Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Q&A session with Chuck Martini, Head Coach, Muscat Football Academy

Chuck Martini, Head Coach, Muscat
Football Academy
Reproduced with permission
With the Muscat Football Academy hosting its first training session last Tuesday, I sat down with Head Coach Chuck Martini to discuss the idea behind setting up this academy and his coaching philosophy.

Run by the Al Jarwani Group, Mr. Martini has joined the Academy after managing several English sides including Southern League Division One side Godalming Town FC and Ryman Division One team Walton and Hersham FC,

He was also youth academy coach at Wimbledon AFC. 

Of Moroccan extraction, Mr. Martini was a goalkeeper for Leicester City, having played for them from 1999 to 2001.

He also had stints at Kings Lynn FC, Wycombe Wanderers and Major League Indoor Soccer outfit Dallas Sidekicks. He represented his country on four occasions.

When did the idea for this academy come up?

The plans were drawn up a year ago, exactly to the date (of the interview). I know the Al Jarwani Group and from past experiences when I was a youngster playing professional football, one of the brothers of Sheikh Al Jarwani was studying in the UK so we formed a relationship and kept in touch ever since.

They wanted to open a football academy, similar to Aspire which is in Qatar so I flew out. It was last year, December, and we discussed it, we came up with a few plans and we pretty much signed on the dotted line that it was going to happen.

At that particular time it was due to happen [in] March but there was some red tape that we had to go through.

Getting approval from the Sports Ministry, the Football Association took a little bit of time. I was still managing at the time in the UK, I was managing a club in the Conference Division so I resigned from my post as the manager of the club in February obviously thinking it was going to take place in March.

As things sometimes do, they take a lot of time and I eventually got out here August 19th. We had all the approvals and everything in place.

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When do you hope to formally start training?

We've actually started. We have 60 students in our academy now. The academy has two different sectors. You have what we would call the elite sector. That won't be up and running until we build our own purpose-built academy. That is in the planning now, it's going to come up somewhere around Mawaleh.

It will be the first professional football academy in Oman. There's never been something like this in Oman and there isn't something like this now, so when we do build our facilities, it will be something to be reckoned with because we will have state-of-the-art facilities.

Our aim is to develop and take players to the next stage and that is professionalism and pushing players to international youth level.

Also, we will have a curriculum where it'll be sports studies in case players don't make the grade as footballers, they have a chance to learn the other side of it, whether its coaching or being involved in the sports industry in some kind of manner.

For now, we're in partnership with a famous school in Muscat. It's called Azzan bin Qais international school We're using their facilities. They have an eight-a-side 4G pitch, swimming pool and an indoor area where we will use in the hot summer months.  

What age groups do you have and what do you teach those different age groups?

We take kids from four years old up to the age of 18. It's pretty much basic training, fundamentals, technique. Also, part of our courses we run, we have a theory side to it as well. We teach them about nutrition, healthy living, but it's very much introduction to playing football the correct way.

A lot of the kids that we've got have been taught to play street football.

You know, go out there's a ball and kick it around. We're trying to organise them a little bit more, understand position, understand roles and the responsibility within every position.

It is pretty much going back to the basics and then developing them that way: trying to build their confidence in ball manipulation, in communication, in understanding different formations. 

When people sign up with our academy, it's for a year and we also train them three times a week because that's the only way we believe we can get the information through to them and it's the only way we'll see improvement.

At what age do you come to know what position a child is suited for?

Good question! We like to try and mould players into playing different positions, into understanding different roles. But me, as a head coach, of course I want a centre forward to stand out, of course I want a creative central midfielder to stand out, of course I want to build a good centre back.

Probably, at the age of 12, 13, 14, you kinda start thinking 'well this person, you can maybe mould him into this kind of player and mould him into this kind of position' but I've known players who've played as a defender until the ages of 18, 19, 20 and all of a sudden, they've been converted into strikers.

I think from a young age you can tell [apart] goalscorers, people who've got that eye for a goal and they've got that predatory instinct of being in the right place at the right time to score a goal. Those kind of positions are easier to discover.

