Antwan Russell laying foundations for long-term success at Paget
Long considered among the lesser lights of Bermuda football, Paget Lions are set on painting themselves in a more positive manner and the appointment of former Bermuda national team player Antwan Russell as coach at the start of this season was a sign of intent.
Immediate dividends have been returned with Paget in second place in the First Division, unbeaten in five matches and in with a fine chance of being promoted to the top tier of Bermuda football.
While early returns may harbour promise, Russell is more concerned with laying the groundwork for a sustainable future and to change the club’s yo-yo appearannce of rise and decline.
“I have seven starters who are under 23, so it really bodes well for the future, and I make it my duty to look out for our younger players and to teach and encourage them as they are the future for the club,” said Russell in the wake of Paget’s latest victory, a 2-1 win over BAA in the preliminary round of the FA Cup.
“For the betterment of Bermuda football we have to look out for our youth and encourage them and that’s what we have at Paget. My role is to encourage and teach them in a way that improves football.
“I had guys like Sammy Swan, Manga [Reynell Lightbourne], Kenny, Mills, Stevie Astwod, Dennis Russell, my uncle Dale [Russell], who I learned from, and it’s now down to me to return what I learned to those I’m now coaching.”
Russell is still putting on his boots and his coaching style is one of leading by example with him using his experience as a semi-professional in England with Ilkeston Town, for whom he scored four goals in 18 appearances in the 2014-15 season, to pass on his wisdon.
“The young guys today want you to show them what to do, rather than just be able to tell them what you want done,” Russell said.
“I actually just wanted to coach, but in talking to Dale I came to realise that it’s a show-me world for these guys, so I have to demonstrate to them what I’m capable of doing and then they are more receptive once they see what I’m capable of, rather than me just preaching and demanding things of them.
“Sometimes I tell them to do something in training and they look at me with a blank look and it’s only when I actually demonstrate what I’m saying that they respect what I’m trying to get across. I’m only 36 and I expect I’ve another three or four years of being able to play at a decent level and give these guys the best of me.
“I was at Robin Hood working towards this, learning from people like Kyle Lightbourne, Andrew Bascome, Devarr Boyle and Kenny Thompson. I try to take the best of what I learned from them and put it into use for the younger guys today.”
Those younger guys are doing Russell proud at the start of his first season in charge but the rookie head coach takes more of a long-term view.
“It’s okay to talk and consider promotion, but my biggest thing right now is sustainability more than getting promoted this season,” Russell said. “We can get promoted, but if it’s only to go up to come straight back down, that’s not what I’m looking for.
“If we have to stay down a division this year, which is not what I envision us doing, I would think that was beneficial because we’ve overachieved already.
“We’ve played five games and have three wins and two draws,” continued Russell. “We don’t mind not being in first place because we like that we can fly a bit under the radar and not be in first in Novermber and have a bullseye placed on our backs for other teams to target.
“We'll take it if we could go into the Christmas break in first, but we have to be mindful of what that kind of success brings.
Russell is emphasising teamwork in his capacity as coach, understanding that it will require a collective effort to ensure long-term sustainability.
“The concept that I try to instill here at Paget is that of ‘espect,” he said. “Before we go on the field or develop a pattern of play it’s about respect. Respect for the game. Respect for ourselves, Respect for the club. Respect for each other. And for who we are as a club.
“If I want respect as a coach I have to show up on time and do the things as a coach that have to be done to command respect.
“I’m not here to waste their time and I don’t want my time wasted, so we all have to do what’s required. I learned that from Kenny Thompson and that is what I’m exhibiting to get their full attention.
“When I played under Kenny and went to training, everything was set up and prepared and that’s what I do now as part of their experience. Devarr used to concern himself with how I was doing in my personal life, not just when it came to playing, and that’s what I look to do as well.
“I’m big on doing the correct things in training, because you can’t expect to show up on Sunday and think that everything’s going to magically come together if it hasn’t been practised.
“Paget has some real talent here in some of its youngsters and it’s my job to bring that talent out to the fullest.”
Paget’s next match is to be a league encounter against Devonshire Colts on Sunday at Southampton Oval (12.30 pm start).
“We have a lot to offer and I aim to do all that I can to expose it and bring it to the forefront, not just for Paget, but also for Bermuda.”