Houllier: coaching education is key
Gérard Houllier, the former Liverpool manager, believes coaching development will be the key to safeguarding the long-term future of Bermudian football.
The Frenchman insists there is no reason why a small nation such as Bermuda cannot punch above its weight in world football as long as investment continues in the education of the island's coaches.
Houllier shared some of his coaching secrets during a fundraising event organised by the Bermuda Football Coaches Association at Pier 6 last week, as well as his thoughts on player development and take on Jacques Crevoisier's role in helping local football.
More than 120 locals have attained the Uefa C licence equivalent and a further 24 achieved the B licence since Crevoisier, Houllier's assistant at Liverpool, began visiting the island as part of his relationship with the BFCA.
“What I like about Jacques's relationship with Bermuda is that he's not just doing a one-off,” said Houllier, who managed Liverpool from 1998 to 2004.
“Sometimes you go to a place and have a conference or a course and that's it, but here there's a follow-up.
“Jacques has built a working relationship with the people here and will obviously help them have better coaches in the future. If you really want to improve, you have to have better coaches because that means better players.”
Based on feedback received from Crevoisier, who was instrumental in bringing his good friend to Bermuda, and conversations with the island's coaches, Houllier feels Bermudian football is on the right path.
“Bermuda seems to really want to improve its football and that's why I may come back,” said Houllier, who also met with the National Academy coaches on Saturday morning. “The people are absolutely crazy about football.
“For us [in France], Bermuda is golf and sunny beaches, but I was struck by the quality of the hospitality and the nice, warm attitude of the people.”
Houllier, who worked as the technical director of the France Football Federation at their famous academy at Clairefontaine, says it is imperative for countries like Bermuda to focus on developing young players.
“Countries that don't work on coaching courses and player development will be totally overtaken,” he warned. “This is why small nations must put a lot of emphasis right at the beginning on players aged from ten to 15. If you work well with players at a certain age you're bound to have good players.”
As an isolated island, Houllier implored Bermuda's football community to send its players and coaches overseas as often as financially possible in order to gain greater knowledge.
“Firstly, you must get the best players together and work together, at least in training,” said Houllier, who watched Liverpool's home win over Newcastle United at The Docksider with the local Liverpool Supporters Club on Saturday. “When you train with the best, you become better yourself.
“The second thing is, unfortunately, that you have to travel. You have to find sponsors to help you go to Spain, France, Turkey. That's what the Middle East teams are doing because they have the money. You have to have the contacts to play other teams.”
Improving the work ethic of the island-based players is another crucial component to the growth of Bermudian players, according to Houllier.
“Work is not a disease,” he said. “When I say ‘work' I'm talking about playing football. This is why I'm worried about the Arab countries because they don't work enough — maybe because of the sun.”
Addressing the audience, Kyle Lightbourne, the interim Bermuda coach, echoed Houllier's sentiments regarding the importance of exposing Bermudian layers and coaches to challenging overseas environments.
“I've just spent two months in England studying teams, the way they play, all of that,” said the former Stoke City striker.
“Half of the people would say to me, ‘I didn't even realise you guys played football in Bermuda'. People think of us as a holiday destination and that's what we're up against.
“We've bridged a lot of gaps, certainly from when I was playing with the national team to where we are now.
“With the coaching education and the Concacaf League of Nations, which will allow us to play regular games, we will grow even further.”
Houllier is still very much involved in the game as the global sports director at Red Bull Global Soccer, which includes RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, RB Salzburg in Austria and the New York Red Bulls in Major League Soccer.
“Salzburg have won four doubles on the trot, Leipzip have gone from the fourth division to the Champions League, so there's nothing for me to do because everything is fine,” Houllier joked.
“But they said, ‘No, no, we keep you because when there's a problem if you say ‘do this' they will do it. If I say, ‘do this' they won't do it'.”
Richard Todd, the BFCA president, believes Houllier will be “a good resource for the BFCA moving forward”.
He added: “We could not have had a better personality to be the guest of honour for this first from the BFCA, and the eagerness from those who attended the events has been positive towards similar opportunities for the future.
“He has provided much advice and thoughts on how we can continue to improve coaching education opportunities and impact the development of football in Bermuda.”
Kenny Thompson, the BFCA coach education and technical advisory committee member, added: “I believe all of those that attended the various events, thoroughly enjoyed listening to Gérard Houllier share his extensive experiences in top football, as well as his advice to us on improving football in Bermuda through quality youth player development and, in particular, the importance of quality coach education.”