a professional footballer, it seemed like the perfect fit to interview him.
Why does being a senior coach appeal to you?
Obviously, it appeals to me because if you have a competitive spirit and competitive nature, it’s a challenge of putting yourself in that environment and the rewards when you get it right are worth it and when you get it wrong it’s a challenge to fix it. So, just the main reason of being in that competitive environment that you’ve been in it all your life if you played the game, so I enjoy that aspect.
What does it mean to you to get your first coaching gig with a club that resonates with you?
Very proud to get the opportunity, because it’s a region with a long history of success in developing footballers. It just means a lot to me to have that opportunity to try and continue on with breeding successful players and also a successful team.
This season, the Jets have often played well and lost. What mentality do you have when approaching a match? Do you want your players to value performance or winning more?
I think we obviously didn’t get the results in any of the first few games, but I think it’s easy to keep professional players focused because it’s their job. They understand that it’s their job, it’s difficult at times, but if you have the right people in terms of playing squad, you get success.
What tactics do you like to implement? A Leeds United approach, which is predominantly attacking-minded, or do you value keeping your clean sheet or a bit each way?
Probably a bit each way. I obviously like to play good football. I get bored watching football, it’s not entertaining at any level. I certainly don’t want to be a coach that just goes out to play for a result and have no eye on a nice style of football for supporters to come and watch.
How has the heavy schedule of games in A-League season 2020-21 impacted on you and the team, in particular the tactical adjustments you have to make due to the games coming thick and fast?
I think if you’re winning games and you’re playing a game every three days, it’s perfect, but that wasn’t the case for ourselves. It was little bit difficult from that perspective. It’s dependent on your opponent, you (have) obviously got to acknowledge the strengths of your opponent and make sure you respect them. Sometimes in the case of those stretch of games, the Wellington game, we decided to be a little bit more passive without the ball and try and play on the counter attack.
I think obviously we got goals from that situation and we managed to save our legs probably a little bit in that game, which probably helped us with the West Sydney game, the week after, because that game itself was faster and a much more difficult game just from the speed of the game. You have to be flexible with how you approach every game, but especially in a patch like that, again, going back to the results over performance, it’s about getting points and sometimes you have to compromise certain things.
What do you hope to gain from your tenure as Jets coach?
We want to be successful on the field, but I think a big one is stability off the field and planning for a long-term success, not just success every five, six, seven years, which (it has) been to this point. The opportunity to bring through some local kids from our own academy that we developed ourselves. Obviously, have a background that side of the club as well, it’s a big one for me to make sure that we work hard with our own juniors and we develop our own players as much as possible.
How do you cope when results aren’t going your way?
You just have to stay positive. Your own personality plays a big role in how you cope. I tend not to sulk about things, if things don’t go my way I try and find solutions and just start working hard again, but you have to be positive. Coaching is about making sure when the players come in, they don’t see a person that’s sulking, offering or feeling sorry for themselves. I have a big focus on trying to be positive as much as possible. I think it’s enjoyable to come to work every day and work in sport and be a coach and it’s challenging, but it’s easy to get yourself up for it.
How do you stay humble and grounded?
It’s easy to be humble when you have people around you who are the same way and just the way you’re brought up is about being respectful and being humble all the time, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have self-belief or self-confidence, it’s just a matter of how you portray yourself.
Do you take anything from your playing days that makes you the coach you are today?
I think my characteristics for being a strong teammate and a hard worker and someone that would make sacrifices for the team. I think that that helps as a coach, because you have to sacrifice yourself a lot of the time as a coach and always put the team first. The coaches that you played for, as a player, you take little bit from them, as well.
What do you look for when selecting a player?
Technical ability, their understanding of the game, their attitude. Athleticism and physical make-up have a big part in sport nowadays, but for me, it’s just being a good footballer. It’s a mentality. People who have those characteristics, whether it’s attacking or defending.
How difficult is it to manage a squad and keep everyone happy?
Having a background in playing you understand that and so when you leave a player out and they give you a filthy look, it’s not because they hate you, it’s because they’re annoyed, they’re not playing and you trying not to take it personally. It’s not easy to keep everyone happy. It’s the honesty and respect of building those relationships and that helps sort that out.
Have you thought about what legacy you want to leave here?
Developing our own players through our own academy and we’re getting success on the field on a regular basis. When people talk about Newcastle Jets, they talk about it in a positive way, in a respectful way and just be as successful as possible all the time.
What is your ultimate goal as a coach? Are you content with coaching in the A-League or would you like to further your coaching, or is it simply one day at a time?
No, definitely not one day at the time. I think for me, it’s to be as good a coach as I can be in the A-League, be successful as I can be in A-League, which is a tough competition. It’s very, very even and it has been that way the whole way through. I want to be the best coach I can be, hopefully be successful with the Jets, and I don’t really have any desire to leave Newcastle anytime soon. The opportunity to see different types of football and different cultures is appealing to me as much as the coaching side of it, but for now just A-League and be as good as we can be as a club and everything else takes care of itself.