Argus sport goes behind the scenes at Dragon Park

Penarth Times: David Ginola coaching for A licence at Dragon Park Spytty Newport
TAKING NOTE  Players and former players look at the coaching methods (6880515) David Ginola coaching for A licence at Dragon Park Spytty Newport TAKING NOTE Players and former players look at the coaching methods (6880515)

Dragon Park in Newport is attracting the great and the good of world football in pursuit of their UEFA coaching licenses.

Last week former Premier League and France international star David Ginola was in Newport on the A license course alongside a host of ex-Premier League players. Argus football writer Michael Pearlman went along to find out more.

IT is lunchtime at Newport’s Dragon Park and David Ginola is relaxing under a blazing South Wales sun after devouring his Thai green curry.

With the shades, the mobile phone and designer cigarette, Ginola could easily be in Marbella or Saint Tropez, but his attire, full Welsh coaching kit, tells a different story.

He might be a double footballer of the year, a French international and one of the most talented and popular players to grace the Premier League, but that doesn’t matter, not here and now. “You’ve got two minutes gentleman,” Carl Darlington, assistant at Dragon Park to technical director Osian Roberts, politely reminds David and his friends, in this instance former Premier League defenders Frank Sinclair and Phil Babb.

Phone calls are wrapped up promptly, the candidates on the UEFA A license course in Newport did 14 hours yesterday, “11 hours in a classroom,” Sinclair confirms, and they aren’t about to make what should be a straight forward afternoon run behind schedule.

The first session will begin momentarily with the players – on the day of the Argus visit it was college kids from Pembrokeshire - already warming up.

Ginola drifts inside and takes his place at the nearest table, for there are no cliques here. That one of the most talented players of his generation is sitting with the assistant manager of Caersws and a PE teacher, is neither here nor there.

The first drill of the afternoon is based around movements in the attacking third that will create more space and opportunity for a number ten, an exercise illustrated by Darlington on a tactics board.

The part-time manager of TNS takes the first session while Roberts, who caught a 5am flight to return from Amsterdam after Wales’ defeat to Holland, is safely back in his office ready to oversee the third exercise of the afternoon.

Surely the boss of TNS and Wales U15s finds it a bit nerve-wracking? "I've never found it to be intimidating, for want of a better word, 'teaching' guys like Ginola or Patrick Vieira,” Darlington explains.

"The people who come here know what we are all about and the philosophy of the course. It's a two-way thing. David Ginola has got his experiences and they will be different to mine, or someone like (County player and A license course attendee) Michael Flynn, but there isn't one way of doing things.”

The A license is an absolutely fundamental requirement for aspiring coaches and managers “without it, you have no hope,” explains Ginola, who wants to be a manager, but candidates are being attracted to Wales for more specific reasons and the candidates seem engrossed by the action.

For Ginola, it was word of mouth from two trusted friends in the game, Marcel Desailly and Patrick Vieira, both graduates of the FAW course, which saw him opt to travel the Severn Bridge. For someone like Flynn, doing it in Newport is easily the preferred and logical option. “And it’s easier for me to get a place than David Ginola,” he quips.

The former Tottenham and Newcastle man is nonetheless feeling at home. "It's my first time in Newport, we've been in different places, but I did my B and C license in Wales as well, Osian Roberts has been the main guy all the way through and I feel pretty good in Wales, I've really enjoyed my time here, the course I would recommend to everyone and deserves its reputation,” Ginola confirms.

And while the FAW are continuing to prioritise Welsh coaches – around 90% of any applicants on any course are likely to be Welsh – it’s the international flavour that has made Dragon Park so in vogue, a process started and very much encouraged by Everton boss Roberto Martinez, a technical director with the FAW.

"Primarily our function is to produce a better calibre of Welsh coach, but a by product of that is enriching the course with international candidates,” says Roberts.

"And we are in the very lucky position whereby we can pick and choose who we bring over because we are vastly over-subscribed.

"Primarily our function is to produce a better calibre of Welsh coach, but a by product of that is enriching the course with international candidates.

"And we are in the very lucky position whereby we can pick and choose who we bring over because we are vastly over-subscribed.

"So we set the standard high and candidates need to adhere to it in order to get the most out of the course.”

Boosted last year when former England man Sol Campbell declared that “Wales are getting it right where England are getting it wrong,” there can be little doubt Roberts and his team are winning fans across football.

Uefa has a mandatory criteria of what is taught but Roberts and Darlington have pushed the limit of how you put those ideas into practice, ripping up the framework that previously meant candidates spent nine days on the course, had a year off and then returned with no contact in between.

Under the new system, candidates now report every couple of months, complete theory and practical tasks in eight-week blocks and are assigned a mentor, who observes them coaching at their own clubs. The mentoring scheme is entirely individual to Wales, “no one else is doing anything similar in any sport anywhere in the world,” Roberts confirms.

The results are staggering. The FAW coaching courses are currently so oversubscribed – even at nearly £4000 - that Roberts personally interviews every candidate before they are accepted, and many don’t make the grade. “I was as nervous as a kid on the first day of school,” ex-Chelsea man Sinclair recalls of his admission interview.

The mixture of candidates has proven to be part of the charm of the course with Holland, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, France and Germany already represented.

"They've been proven to be a good environment, with good people and the course is great. It's really hard, really intense, but very rewarding,” former Spurs man Michael Brown explains.

"The main thing is about discussion and exchanging ideas rather than just giving you a broad sheet, a curriculum and just ramming it down your throat.

"You meet such a broad range of people. We've had academy coaches, video analysis guys, players, coaches, ex-players and PE teachers on this course and it's fascinating to learn things from everyone, outside the bubble, if you like.”

And for Roberts, the success of Dragon Park so far is just the first chapter.

"We are proud of what we've achieved so far, we've established a good reputation in football.

“We’ve established what works for us and what doesn’t, but we’ll continue to try and evolve, because in modern coaching, you evolve or you die.”

l We will have more from Dragon Park in Argus Sport this week.

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