I think midfield, wingers, defenders, especially now, the way football is evolving, different systems that allow defenders to be attacking players. It's pretty much tricky at that time. 

The obvious position other than that is goalkeepers. I think goalkeeper is a specialised position, I sometimes think you have to be born as a goalkeeper and I am an ex-goalkeeper.

I think your hand-eye coordination has to be very good from a young age so that we can develop them into what we hope to be outstanding goalkeepers. People say you've to be mad to be a goalkeeper: diving at people's feet and stuff like that. There's a level of bravery required.

What do you teach kids about fair play and respecting your opponents?

Funny enough you should say that. My first speech when we had an induction was team spirit and that was [to] be supportive to every team member, regardless [of] whether they make a mistake that causes you to lose the game.

[You] must be supportive to one another. I don't believe in team spirit of fighting each other and cussing each other. I believe in encouragement.

I believe in fair play. You must play by the rules. Good question you brought up but it only happened to be part of my first speech when I was making the introduction. I've always said to the players - especially at a younger level - that for me, the result doesn't matter.

We all want to win football matches, of course, they feel happy when they've won but it's not as cut-throat at is it when you're coaching professionally, when you need that result.

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At a younger level I want them to enjoy the game, enjoy participating in it. If we were beaten by the better team, it means they were the better team on the day. It doesn't mean they are the better team, period.

We're going to have good days, we going to have bad days, but its about being together and sticking together and adhering to the rules of the game. I've always been a person that advocates fair play.

What comes after a player finishes at the academy?

When they've reached the ages of 18, we'd like to believe that we've developed them enough, that they're extremely talented, we will push them out to places in Europe to see whether they can fulfil their dream of becoming a professional footballer.

We have various markets that we can send them to, whether it's Europe, whether it's America or whether it's the Gulf market.

Once they've been through a rigorous programme that we've put, and especially a residential programme that we're going to have in place, then we'd like to believe that they're at that that stage where the next level will be professionalism.

There's other avenues as well. I've just formed an alliance with a Canadian university where if they want to continue their education via scholarships and play football in the States or in Canada.

When the concept was given to me and I was asked to be the head of it all, these were concepts I felt have to be in place before anything else can be done.

When they do leave our school, when they do leave our programmes, then there has to be something [for what] their parents have invested in them all through this time.

Related article: Oman to have Middle East's first sports science course

How do you convince kids to play efficiently?

My first briefing to the coaches was 'I want players to express themselves'. I want players to play with freedom. Street football - believe it or not - has probably formed some of the best players in the world, so I would not for one minute want to stop that.

The one thing I want to coach is the correct way of doing things. When you see it done wrong, then it is your obligation as a coach to the student, to the trainee, to teach them how to do it properly.

It's the end product that matters. I've had players that can beat five players and their end product is absolutely rubbish because their shot on goal is nothing, is not a correct shot, or their final ball is not the right ball.

So I put them in and I say to them 'well okay, you've done that fantastically well but what is the final thing that you've done?'.

Chuck Martini during his time with Waltham and Hersham FC in the UK. Picture Courtesy Muscat Football Academy
In order to become a better player, in order to become a player that coaches [and] scouts will take notice of, they don't look at what you've done there. They look at your end product. And what is your end product?

Your end product is that you gave the ball away, your end product is your shot wasn't good enough, your cross wasn't good enough. And therefore, they'll say 'sorry, not good enough'.

It is [about] teaching and coaching children to feel free to express themselves. I don't want to chain them. I don't want to say 'no, you're robots, you can only do this'.

This is a new challenge for me, teaching kids, but I was a kid myself. I've played through all the levels. I know how to develop players, I have an eye for players, I know what it will take to form a player and I want those methods of my experience applied to this academy.

For us, it is freedom of expression, go out there and try. The secret is, if you fail, try. Try and try again. Practise makes perfect.

I've always been someone that believes that enjoyment will create growth. Practise will create excellence.

Related Reading: Following in the steps of Bangladesh's first football academy

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