What exactly is the role of an international head coach? Luc Holtz of Luxembourg tells us, and gives his advice for young aspiring coaches.
In Britain it is a punishing venture attempting to create a name for oneself in the football industry. Many factors accumulate to ensure that a young coach has the most difficult route possible. If you start coaching for a company you are almost certainly paid tuppence and are predominantly employed to ‘occupy’ primary school children. Eventually you realise that life is outstandingly expensive so you’re faced with a decision; keep pushing for an opportunity or get a full-time job. Then, when you eventually submit to conformity and work full-time you must sacrifice your weekends to coach the game. Otherwise (or ‘eventually’), you may happen to be doing well and work for an academy midweek on a part-time basis. In this pressured environment you’re expected to adhere to a program of development whilst creating a 90 minute session for the boys, and because all part-time coaches work, too, usually in schools so they can finish at 3:30pm, you haven’t had an ideal length of time to prepare. It isn’t easy.
It wasn’t long ago I was laying down cones in the freezing English winter, on a rock hard pitch of mud, with kids who really did not want to be there, for only £15 a day. Nevertheless it was a rite of passage. One night, as I grew disillusioned with coaching, I decided to email Johnny McKinstry for advice – he was the newly appointed Sierra Leone coach and his story fascinated me. His reply was inspiring; ‘keep striving for better, and with patience, opportunities will come.’ Many young coaches who I’ve worked alongside are no longer involved in the game; they either lacked patience or a desire for betterment. Which leads us on to the purpose of this article. Very recently I spoke with a man whose performances as national coach are far exceeding expectations: Luc Holtz of Luxembourg. I asked him his advice for young ambitious coaches who are sincerely determined to reach his level;
“To reach the highest level it will be easier if you have a lot of contacts. Who you know could help you to get a job, but the daily work has to be done by yourself.” People will read that and immediately draw the conclusion that ‘it’s not what you know, but who you know’, which isn’t true, and it certainly isn’t the point Luc is trying to make;
“The most important thing is what you know and how you are as manager, as a personality. A coach without knowledge, leadership, or personality will only exist for a short time.” Two parts of the triangle are natural – leadership and personality – but knowledge is acquired. Young coaches must study.
Landlocked by Belgium, France and Germany, Luxembourg is a prominent financial hub for Central Europe. Despite having three powerful neighbours, the country is only 999 sq miles in size. It’s population is around half a million (with 1 third of the population classifiable as foreign), similar to the population of Leicester, therefore Holtz lacks a pool of players big enough to make the nation competitive. They’re categorised as ‘minnows’, however this tag was once bestowed to the likes of Turkey and Greece (as Glenn Hoddle acknowledged when discussing his international playing days, calling them ‘whipping-boys’) and more recently, Iceland, demonstrating that a minnow can actually evolve.
The three nations mentioned have shown that investment in facilities combined with a precise philosophy for development will eventually bring success. Holtz recognises this, “I’m [also] involved in our youth education and the philosophy of the development for our young players… Well you will see during the next few years that a lot of young Luxembourgian players will become professional.”
His job could potentially become more difficult as suggestions for a round-robin themed qualification structure versus other ‘minnows’ may be implemented; involving Andorra, Faroe Islands,Gibraltar, San Marino and Lichtenstein. Nevertheless they are all members of UEFA and should be provided with an experience deserving of any European nation. How would they improve without the healthiness of competition? Holtz’ team amazingly drew with Italy in 2014, one of the most historic occasions in Luxembourgian football. Without the opportunity to challenge themselves against such powerhouse nations his players would not grow.
But what exactly is the role of an international football coach? “Well” Holtz begins, “there are a lot of things do. To make a good performance you have to have had good preparation. Preparing the games, the training sessions, keeping contact with the players inside and outside of the country, these are all main parts of my job.”
He continues “There is a lot of pressure on coaches to bring good results. Even in the future you will still have to deal with this problem. What is missing is “TIME”. As an international coach you have only four, five days to prepare for a game. But what [the fans] want to see is attractive football and a winning team.” Such as that fantastic draw against Italy last year.
Before finishing I asked Luc what the perfect coach has to be, if such a thing even existed; “the perfect coach needs to be smart, a leader of men, savvy with the media and simply must have a lot of knowledge about football. A good coach needs to love his players, stay humble and have a strong personality. He must be a psychologist.”
It was transparent that Holtz is an intelligent man who is passionate about football coaching and is proud of his country. He genuinely cares greatly about his job, its difficulties and possibilities, and about this game we share. I’m extremely proud that Luc agreed to speak to me and I firmly believe that, as he keeps striving, Luxembourg can, with patience, become more than minnows.