Managing In The Modern Game: Jason Euell, Under-23s Football & The Next Step
In the latest instalment of Managing in the Modern Game, a series of interviews looking at specific elements of football management through the eyes of those involved, Dean Eldredge of Oporto Sports Management speaks to Charlton Athletic under-23s head coach, Jason Euell, covering the increasingly important role of an U23s head coach, the similarities to first-team coaching and whether the opportunities exist for progression within the game.
Describe the role of an U23s manager and your main challenges and objectives?
Everyone understands the stresses and strains that come with the role of a manager/head coach at first-team level, in terms of the ‘win at all costs’ environment. I see U23s as part of that, probably not win at all costs, but winning is still very important. My role is to prepare footballers for first-team level and I need to ensure they are physically, mentally, socially, tactically and technically ready for the demands of the level they are aspiring to reach.
The role is in-between the first-team and the U18s. At times you are unsure which players will be available to you, so you don’t know your starting XI until the day before the game, sometimes on the day of the game. As much as I want to prepare for games like a first-team coach would, at times that can’t be done. I do, however, ensure that we have a structure and a culture which we stick to, regardless of who plays. That is built upon trust, and they know that I’m there for them, trying to help them to go as far within the game as they can. The boys are all at different places in their football journey; some have been out on loan, some may develop later, some may have trained with the first-team and then drop back down to us, and you have to manage that. The football takes care of itself, but the off-field work is what takes up your time and requires your attention.
In what ways would you say the role compares to being a first team manager/head coach?
We always look to make our U23s group competitive, in terms of the squad size. So on paper, we may have 21 players eligible to play at the start of a season, but three of those may be in the first-team, with another breaking through, then some may need to go out on loan, and you are then working with a group of say, 13 or 14 lads. We like to work with that number on a day-to-day basis, as if there’s only 10 or 11, they know they’ll be playing the next game even if they aren’t in form. That breeds complacency. It’s as close to first-team football as we can create. Yes, we want to develop them as footballers and men, but we are fully focused on winning games and creating a successful set-up, developing a mentality to understand that each game is different. There’s a balance between development and winning, and I personally, have to get that right.
Do you believe there is enough support in place within the game for U23s managers to progress to work at first-team level?
I think this depends upon the club. There are a few clubs who are committed to progression and have a pathway for coaches. Colchester United is one, where they always look internally first for academy roles and other coaching roles. I believe that if you have a structure and a philosophy of how you want your club to be, then you’ll give those coaches the opportunities they deserve.
It’s well-documented that we’ve had a lot of turmoil on and off the pitch at Charlton in recent seasons. I am comfortable saying that with my experience and the success I’ve helped to create, I believe an opportunity should arise for me to work at first-team level. I had a brief spell at the end of 2015 working with the first-team, but I believe I was brought in as the appointment of the manager at the time was an unpopular one, so I was there to smooth that over as a former player. It was, however, a great learning environment for me. Every club is different, but having a philosophy means you can have some continuity, which is important.
How much exposure do you and your contemporaries have to the administrative side of the game at U23s level?
I’ve not had to deal with a budget directly, as that area is covered by the academy manager, but I’ve always made sure I was aware of what we can and can’t spend, even when it comes down to overnight travel plans, perhaps saving on hotel costs or looking at pre-match meals. I am involved in the logistics and financials ahead of away games, so that is all experience I’ve gained. In previous roles, I was heavily involved in decisions on loan players and the associated fees, so I had an understanding of that market, and what our own limitations were if we wanted to sign a trialist, for example. I would negotiate on this. I’ve ensured that I’m familiar with budgets as it’s an important part of the game for a modern manager.
What would you do to improve U23s football in order to help the game as a whole?
It’s a difficult subject. We all know that the game is evolving in all areas. A lot of people have voiced a desire to return to reserve team football, with senior players dropping down to play when they are out of the first-team or returning from injury, to play with younger players. Squads were a lot smaller then, creating competition and it was a good upbringing for a player to come through. Now, where the game is at, I would say that it’s more financially-driven, and it’s very difficult for a manager to let a player drop down a level to play. Injuries can happen in any circumstances, but at times, given what’s at stake now, managers are reluctant to risk too many players playing.
