NEW: ALEX WEAVER INTERVIEW!
Alex Weaver is the manager of the Singaporean champions, Warriors. His team won the title on the last day of the season, overtaking Steve Kean���s DPMM. The 37-year-old previously worked for Manchester United, and was one of the first people chosen to take the FA’s Elite Coaches Award. Here, he talks about title run-ins, Brits abroad, and growing up in Stoke-on-Trent…
I moved to Singapore without a job. It was 2012, I was working in Seattle, and I wanted to take the next step. I didn’t have the experience to look at MLS, so I had to go further afield. My wife is an international school teacher, which helped. We knew we could rely on her package. We started looking at places, and Singapore was one of them. She accepted a job and we moved over.
I started sending my CV to people in Singapore 18 months before I arrived. I wanted them to know who Alex Weaver was; I wanted to hit the ground running. So moving here was a risk – but when I arrived, they knew who I was because I’d been hassling them for 18 months. And it worked ��� I had a couple of interviews, and Hougang United (an S League team) offered me a deal as head coach.
It could be frustrating at Hougang. The director of football was the former chauffer of the chairman, Bill Ng (who withdrew a bid to buy Rangers in 2012). He (the director) thought he knew football, but he didn’t. They even told me our fourth pre-season match was a must-win game! I had periodised the training, building it up gradually, but they said: “Enough tinkering ����� this one is a must-win.���
In one pre-season game, I played 15 minutes with ten men at the end of each half. It was deliberate, and I’d told them in advance, but it caused uproar. It was a bizarre concept to them. They said: “Stop messing around – we must win games.” After six games of the season, we had won one, drawn three, and lost two. We weren’t doing badly, but I left. It was a strange time.
I had met Warriors before taking the Hougang job. Then, after I left Hougang, Warriors lost a cup game, and the general manager contacted me to see if I’d be interested again. I came in, did a Power Point presentation with short-term, medium-term, and long-term plans, and they hired me after that.
When I arrived, I knew there was something wrong. There was no team spirit; no organisation. The players weren’t the problem. I sat down with Kazuyuki Toda (who played for Tottenham, and Japan in the 2002 World Cup) and he said: “This is the first time I���ve had a one to one conversation with the coach.” I did that with all the players, one to one. To me, that’s just simple common sense.
The British players have been fantastic. I brought in Tom Beattie (ex-Hull City youth player) and Kevin McCann (ex-Hibernian), and there���s Daniel Bennett (ex-Wrexham) who’s been in Singapore for years. Those three are a wonderful link. Good characters, good personalities. I chose them deliberately for that. They get on with the locals, they’ve adapted, and they’re good players as well.
This season, we had a wonderful run-in. I’m very influenced by (Dutch coach) Raymond Verheijen – periodisation, building things up, finishing strongly. That was always the aim. It wasn’t purely down to that. But, for sure, it helped. We looked strong and fit, and everyone around us lost form.
With four games to go, we played away at Brunei (DPMM). Mathematically, I wasn���t saying it was do or die. But confidence-wise, we had to win. We went there with confidence and won 3-2. We then played Home United ����������� who are another big team with a big budget – and we won 3-2 again. On the final day, we were behind on goal difference, but we won and Brunei lost, so we won the title.
Afterwards, Kevin McCann said to me: ���Well done, you���ve just beaten an ex-Premier League manager there.” I just said: “Well I had a little bit of help from the players.” It’s nice when you sit back and think about it, because Steve (Kean) is quality. But I just saw him as another competitor.
After our games, Steve and I would talk. You’ve got officials around, so the conversation is relatively formal. But when he’s in Singapore, I’ve caught up with a few times, had a drink and dinner. It���s good chatting to him. He seems happy here. I don’t think he’ll be here for ever, but he’s happy.
A lot of coaches, like Jose Mourinho, talk about positive influences such as Bobby Robson and Louis van Gaal. Well I didn’t have that growing up in Stoke-on-Trent. I didn’t like the English game when I was young. I had coaches I didn���t take to. And that�����s always on my mind – I want to coach differently to how I was coached. I want to influence people in a way that I wasn’t. I see young talent going to waste because they fell out of love with the game, and that motivates me to coach better.
I took my first coaching qualification when I was 17. I played for Stoke until I was 14, Port Vale until I was 16, but I was pretty sure I wasn�����t going to be taken on, so I left of my own accord. I chose to do my A Levels instead. At 21 or 22 I retook my coaching certificate, went on to take my B Licence, and I realised that coaching was something I wanted to pursue. It really grabbed me.
Because I hadn’t been a pro, I knew I needed as many qualifications as possible. I got a place on a coaching science course at Liverpool John Moores University, and studied there from aged 25 to 28. I’d read a lot about it ��������� the work they did with the FA, and Raymond Verheijen had been there.
While I was there, Manchester United Soccer Schools did a recruitment drive. The interview took place at The Cliff ����� an interview and a practical. I got the job, started part-time, and did my A Licence aged 27. When I finished university I took on a full-time position, and that���s when my travels started.
I worked in Seattle, Paris, Dubai. I went to India for a short coach education programme with Brian McClair, I went to Los Angeles, and my final project with the soccer schools was in South Africa. But after three months I realised that wasn’t a place I wanted to hang around. You’re told not to go out at night. It was like living in the film I Am Legend. It’s a shame, because it’s a beautiful place.
It was difficult leaving Manchester United. You’re well looked after – not necessarily financially, but in terms of coaching. You get a lot of opportunities, a lot of training. I saw good coaches working – mainly Brian McClair and Rene Meulensteen. And everywhere you go, you’re wearing the Manchester United badge, so you feel very proud. But I didn’t want to stay in my comfort zone.
I had contacts in Seattle who were setting up a semi-professional team, with the aim of going professional. I went over there in 2008. It was a big decision, but I knew I had to leave soccer schools and work with older, better players. Chances in England were limited. It’s very competitive, and you need contacts, so it can be a closed shop. I knew I had to go overseas to gain that experience.
I was proud as punch to get on the FA Elite Coaches Award in 2012. (The 16 candidates, including Guam coach Gary White, were selected on the basis of their UEFA A Licence scores). It really kept me going when I was in the States. The course challenged like never before; without doubt my best coach education experience. The FA gets a lot of criticism, but it does good work on coach education.
Sometimes, you hear from ex-pros, and you wonder if they’re passionate about coaching, or whether they just need something to do. A lot are passionate. But then you hear other well-known players saying: “I want to get a manager’s job in a year or two, but first I want to do this or that,������� I wonder if that passion is there. But then they get hired by owners and chairmen anyway.
Believe me, I’ve looked back at my career so far and thought: ���Yeah, I was lucky to get that.” But then, I did a lot of ground work to get myself in that position. Eventually, I�����d like to work my way back to England and the UK. But I like the overseas lifestyle, so who knows where I’ll end up.
Interview by @owenamos for britishcoachesabroad.com. Read the BCAA interview with Steve Kean here, and the BCAA interview with Gary White here. There are 30 interviews with British coaches abroad on our interviews page.