I was like a sponge. I took in everything I saw because I wanted to learn. Southampton gave me the right environment to learn my trade, and I was able to help out with the Under-21s and learn what it takes to develop young players.
When the set-up changed across England, I worked as the Under-23s assistant, and learned from brilliant coach educators like Martin Hunter and Les Reed. But I also had the guidance of the manager, too, so I had help from Nigel, and then Mauricio Pochettino, Ronald Koeman, Claude Puel and most recently Ralph Hasenhüttl too. I was helping to develop players but, more than anything, I was also developing quickly myself. My international experience as a player and the fact I can speak a few languages helped me adapt to the different managers.
When I finished my A Licence, I was promoted to head coach of the Under-23s in 2017. That meant I had vast responsibility: to be a leader, to influence both players and staff, and to show the players how to achieve their objectives. Yes, it was about developing players, but winning was also important. The first-team coaches wanted developed players, but they also wanted us to create winners.
“The first thing I noticed was the huge gap in footballing terms. I had to use all of my knowledge and expertise to succeed there”
We had real success in both regards. We got promoted to Premier League 2 Division One – the highest tier at that level – and made it to the semi finals of the International Cup in 2018/19. That tournament was eventually won by Bayern Munich.
On top of that, I was able to help the club bring through the likes of Yan Valery, Jake Hesketh, Harrison Reed, Michael Obafemi, Will Smallbone, Jake Vokins, Nathan Tella, Dan N’Lundulu – players with Premier League quality. In 2019 alone, we had seven first-team debuts. That is something that fills me with immense pride. Seeing these players improve under you and go on to make their debut in the first team is an amazing feeling.
As much as I’d enjoyed that, I reached a point where I wanted to be a first-team coach. I wanted to work in that environment. It felt like my natural progression.