Jobs4football meets Selmen Sassi

Jobs4football is pleased to present an exclusive interview with UEFA A Coach, Selmen Sassi, as part of our Jobs4football Meets series. Selmen has gained a wealth of experience and knowledge through his coaching roles in various countries worldwide. He has worked as an Assistant Head Coach at Al Fayha, a top tier side in Saudi Arabia, and as an Analyst/Assistant Coach at Burton Albion in the English First Division. With his fluency in several languages and his commitment to self-development within the game, Selmen has immersed himself in footballing cultures globally.

During this Q&A session, Coach Selmen Sassi shares his experiences and insights on his coaching career, from his early beginnings to his current role.

Q: What led you to a career in coaching, and what inspired you to move from Austria to other countries?

Supporting young individuals has always been a bias of mine since my school days. I favored younger players and strategized ways to win school games. As an Arsenal fan, I was inspired by Arsène Wenger’s trust in youth and his willingness to give aspiring youngsters from diverse backgrounds the opportunity to be the best they could be. Unfortunately, my playing career ended at 18/19, but I had an exceptional coach who recognized my potential and encouraged me to consider coaching. It was then that I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life in football, focusing on coaching.

Growing up in a multicultural environment, I have always been open-minded towards other cultures, religions, and backgrounds. As a huge fan of English football from my childhood, I always dreamed of playing in England, but that was not possible. So, when my coaching career started gaining traction in Austria, I decided to pursue my dream of working in England. I took on a side job to save money, went to England, applied for jobs, visited clubs, and waited outside Arsenal’s training ground for five days, from 5 am to 5 pm, until I was given an opportunity to work at Southampton Academy.

Q: Can you describe your experience as assistant head coach at Al Fayha in Saudi Arabia?

Saudi Arabia was an incredible experience for me as it allowed me to broaden my knowledge and understanding of coaching methods for players of all ages, from younger players to the first team. I particularly enjoyed immersing myself in the local culture, which shared many values that I aimed to instill within the team, such as honesty, respect, and unity. With my European background, I also introduced qualities like punctuality and efficiency, which were well-received by the players. Overall, the experience in Saudi Arabia taught me a lot about life adaptation, cross-cultural understanding, and the importance of patience, which will undoubtedly serve me well should I have the opportunity to return to the Gulf region in my future career

Q: How do you approach your role as an analyst in Burton Albion, and what type of information do you typically gather and analyse?

To be honest, this has been the most challenging job in terms of performance that I have ever had. When Dino became the manager of the club, it was in a very bad situation, so we had to start from scratch and rebuild all departments while setting short-term goals initially.

We assessed our strengths individually and collectively, as well as areas for improvement. We also analysed our opponents to identify vulnerabilities and determine how we could exploit their weaknesses, whether through set pieces, formation, or targeting individual players. This process is time-consuming, involving several hours of watching football matches each day, and then presenting the information to the players in a format that they can understand.

Q: At Burton, how do you work with the head coach and other members of the coaching staff to plan and execute training sessions and match strategies?

To begin, our weekly Monday meetings, led by the manager, lay the foundation for our success. The manager has a clear understanding of what he expects from every staff member, which is crucial to maximize output. We discuss our upcoming fixture and replicate our game plan on the training field. The manager assigns individual and collective roles to each staff member, and the final match strategy is shared with the players 24 hours prior to the game. Throughout the week, it’s important that the players receive clear instructions and are well-prepared for match day.

Q: What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced in your coaching career, and how have you overcome them?

Certainly, I am open to the prospect of relocating to new countries and immersing myself in diverse cultures. For instance, transitioning from a relatively straightforward academy system in Austria to one of the most prominent academies globally, namely Southampton, required swift adaptation and efficient execution. Through constant learning and seeking counsel from experienced peers, I was able to effectively overcome any obstacles encountered.

Q: How do you keep up with current trends and tactics in the sport, and what resources do you find most useful?

As an avid football enthusiast, I find myself inherently drawn to new trends and advancements within the sport. To stay informed, I regularly watch and listen to game analyses, podcasts, and attend various Continuing Professional Development events where I engage in discussions with individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds. In my opinion, the most valuable resources for improving my understanding of the game come from visiting top coaches and observing their training methods. Afterward, I often take the opportunity to sit down with them over a cup of coffee to ask for their insights on the development of the sport. I am fortunate to have many close friends who are esteemed coaches such as Unai Emrey and Domenec Torrent.

Q: How do you communicate with and motivate players to achieve their best performance on the field?

As a coach, I prioritise consistent communication with my players. I believe that before discussing communication, building a strong relationship with the players is crucial. This allows communication to become meaningful and effective. In my experience, communication can be divided into two categories: formal and non-formal. Non-formal communication includes having casual chats with players before and after training sessions or games, praising and motivating them, and being there for them during difficult times. When players feel supported, they perform better.

Formal communication, on the other hand, is necessary for ensuring that important information is conveyed clearly and professionally. It is important to explain things clearly while maintaining a respectful tone. By establishing both types of communication, I have found that players respect and appreciate my efforts to build a strong relationship with them.

Q: Can you describe your experience with player development, both individually and collectively as a team?

As a coach, my greatest passion lies in developing players and helping them reach their full potential. Over the years, I have experienced great success in this area, thanks to my obsession with details and my deep understanding of my players. To achieve this, I carefully analyse and profile each player, creating a customized development plan for them. I then work tirelessly to implement the plan, continually updating it until the player reaches their full potential. This approach not only benefits the individual player but also enhances the team as a whole, as a team is ultimately comprised of a group of individuals working together towards a common goal.

Selmen has been mentored by Jobs4football over the past months and he is undoubtably one of the most cultural aware coaches out there. There is no doubt with further self development and further life experiences within football at a high level, he has the ability to meet his career pathway expectations in Europe or within the Gulf region.

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