Ahead of his return appearance as a guest speaker at the world-renowned United Soccer Coaches convention in Chicago this week, Celtic FC coach Willie McNab spoke to us about his long career in soccer, Celtic’s best young prospects, and why Fuse Soccer’s soccer camp at the Universal Orlando Resort is one of the most exciting and unique soccer experiences in the world today…
1. Hi Willie. Could you tell us about how you began your coaching career?
I managed to sign a professional contract when I was 16 with a local club here in Scotland called Albion Rovers, who at that time were in the bottom tier of Scottish football. I quickly realised I wasn’t going to make a living out of being a football player. So, at 16-years-old I decided that I really wanted to coach. I was a tryer at football, I knew I didn’t have the ability of some of the other players, but I thought what I lacked in ability I hopefully made up in hard work. At times I had really good ideas in my head, but I just couldn’t tell my feet how to do them.
But I found that the ideas I had, I could transmit them to working with younger players, and when I was at Albion Rovers I started working with the under 6s and under 7s team at that point in time. I did my first coaching badge, which was my first introduction to coaching, and that’s probably where I learnt the most in my coaching career, working with those young players. Beyond that time, I picked some casual work up in conjunction with the Scottish FA, training in the mornings and then in the afternoons and evenings in schools and taking holidays programmes and working with the Albion Rovers youngsters, and it started my coaching from there.
I turn 35 in two weeks’ time and it’s crazy to think I’ve been coaching for 17/18 years, and I still feel like I’m young and still learning.
2. How did you become a coach at Celtic, one of the world’s biggest soccer teams?
I’m very fortunate, I’m a big Celtic fan and when I was 17 or 18, a lot of the kids we had at the Albion Rovers team at the time had actually signed for Celtic or been on trial there, and I remember someone saying, “they’ll stop coming for the players, they’ll come for the coach!”. I took that with a pinch of salt, but I always thought it would be a dream to coach for Celtic.
I left Albion Rovers and spent about 18 months between clubs Hibernian and Hearts, where I spent a lot of time working with under 12s and under 14s age groups, and then when I was 21, I had the chance to go to Celtic. So, the season coming up will be my 14th season at Celtic.
I first started out in a dual role working with the Scottish FA and working with the Celtic under 12s. And I spent the years working through coaching badges, and fast forward 14 years later I’m currently in a dual role at the club which sees me manage the club’s international programme in North America - which is looking after partner clubs that we have out there, to help them in terms of player and coach development opportunities and also a great way of working with these clubs to promote the brand of Celtic.
I’m also very fortunate that I’m working with the under 15s academy team at Celtic as well. It’s a wonderful job, to be at the team I’ve supported all my life, so I’m very fortunate to be where I am at the moment.
3. What can you tell us about the Fuse Soccer Camp, Universal Orlando Resort™, in partnership with Celtic FC?
I think this is something unique. I think that [Fuse founders] Steve [Ford] and Matt [Hicks] have worked very hard over a long period of time, putting things together behind the scenes. It’s something that’s not being done at the moment out there, I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for players, individual kids and maybe teams to have the opportunity to come to Orlando to work with Fuse Soccer and Celtic, where we can combine a little bit of both in terms of the soccer side of it, as well as the Universal Orlando Resort experience as well.
I think the reason why this programme is so unique is there’s that degree of flexibility within it, in making it bespoke to some of these teams as well.
So, you may have a team who is looking for some prep prior to a tournament, so it’s a wonderful opportunity to bring them down; you’ve got some fantastic weather, you get to work with the Celtic coaches, but also you have the relaxation part of it with the Universal Orlando Resort.
And also, if you just have a team who are maybe just at recreation level, it can also be a reward for them for during the year so again they get to have the opportunity to work with coaches from Celtic and the guys from Fuse, and the Universal Orlando Resort experience as well.
I think that’s why we wanted to work with the guys from Fuse, as there’s nothing else out there like this and they’re very passionate about what they do. It matches our ambition of what we’re trying to do in North America as well, so for us at Celtic we’re very excited to work with the guys and really kick this off.
What we’ll do on a monthly basis is send two or three coaches out to Orlando to work with these players during the week, whether it’s a one-day coaching camp, a two-day camp or right up to a one-week residential where they obviously get the chance to stay in the hotels and Universal Orlando Resort as well. So, once we’re up and running, which will be very shortly, we’ll be sending our coaches out on a regular basis.
4. What sort of soccer methodology will be taught by the professional coaches at Fuse?
Anything which is unique to working with Celtic. We’ve got a programme that is genuine and authentic. We don’t franchise anything that we do, we don’t have a third party organisation that we use, it’s all genuine. I usually say to people: “you can probably tell from the funny accent that I’m a real Scottish guy, I work for Celtic.” It’s amazing the amount of people that are taken aback that I’m actually Scottish, because some other clubs in the past have maybe just employed American-based coaches. Which is fine, but you lose that authenticity.
So, I think any player who takes part, or any parent or coach who is going to sign their child or player up for this should know it’s something authentic, it’s actually coaches from Celtic that are working here.
And some of the stuff that we do here at the [Celtic FC] academy, the Fuse coaches will look to develop that as well, they’ll also have the opportunity to use the GPS systems as well to monitor work-rate within training. So, we can give players that real experience of how it feels to be working with some professional coaches.
But the good thing about our coaches is that it’s not only about working with a certain level of player. If a player is just there for the recreational and fun aspect of it, our coaches are very good at identifying that to ensure that not only can they have a good time but also take something away from it aswell.
5. Of Celtic FC’s current youth team prospects, who should we be keeping an eye out for?
There are some really good ones. There are some guys who’ve broken into the first team already. At the moment Kieran Tierney at left back has made well over 100 appearances for the club now. He’s captained the club, captained his country and been part of a historic double-treble in the Invincibles season under Brendan Rodgers.
There’s also Mikey Johnston who has just broken into the team recently, and Karamoko Dembele, who has just signed his first professional contract in December, so it’s great to see these youngsters get that opportunity as well.
It’s down to all their hard work, and the hard work going on at the academy by all the coaches. So that’s a few that are doing really well and hopefully can continue to progress.
6. Have many academy graduates gone on to enjoy a successful career?
It’s incredible some of the stats, I think it’s 19 or 20 players who have come through the academy in the last 14 or 15 years to make their debut in the Champions League, and over 50 of them to play for Celtic’s first team. And I think over 160 of them have gone on to play further in a professional career.
One who springs to mind is obviously Aiden McGeady, who was in the academy as a youngster and who moved to Spartak Moscow a few years ago now for around £9.5 million. He’s now playing in England and a recent international aswell. So, there’s been a lot of youngsters come through the academy and I think the most important thing is that, if they’ve not played in Celtic’s first team, they’ve certainly had the opportunity to further their career elsewhere. There’s a lot of good work going on in the academy and hopefully that’ll bear fruit for a long time to come.
|Be part of the dream team. Fuse Soccer teams up with Celtic FC and Universal Resort Orlando™ to reinvent the soccer camp. Only the bold need apply.|