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19th Jun 2015

From Ranelagh to New York Red Bulls: A young Irish coach is trying to make his mark

Will Slattery

‘At the start I thought it would just be an easy way to make a small bit of money when I was hungover on a Saturday morning.’

That might be the opening line of Jack Ryan’s autobiography if he ever becomes a famous football coach, but for the moment it will have to do as an introduction to a story about how a 24-year-old from Dublin ended up coaching with one of the most progressive football clubs in the world.

Those hungover Saturday mornings were spent with Beachwood FC in Ranelgah, about as far away from his current employers, the New York Red Bulls, as you can get.

The local team was founded by his dad and he started out coaching with an U5 side. Ryan stayed with them all the way up to U12 and while he didn’t turn them into an Irish version of Barcelona’s lauded nursery, La Masia, he did achieve success with his group of youngsters – three Dublin domestic cups in-a-row and an All-Ireland quarter-final appearance.

Like many famous managers – notably Brian Clough – Ryan was turned onto coaching after suffering an injury that limited his playing time.

“I broke my ankle in 2009 when I was on a rugby tour with my school, Gonzaga, and couldn’t play for a large part of the season,” he says.

“It was very frustrating so I decided to start my coaching badges and got my UEFA C licence. I started coaching an U5 team with my local club. They were great kids and I was with them all the way up to U12. When you start to see them making progress, it makes you enjoy coaching even more.”


Although he says football is the biggest passion in his life, Ryan went to college and ended up in an office job. To be fair, he spent so much time thinking about how to break into his dream profession that he was basically already doing it part-time at that stage.

Rather than sitting on a bench during his lunch break circling the classifieds for coaching jobs at home – ‘it is mostly just coaches sorting out jobs for their friends in Ireland’ – he wanted to explore different footballing cultures.

This led to a bizarre job interview with one of the recently arrested FIFA officials charged with corruption that could have led to the greatest dramedy ever produced by RTÉ.

“I just started Googling opportunities to coach abroad and I ended up getting an interview for a job coaching in the Cayman Islands,” Ryan said.

“The guy who interviewed me, Jeffrey Webb, was arrested by FIFA last week so hopefully the FBI don’t have me under surveillance.”

Ryan kept looking and eventually engaged in an email back-and-forth with someone from the New York Red Bulls in the MLS. Since the energy drink company took over the club in 2006, they have pumped a lot of money into both the team and their infrastructure. The Red Bull Arena is one of the biggest football-specific stadiums in the US while they also have a 15 acre state-of-the-art training facility in New Jersey.

After some email persuasion from Ryan, he was able to land an interview and flew over to New York last January to meet his potential employers. People do different things to prepare themselves for the rigors of an interview Q&A, but Ryan definitely took a monumental risk in channelling the persona of one of the Premier League’s most divisive managers.

“I am a big fan of the Brodge so I dropped a good bit of Brendan Rodgersisms about character and desire and it seemed to work,” Ryan said.

“Then I took a demo session and my football philosophy was the same as theirs.”

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - MAY 24:  Brendan Rodgers, Manager of Liverpool on the bench during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Liverpool at Britannia Stadium on May 24, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

Ryan has been over there ever since and his official title is ‘youth development coach’, which sees him work with the club academy. Since he was thinking about completely switching careers, he didn’t want to tell too many people that he might be heading to New York to become a football coach, just in case it fell through and he sounded even more like Brendan Rodgers than he wanted to in his interview.

“I was almost embarrassed to say it to people at first because I would be known as a bit of a pub talker among my friends,”  Ryan said.

“So when I said I might be going to New York to work for the Red Bulls they probably thought it was utter garbage.”

Ryan got his wish of becoming a professional coach but it isn’t as simple as just rocking up for a training session once a day.

“It is seven days a week at the moment but I’m loving it,” Ryan says.

“You work with the academy players in the morning, and the Red Bulls are really into trying to improve us all as coaches so we have a lot of meetings with the more experienced coaches too. In the afternoon you would be focusing on session plans for the week and then you are off to your afternoon job.”

The ‘afternoon job’ Ryan refers to is the Red Bulls policy of having their youth coaches also work with junior teams in the greater New York area. Ryan is working with Valley Steam, a Long Island version of Beechwood United. He lives in Brooklyn but most afternoons he hops on the train to one of New York state’s most exclusive havens and coaches players who… well, wouldn’t be up to the New York Red Bulls standard.


Nevertheless, Ryan was surprised at the attention to detail that American junior coaches put into their work.

“The first day the U9 coach said ‘let me introduce you to my backroom team’ and there were five guys with him,” Ryan laughs.

“They had a goalkeeping coach and a statistician who was using this special iPad app to measure everything.”

Ryan says he is content in New York at the moment and doesn’t see himself applying to succeed Martin O’Neill as Ireland manager just yet. After the national team’s recent 1-1 draw with Scotland, the RTÉ panel despaired at how young players are coached in Ireland and in particular, how youth coaches value results over actually playing football.

From what he has seen during his brief career both at home and abroad, Ryan agrees and favours the American philosophy more.

“There is a win at all costs mentality associated with Irish youth soccer that is seriously detrimental to the development of the kids technical skills,” Ryan says.

“We have our under 11 players playing in 11-a-side national cup competitions on gigantic pitches with the sole objective of just winning that particular game and players are then petrified to make mistakes and they play the conservative ball. How are we expected to produce technical players when you might be sending an 11-year-old kid on a Saturday morning across the city for a few hours to get 8 maybe 9 touches on the ball?

“With the New York Red Bulls, if I see a talented player I will recommend him to the Regional Development Squad (Equivalent of DDSL). Then they are exposed to a high level of training and if they excel in this environment they are asked to train with the academy team. This is a much more logical way of best developing our young talent as there will be a significantly lower drop off rate and players are exposed to high quality coaches throughout their development. “

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