Jobs4football meets Alan Clark

Jobs4football meets catches up with Pro Licence South African born Coach Alan Clark who is currently working with Kosovo U21 National team as Assistant Manager / Analyst.

Within the interview we wanted to cover the philosophy and diverse nature of Alans experience in South Africa and Kosovo and how he has managed to deliver results within difficult environments on and off the pitch.

There is no doubt Alan can be defined as a ‘hybrid coach’. By that we mean he can add value to a Club or Association in many forms whether its high quality professional coaching or within the analysis department.

Find out more about Alan Clark with our Q + A interview below:

Q: Can you tell us about your coaching philosophy and how it has evolved over the course of your career?

A: Firstly, I think a coaches’ philosophy and playing style is hugely influenced by their personality.

My game model is ultimately about controlling the game in the all the phases of the game. It doesn’t always mean having possession, but more importantly controlling the opponent and their actions.  Controlling the game through creating better quality scoring chances. For me this means the opponent is always reacting to us as a team, creating a better chance of winning the match or being successful.

To achieve this it is important that players are positioned in the right place and way, in the right moments and react in the correct way to tactical situations that arise in the game.

In possession it’s important to move the ball, to move the opponent so that we as a team can create and exploit spaces that we create when opponents move.

Out of possession it’s critical that we force opponents into areas that are uncomfortable for them and allow us to regain possession and control important spaces to deny them opportunities. Positioning is also vital to take advantage of transition moments when teams and players are less organised and structured. If players are positioned well, it allows them to react quicker to transition moments.

Jack Welch (previous CEO of GE) once said, “when the rate of change outside a company is faster than inside the company, it’s the end of the company” and football is no different. My philosophy has developed and changed throughout my career. From youth development through to the Senior Team and International teams. As a coach your goals and objectives are slightly different at each level and more importantly so are the players that you work with. They vary in their mental capacity and technical ability. To keep up with modern trends in football I have become far more specific and precise in my expectations of the team and the individual as the game of football changes and evolves. I am open to new ideas and new systems that suit the playing staff better at any given team. Using players in roles that suit them and allow them to flourish and ultimately the team wins.

Q: How do you approach player development, specifically with promoting youth players from the academy to the first team?

A: Getting youth players from the academy to the senior team is one of the most difficult things to do in professional football. I have been blessed to work with almost every age group in football. It allows me a unique perspective into the development of players. For me, it’s important to have a good relationship with the youth players. Trust, Respect, and Honesty are pillars of that process. Players need to feel that they can express themselves on the pitch freely and to me as a coach personally. They need to believe that my input and advice is for their best interests. This gives them the confidence to perform and the faith that they have someone that is willing to listen and guide them in their lives and protect them if need be.

Coach the person not the player. As a coach I know the standards and levels they need to reach the senior team, so it’s important that I create a similar environment and team culture for them that pushes them to grow and develop.

Q: Can you discuss a specific example of a successful project or campaign you have led as a coach?

A: In all my roles I have enjoyed, one that stands out is as the Head of Youth at Platinum Stars. I also assumed responsibility of the Head Coach role of the Reserve team.

From that generation of players we produced 8 players that signed with the Senior team and subsequently helped the club secure a place in the group stages of the CAF Confederation Cup (Europa League equivalent). In addition, a few players secured successful European moves.

Kobamelo Kodisang went on to play for Braga in Portugal and the Senior National Team, Gift Links plays for AGF Aarhus in Denmark and the Senior national Team, Sibusiso Mabilso plays for Amazulu and has played in the Olympic games for South Africa. Boiki Modikaseng – Amazulu and Katlego Otladiso – Marumo Gallants. This is a huge achievement from one club in only 1 generation of players.

We were blessed as a club, with extremely talented players, scouted by the coaches and scouts. The Academy catered from around 75 players fulltime from U19 down to U13.  I created a strong link with the senior team and implemented our playing philosophy throughout the academy. We worked very hard as an academy coaching staff to scout and get the best young players in the Bafokeng region into our academy and to implement the playing style without compromise, irrespective of the results. I took the decision early on to build the reserve team (U23) around the best youth products of the academy, regardless of the ages.

This resulted in the club fielding the youngest reserve side in the league. Many of our more talented players were only 15, 16 years old, but I felt that they were at the performance level ready to compete against much older players. I took the risk regardless of the results to field them and incorporate them into the team and squad.

The first 5 results saw use lose and the external pressure from the media etc was intense as our team was so young. We stuck to our processes and ended up going on a 7-game winning streak including beating the eventual champions away from home. The youngest debuted at 15 years old in the Premier league for the senior team.

Reflecting on that project is an immense source of pride and honour. Its motivating to see my youth players perform so well now in the professional arena in Europe and South Africa. Its better than any trophy I have won.

Q: How do you incorporate tactical analysis and data into your coaching methods?

A: It’s a critical element of my Coaching philosophy.

In the modern game, tactical analyses and data are vital! Coaching is about observation. Analysis and data are modern tools to improve and increase OBSERVATION capabilities. Analysis allows me to observe my own team and individual players to help them improve as players and their performance in training and games. Allow me as a coach to ingrain the game model in a way that players understand and are comfortable with.

When I look at opponents. I watch games and look for opportunities for my team to have solutions for the opponent. I want to know and understand what each opponent will do and how they react in situations. This allows me to plan and create a training program accordingly. The analysis guides me. It also allows me to have multiple plans to scenarios, so IF things change, and they usually do, I can adapt and change with no confusion amongst the players because we have already planned for them. I feel that good preparation and planning allows a coach to adapt very quickly with little or no disruption.

It’s a critical element of my Coaching philosophy.

