NEW: DYLAN KERR INTERVIEW!
Dylan Kerr, who’s 47, is the manager of Hai Phong in the Vietnamese top division. As a player, he won trophies with Leeds United, Reading, Kilmarnock, and others. As a coach, he’s worked in the US, South Africa, Vietnam – and Argyll and Bute in the west of Scotland. Here, he talks about bouncing back, Howard Wilkinson, and jiggy jiggy football…
Apparently, Jose Mourinho calls me Crazy Dylan. I did my UEFA A Licence with him in 2001, and I was doing every drill, playing every game as a runner for the coaches. That’s just my nature, but I’m not sure he’d seen anything like it. To be honest, nobody knew who Jose was. He was very quiet. We all thought he was a Portuguese fisherman.
During the course – which was held in Largs in the west of Scotland – we went to a bar. Jose had told people he’d been with Barcelona, and we thought: “Yeah, alright”. Then he goes to this internet terminal and pulls up a picture of him, Bobby Robson, and the Barcelona team. Unbelievable! But I was so happy to meet him, and get to know him.
Unlike Jose, I failed my A Licence, because I did it too soon. I wouldn’t say it was too difficult, but I hadn’t worked my way up. I was like a rabbit in the headlights. When I re-did it in 2005, I was much better prepared, and they said I was one of the best they’d seen. You can’t rush into these things. You learn more and more as you go on, especially from other coaches.
I was released by Sheffield Wednesday when I was 18, and I deserved it. I’d become a celebrity footballer without making my debut; going to nightclubs with the big hitters when I hadn’t played a first team game. Eventually, I was told my services were no longer required. Luckily, the youth team coach, Mick Hennigan, had a friend in South Africa, so I went to play for Arcadia Shepherds. I also coached their under-15s – Mark Fish was one of my players.
Howard Wilkinson was a big influence, even though he released me at Wednesday. He wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but I liked the way he coached. He was very good at taking players who weren’t regarded as the best, and turning them into a team. I’d see him at Christmas when I came back from South Africa – he let me train with him at Sheffield Wednesday, and then Leeds. In January 1989, I asked if there was any chance of a contract at Leeds – he said no, so I said goodbye, and played a non-league game for Frickley v Droylsden on the Saturday. They paid me fifty quid.
We won 6-2 – I scored two, set up four, and there was a write-up in the evening paper, the Green ‘Un. Next day, I get a call from Mick Hennigan, saying: “What the hell are you doing – you could have got injured and ruined your chance of a contract!” Leeds then offered me an 18-month deal, and I stayed for four years. I only played 13 league games, but I had good players ahead of me, like Tony Dorigo. He didn’t get injured, didn’t get suspended, and I couldn’t get close enough to kick him in training.
My first coaching job was in the United States. I was 33, living in Scotland, and I was driving to Harrogate to play non-league, or flying south to play for Slough. Leaving Saturday morning, getting back Saturday night, thinking: “Is this what I want to do?” Someone offered me a job at a youth club in Arizona, and I took it. After a year, I couldn’t get my visa, so I came back and worked as a football development officer for Argyll and Bute Council in the west of Scotland.
It was an amazing place: great people, great kids, great community. But the travelling was something else. An hour to one village, two hours to somewhere else, four hours to another town or island. Sometimes it would be a three-hour drive and a four-hour boat ride, just to run sessions. But I truly loved the job, and I stayed four years.
In June 2009 – out of the blue – I got an offer from South Africa. An old teammate from Arcadia, Sammy Troughton, was managing Mpumalanga Black Aces in the top division. I hadn’t spoken to him since 1988, but he asked if I wanted to come and have a look. I went for a holiday, spent two weeks coaching, and when I was going home he said: “How do you fancy being my assistant?”
We did very well with no money, but we had a CEO who wanted to be a coach. He always wanted meetings, always telling Sammy what to do. Eventually, Sammy was sacked. He moved to Thanda Royal Zulu in Durban, and asked if I wanted to come. At the time, it was a good move, but it didn’t end well. We got the club to safety, but the way they got rid of him was a disgrace. He left, I left, we went to court, and I ended up settling for a figure that wasn’t even a tenth of what I was owed.
They think they’re the world’s best footballers in South Africa. They play “jiggy jiggy” football – all technique, all skills, but often no end product. The crowd gets more excited by someone beating their man, beating him again, then losing it, rather than having a shot or cross. They sometimes forget football’s about scoring goals and winning matches. They’ve been coached in a different way.
The move to Vietnam in 2011 came through an agent I know – Paul Mitchell from the Siyavuma Sports Agency. Sammy and I had left a third South African side called Nathi Lions, I was out of work, and Paul knew a club in Vietnam who wanted a European assistant. I’m not married, I don’t have kids, so I didn’t have to think too hard. The worst city, the worst township, even the moon – I’ll travel anywhere if there’s a football to kick.
I became manager of Hai Phong at the start of the year. Do I enjoy it? I love it. There’s always non-football problems, it’s 24/7, but that’s the way I like it. It’s mostly local players, but we’ve got a Brazilian, a Jamaican, one from Zimbabwe, one from Ghana, so there’s a good mix. The foreign lads add a bit of bite. We lost eight players last year, and I had only 14 days to prepare for the first game. But we’re unbeaten so far – played three, drawn three.
Performance-wise, we should have won three out of three. We’ve had 24 opportunities and scored three; our opponents have had seven, and scored three. My statistics thing comes from Howard Wilkinson – he was very thorough. And we didn’t have ProZone or Opta in those days: if you wanted stats, you had to get your pen and pencil out and tick little boxes.
Getting coaching jobs – in any part of the world – is very difficult. You’ve got to have someone to open the door for you. Even then, they might not have the money, or a gap in their roster. You hear: “I want to bring you here, but…” quite a lot. In the past, I’ve applied for ten jobs a day and got nowhere. And I think I’ve got a decent playing and coaching CV, with good references.
I’ve never made any money out of football. In Vietnam it’s okay, and things are cheap. But money was never my motivation. I wanted to win things, and I have done – championships with Leeds (first and second divison), a championship with Reading (division two), a Scottish Cup with Kilmarnock, a Scottish Third Division with Hamilton, a cup winners’ medal in South Africa, voted into the PFA Second Division Team of the Year in 1993/94. That all means more than money. But if I was offered Wayne Rooney’s salary, I wouldn’t say no.
I’ve not had it easy in football. Even when I was a kid, my mates got deals before me, and I was only spotted playing for my dad’s pub team. I’ve had more knockbacks than most – being released, being injured, being told I’m not good enough – but I don’t give up.
Where will I be in three years? It depends if Manchester United want to replace Moyes! Or if England need a new manager! I’m happy in Vietnam, but my ambition is to reach the top. And if I don’t have that dream, I might as well stop.