In the last part of the interview we spoke about Freddie’s journey through Europe, and almost immediately after leaving Europe an opportunity presented itself for Freddie in China. He snatched it with both hands and what occurred was a vital experience -for both his life and his coaching career.
D:After Europe you went to live and work in China. Which is fascinating, so how did that come about?
F: So, a friend of mine comes from a region in China called Xinjiang; he moved to Australia when he was young to go to school. He was a very good friend of my younger brother and as such he became like another brother to me. He was going back to China and we had both spoken to each other about being football coaches there. He helped me arrange a 3 month placement in Beijing at Club Football China which consisted of working at schools and stuff like that as a coach. That was very enjoyable -interesting to see how the Chinese did their football. After that I went Xinjiang and we worked with Arman Group on developing a Youth System in the region.
D: You also began to manage your own team, right?
F: I took over management of the local university’s semi-professional side. Essentially, it was an under 23 team and the university wanted them to become a professional club. When I got there they hadn’t won the cup in about 5 years, the club was under a lot of pressure. The president even had to leave the region sometimes as everyone would get on his back about the repeated failure to win the tournament. When I got there it was drilled into me: We have to win the cup! I thought if I could get the right processes in place then it was definitely doable.
D: How did it go for you in the initial stages?
F: The first 6 to 7 weeks we drew and we lost, we really struggled. I changed the culture quite drastically. I wanted everybody to take it more seriously, so I tried to instil some discipline. For example, I started making the guys come to games in shirt and ties. First game I did it one guy came in casual clothes so I put him on the bench. It took a while to get everyone to buy into my ideas, and for me to decide the best way to play. At the beginning, I wanted them to play controlling, possession based football building up play from the back. After two weeks, I realised they just weren’t capable so I went for the exact opposite. We weren’t solid enough defensively, so we started playing behind the ball in a very narrow and compact block, going forward we would just look to break and I allowed them freedom within the possession phases of the game.
None of the other teams were well organised defensively, they were just looking to play nice football as opposed to effective football. Eventually, they would become frustrated and give the ball away in dangerous positions and the idea was that my side would break as swiftly and accurately as possible. After about eight weeks, we still hadn’t won and the Dean was starting to get on my back but we were conceding less and I knew a win was just around the corner. I just asked everyone to trust me. Once we got a first win we were unstoppable, and after every victory the team just grew in confidence. In the end, we went 26 games unbeaten, didn’t concede in the last 18 and somehow killed it winning both the league and cup double.
D: What was the name of the University?
F: Xinjiang Normal University, that qualified them for the national cup and they got all the way to the quarter-finals. It is one of my disappointments that I couldn’t lead them through that competition, It would have been very interesting to see them competing against the teams from mainland China.
D: Why did you have to leave?
F: Well, I didn’t have to leave. It was just that I wanted to go back to Australia and the job as technical director at Bendigo City came up which was too good of an opportunity to turn down. I always said that by 25 I would be somewhere. So being a technical director and having a B License at such a young age is something I’m quite proud of.
D: As you know the current leader of China, Xi Jingping, is a huge football fan and he has a stated ambition to turn China into a footballing powerhouse within the next 20-25 years. What are your thoughts on the development of the sport in China? From your point of viewing, having worked their, do you think that this could happen, will they become a major power in world football?
F: I’m not sure to be honest, at the moment it seems all the money is going in at the top. It has to go in at the bottom. Look at Belgium, they did it in ten years but they invested properly. At the moment, everything in China is like a big show. They’re bringing in big foreign players, building huge facilities, but it all seems a bit plastic. This is all well and good, but they need to train Chinese coaches, develop the Chinese footballing culture and create an authentic philosophy. It’s all a bit haphazard at this point in time.
D: So they need to lay some proper foundations first?
F: Yea exactly, but there is a lot of money and power so eventually they’ll realise what they have to do and get the correct people in to sort it out, if they haven’t already started doing so. It’s a huge market and with a such a huge population there is no reason they can’t achieve what they want. But they have to start from the bottom.
Part 3 Coming Soon.