Jobs4football meets Craig Fagan

Former Premier League forward and current UEFA A coach Craig Fagan joins jobs4football meets, to discuss his coaching transition from playing, his career pathway and what the next coaching challenge would look like to him.

When a football career ends, mentally it can be a minefield in reference to what the next step is. Suddenly your structured routine is gone and that sense of loss can be a huge issue for many players. Luckily Craig prepared himself well and started to collate his coaching qualifications even during his playing days,

“I started my B licence when playing for Bradford city it was something I had a interest in. Micheal Flynn current Walsall manager was playing at Bradford with me at the same time wanted to do his to so was pushing me to do a full week intense course with the Welsh FA and from the first day I knew I made the right decision. This decision gave me my hunger for coaching and led me to continue my journey with the welsh FA and complete my A license. When playing I always enjoyed analysing games in detail to see how I could improve personally and prepare before games to highlight weaknesses in opponents.”

With the coaching journey well and truly underway, the first hands on role came about in Asia and that brought a niche experience learning new cultures and skillsets that he wouldnt have learnt in the UK. Craig reflects,

“Towards the end of my playing career I made a decision to go abroad and play to see a different side to the game and experience new cultures in Brunei. Unfortunately, I ruptured my Achilles in the second or 3rd game. Steve Kean was the manager he wanted to structure youth team 19’s and below as the club had no other real way of recruiting local players. With my help we set this up from scratch and I then ran the full u19 team as well as assisting coaching of the first team and doing video analysis of games. I enjoyed my time in Brunei and being involved in the Singapore league. I wouldn’t hesitate of coaching in SE Asia again it was a great experience and definately feel I could bring value to the game in that region of the world”

Upon his return to the UK, Craig continued his coaching development focusing on the younger age groups at both Southend and Hull.  A role that gave him first taste of coaching in England  and he certainly had a succesful crop of players he worked with,

“When taking these first coaching opportunities with younger age groups I felt it was very beneficial for me a chance for me to make mistakes a chance for me to learn and develop as a coach. I did take my playing experiences to help me coach, positive experiences that worked well for me when I  played and teaching players to not make the mistakes I made.

The Head of coaching at Southend United Ian Hart, who was excellent for me in terms of testing you as a coach to be better. For example, he helped me get many of my playing ideas out during coaching sessions. I like to pick ideas from the best coaches globally. Obviously like many I watched Pep at Barcelona not so much the beautiful way his teams play with the ball but more how much the team buys in to their responsibilities of out of possession and he’s proved this now not just in Spain but in Germany and England. 

I was lucky enough to have a hand in the development of some good players at Southend who managed to get into the first team.  Player likes Charlie Kelman progressed to QPR and the likes of  Matt Rush , Oli Coker , Terrel Egbri , Miles Mitchel- Nelson , Emile Aquah Harry Phillips ,Oshane Stewart and Rob Howard all making Senior gametime.  At Hull City we had similar success with player such as Keane Lewis -potter , Jacob Greaves ,Brandon Fleming, Jake Leake, McCauley Snelgrove , Billy Chadwick and Andy Smith all progressing into the first team picture. I love to see these lads moving their careers forward.”

The natural progression for Craig was then to progress up the age groups and this was achieved initially with Southend U23’s then with the same age group at Hull City. The differences on and off the field between managing players at an older age group were clear from the outset. Craig continued,

The main difference was managing the expectations of players that believe they should be with or in the first team. Managing the mentality was a job on its own but again educated me immensely. U16 was more about development with winning coming into the way they played. U23 football needed to be about development to a degree, but now they need to be ready to be trusted more going into first team football. So in my opinion u23 training and games needed to be based and geared towards that. In both ages groups there were plenty of paperwork how ever it gives you a chance as a coach to look back and reflect and make sure nothing is missed. Also players can see for themselves in reviews development improvements. U16 football all though not playing for 3 points they were playing for scholarships so I tried to make them take advantage of every minute in games and training to impress. U23’s we were involved in a league so a lot easier to motivate.

Craig coaching style and technique has been influenced by a number of Managers however when he had the opportunity to join old Gaffer Phil Brown backroom staff at First Team level with Southend,  it was another learning curve again in his own development,

“Having played for Phil Brown it wasn’t until I was in the same coaching office that I realised the amount of thought and detail he looks into in terms of players training and games. Phil would lead the main tactical parts of the sessions during the week. I would put together the rest of the coaching schedule making it relevant to who we were playing or the style Phil wanted to play. I would then lead these sessions and then help by being his eyes in his tactical sessions. Before and after games I’d help bring to attention things we might look at using a video to show the players in meetings and the manager would majority of the time ok this other times deciding not to give players to much information over load. I used it as a opportunity to learn even more how he dealt with players off the pitch not just on it. Things people outside the game don’t see regarding player welfare. He was excellent at this.” 

Following the stint at Southend, Craig took on a challenge to keep a club in the league and it was a challenge that ended in success for Welling United,

“Welling was an opportunity and a chellenge I couldn’t turn down, it excited me.  10 games left,  Assistant Manager role to Warren Feeney and try and keep Welling in the National League. Positives taken from it was we stayed up which was massive for the club to re structure itself for the better moving forward and on a coaching point of view it proved to me that my coaching ideas and style could work at that level. “

As for the future, the next opportunity awaits. Whether that next challenge comes in UK, Europe or Asia Craig is ready to take it with both hands,

“I see myself as very forward thinking and ambitious with a positive mindset open to work anywhere in the world.  I believe I would be ready to manage or be a Head Coach now but I’m very open to further educate myself as an Assistant Manager or be part of a management team. I thrive off preparation for the week and making sure those plans are executed to the best of their ability on a match day.  In addition, i wouldn’t close the door on academy opportunities if the right project came along.”

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