Chris Coleman talks to the LMA about the new challenge that confronts him in Greece. WORDS: Sue McKellar.
When Chris Coleman was appointed Fulham manager at the age of 32, he became the Barclays Premier League‘s youngest ever manager. But some nine years on, the likeable Welshman is taking on new challenges, having accepted the role of Head Coach at Larissa, in the Greek second division.
Tell us a bit about Larissa.
The city itself has a population of about 200,000 people. There is only the one football club and they all support Larissa. And we are fortunate that they’re so passionate about their sport. We’ve been helped too by the fact that the club itself has got a brand new £40million stadium.
My first training session was at the club stadium in July and 5,000 fans turned up; it was unbelievable. The atmosphere was incredible and I’ve honestly never seen anything like it. I liaise directly with the Club President about players we would like to sign, budgets etc. So I am the manager, but in this country they call it Head Coach.
You’ve already worked in Spain at Real Sociedad and now you are managing in Greece; gaining overseas managerial experience appears very much a focus of your career path.
I’ve decided to come out here, enjoy it and learn as much as I can. I am here by myself and have appointed a new backroom team of Greek coaches who speak English and know Greek football inside out. It is a tough league that we play in but it is a challenge, and a new challenge provides different problems than when you are managing in England.
It’s a relief now the season is actually starting. It’s great to get that feeling back because football management is an addiction really.
What expectations do you face as the Head Coach of Larissa?
The club didn’t perform to the level it should have last season so we must look to improve and get back to where we feel we belong. That said, we can’t go out and start spending money that we don’t have on players. Finances are tight in general in the Greek economy at the moment and the football clubs are not immune to that.
Some clubs can’t afford to pay their players but we are fortunate that our club is able to invest in the squad; it gives us the opportunity to try to rebuild a good team. And the club really needs reshaping as it has been on a little bit of a downward slope for the last two seasons.
When accepting the role, how much did you know about the Greek League and Greek football in general? Has it been a steep learning curve?
Since December, when the opportunity initially arose, I have watched about 100 match DVDs, looking at both our own players and those who would count as potential targets. I now know a fair bit about Greek football but, of course, when I am signing a player I like to go and watch him play in the flesh at least twice to get a feel for him. The Greek league is a tough league, very physical and demanding, plus the pitches can be poor, so I know that it is not going to be easy.
You know what it’s like to be the Premier League’s youngest manager. What are your thoughts on Andre Villas-Boas’ arrival at Chelsea?
If he’s good enough then he’s old enough. A manager’s job is a very hard one, especially at a club like Chelsea where the expectations are so high, but Andre Villas-Boas did ever so well at Porto. He’s going to be managing world class superstars – he’ll have to win their respect and they’ll have to earn his respect too, but that’s football.