We are professionals at U23s level, but we are in our own bubble. Some players get comfortable in that arena, and the challenge is to get the balance of U23s football to be as close to first-team football, without excess risk of injuries or over exposure for players. We can’t go back to how it was, as there are so many games at all levels as it is. We need to find a way for young players to play regularly with more experienced players. The EFL Trophy, for example, is predominantly U21s players, who are playing once every four weeks against lower-league grown men. Playing a first-team every few weeks is just a taster, so how do we bridge that gap to get them ready? Loan football is one way, so the U23s group becomes a younger group as the older lads are away at other clubs.
The current system has its pros and cons; these boys have a little more time now to make it to first-team level and cope with that transition, as opposed to lads who were discarded at a young age and then developed later. There’s very few who go straight from U18s to first-team football though, like Mason Greenwood, Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford. They are few are far between, so hopefully we are giving extra time for lads to be ready, physically and mentality, on their journey in the game.
How has your experience with England influenced you as a coach?
I was working through my qualifications when the whole England DNA concept was introduced, so I was already familiar with this before starting my coaching roles with England. Being around St. George’s Park for two or three years, earning my qualifications, I learned as much as I could and now being with the England age group sides, I’m able to refer back and think, am I coaching the way I should be? Can I adapt what I offer as a coach at international level, to what I do with Charlton? I want to work at the elite level eventually, but can I bridge the gap and take messages and methods away from England to help the boys at Charlton? I am always striving for excellence, and the encouraging thing is the boys at Charlton want to reach the top level too and they want to soak up the information from me, and learn what working with England is like and what it takes for them to get to the top.
What are your ambitions within management and coaching in the future?
When I decided to retire from playing and moved in to coaching, it became my next career in the game and I set out to manage or be a head coach at the highest level. I reached that level as a player and I am ambitious. I’m working my way towards that. I don’t feel I’ve missed anything along the way. I have the qualifications and I have the experience of working with different age groups, with different levels of players. I’ve been living as a head coach for the past eight seasons, so that’s what I see myself as, preparing to reach first-team level eventually.
Opportunity is key. People may say, ‘you haven’t got the experience’, but how do you get that without being given the opportunity in the first place? I want to do things the right way. I want to be in a position where I decide my roles, not being told I don’t have the right qualifications. Clubs may look for coaches with more experience, but I am gaining experience and I’m working successfully. I am driven and I feel a responsibility to take my opportunity and then give that to young coaches and players after me.
I’ve also completed a Corporate Governance course, and Les Ferdinand was one of the reasons I did that, to ensure that whatever my pathway is in the future, I am prepared for it and have the ability to effect the game on and off the field and be a part of the decision making process. I still want to make it as a first-team manager, but I’m adaptable and I’m committed.
After a successful career as a popular and influential player, Jason Euell has taken those experiences and his strong character and people skills to aid his progression as a flourishing young coach.
Working his way through a raft of qualifications whilst at Charlton’s academy, developing a plethora of superb young players for the club, whilst cultivating a winning habit, Jason’s talents were recognised at international level, leading to assistant coach roles with England U18s and U20s.
It’s clear that this will be just half the story for Euell, though. At 43, he has time on his side and has proven he’s prepared to put the hard yards in to reach the top. His balance of attitude, ambition and application, make him one of the brightest young coaches outside first-team football in this country. Surely, he won’t have to wait too long for that opportunity.
For more information on Dean Eldredge and Oporto Sports Management, please visit www.oportosports.com and follow them on Twitter @DeanEldredge and @OportoSports
UEFA Pro Licence
UEFA ‘A’ Licence
UEFA ‘B’ Licence
FA Advanced Youth Award (on-going)
FA Youth Module 3
FA Youth Module 2
FA Youth Module 1
Corporate Governance course (PFA/FA)
Charlton Athletic U23s
2017/18 PDL2 South Runners-up
2016/17 PDL2 South Champions
2015/16 PDL2 South Champions
2014/15 Kent Senior Cup Winners
Managerial highlights to-date…
I need to get players in to the first-team at Charlton and we’ve created a conveyor belt over the years. The players reach me at the last stage of their development before first-team level, and seeing them get opportunities with Charlton or moving on to other clubs, gives me great satisfaction; we’ve had 35 lads come through in my time here, including the likes of Ademola Lookman, Ezri Konsa and Karlan Grant among others.
As well as the development of players, I take great pride in us winning our league back-to-back in 2016 and then in 2017. It’s hard to win a league at any level, but even harder to do it again. We’ve created a competitive, successful environment and that gives me pride and drives me on to achieve more.
Words: Dean Eldredge
Images: PA Images