Q: Can you tell us about your experience working with the UEFA association of Kosovo and the challenges you faced in that role?

A: It’s been an incredible experience to work with players here in Kosovo and in Europe. A huge step professionally and personally for me. It has helped me grow and develop as a coach and a person immensely, an experience I am so grateful for.

I was asked to assist Kosovo in 2017 after their Federations’ introduction into FIFA and UEFA. Professionally I have adapted quickly to the football culture and legacy within the country. Personally, having to learn a new language and culture was important so that I can better relate to and communicate with the players and colleagues.

I was immediately impressed by the passion and love for football the country has, the level and skill of the Kosovan players and their hard-working mentality and desire to be more professional.

Kosovo has some unique challenges. It’s a new Federation with a developing infrastructure due to the war, obviously. Kosovo also has the youngest population in Europe and therefore they also lack professional experience and know how, although they possess a fanatical obsession for football and patriotism for the country. Most of the population live outside of the country in the diaspora, around the rest of Europe.  As a coach you have players from many different backgrounds and countries within the national team as a result.

Q: How do you handle and manage a diverse group of players, both in terms of skill level and cultural background?

A: South Africa and Kosovo have a lot of similarities in that there are big differences between individuals, their backgrounds, upbringing, and socio-economic situations. Working in a diverse culture and country like South Africa prepared me to tackle many of the same issues here in the Kosovo National team. You have players from all different backgrounds, countries and coaching philosophies. Players come from the UK, Germany, Italy, Sweden etc and Kosovo as well.

I think it’s always important to understand the individual person as a coach. Understand their personal situation and experiences. You must be open minded to everyone. Respect is huge for me. I think first we should respect each other as human beings before anything else. Respect breeds tolerance.

The world is now very small and as a coach you will always be exposed to different cultures and skill levels amongst your players, no matter which country or team you coach. It’s important to understand that everyone is important within a team no matter their role or job. Everyone in a team or organisation contributes to the success and failures of the team. Every player and person have strengths and weaknesses. As a coach and leader it’s important that individuals’ strengths are put to use in the best way possible to cover the weakness we all have. So that the collective is strong.

Q: How do you approach building team chemistry and creating a positive team culture

A: I personally take a lot of life lessons from Nelson Mandela. One of the most important things I take from him and incorporate in all my teams is “UBUNTU”.

“UBUNTU” is the belief that – I am because, of who we all are.

As players, staff etc, our individual ego is tied directly to our team identity. The team is the most important and we have a responsibility as individuals to do our part in helping the team succeed. No one individual is more or less important than another.

A player may play for 2 minutes during a match for example but that 2 minutes could make the difference between winning and losing. Everybody has a role to play and if we play our roles to the best of our ability the team will succeed. Success for the team is success for us all equally.

I mentioned before that to do this, it’s my responsibility as a coach to know and understand each player and staff member. The person before the player.

Q: Can you discuss your experience working with some of South Africa’s biggest clubs such as Mamelodi Sundowns and Supersports?

A: Sometimes I have to pinch myself when I think of the clubs, I have had the pleasure of working for. It’s very surreal.

Mamelodi Sundowns is a huge club in Africa, and it was an honour to have started my club coaching career with them in the academy with the U19 and U15 team. At Sundowns we worked daily with the Barcelona coaches from La Masia. You cannot get better academy coaches to learn from. They instil a culture of high performance amongst the coaches, focusing on the smallest of details. I got to work with players such as Percy Tau (Club Brugge, Brighton and Hove Albion ex and Al Ahly now) and Motjeka Madisha (may his soul rest in peace).

SuperSport United, also a giant in South African football, 3 team league winners and multiple cup trophies. A well run, organised football club and academy. It was my first role with the senior team at club level.

I was able to learn from great coaches like Cavin Johnson, Alex Heredia, Serame Letsoaka and Gordon Igesund.

2014 we lifted the Telkom Cup after Ronwen Williams made a penalty save from Eleazar Rodgers. The cherry on the top was that we had observed and analysed all the penalty takers from the opponents, Platinum Stars and knew which side they would each go. It’s a special feeling watching something you work on in training and through analysis bear fruition in a Final.

Q: How do you implement your preferred style of play, specifically focusing on attacking football and controlling the game through positional play?

A: I implement tactical periodisation and an integrated approach to training. Football and its components are not isolated, and football actions are always combinations of physical, tactical, technical, and mental.

In training I like to mirror that with an integrated approach. Combining elements to ensure that training improves all areas of a player and is not isolated.

During a morphocycle, I focus on Individuals, groups, and the collective within the team. So, players understand clearly what is expected of them as individuals, in groups and the team for the next game.  This allows a greater learning curve than the contemporary isolated training and integrates all the football elements.

I enjoy sessions that provoke learning from players so that they improve and can perform on match day. Including decision making and many tactical situations that can and will arise during the game. Allowing players to develop the skills and knowledge to find solutions during game day.

Q: Can you discuss any specific methods or techniques you use for player motivation and maintaining a high level of performance from your team?

A: Having a degree in psychology helps.

It’s a fundamental principle to me to build a personal relationship with players to better understand them. When you know and understand the person you can motivate the player.

Naturally, the ultimate goal is a intrinsically motivated player.

I think its important to create a team vision and goals that everyone involved is party to. This creates ownership for the vision and goals amongst the team. Players, staff etc on the same page with the same shared vision and main goal.

Creating short term goals along the process to reach the main or final goal helps to build the culture and the motivation to achieve the final goal.

The team culture must dominate every facet of the behaviour of the individuals within the team. The team also needs individuals to contribute towards that team culture in their behaviour.  High performance teams always enjoy a shared team culture that overrides everything else.

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