Every issue of the matchday programme, we hear exclusively from significant figures at the club on our Official Voice pages. In the last issue we featured first team coach Steve Round, who joined the club when Mikel Arteta became manager in December 2019.
It was a very proud moment for me to join Arsenal in December 2019, to work at this great football club as part of Mikel’s coaching staff.
My role as part of the coaching staff is first and foremost to assist the manager in coaching the team and to help coach positional units and individuals within the squad.
The crux of everything we do is to try to help the team win on a matchday. So I’m there to support the manager, to challenge the manager’s thinking and to share my knowledge as best I can. My aim is to help the team win but as well it’s to help the players and staff improve, and that’s the essence of coaching.
You have to see yourself as a teacher. We’re here not only to win matches but to try to improve everything, everyday – technically, tactically, physically, culturally and as human beings.
Then on a matchday it’s about helping prepare the team, whether that’s through individual conversations, unit meetings or supporting the manager on his team meeting. It’s about helping to formulate game plans and tactical structure to give the team the best possible information to help them be successful.
During the warm-ups it’s about a physical and mental preparation pre-game, maybe having a quiet word with a player who you thinks needs it. Maybe they need a bit of confidence, direction or instruction.
Once the game starts you move into more of an analytical role. How can we make a difference tactically or technically? Do we need subs? How and what are the opposition doing? It’s all about observing as much as you can.
It can be intense on the side lines during the 90 minutes, and in order to be analytical we as coaches try to remain emotionally detached – but that’s easier said than done! It’s such an emotional game and you have a huge emotional investment in it, and of course we’re all human. But you do have to try and step back and see a clear picture, understand what’s going on, then pass on your advice. At the club right now, we’ve got a lot of talented colleagues behind the scenes. We’ve all got different roles to look at within the game, and Mikel takes all that information, processes it and then uses it with his own perspective.
I’ve got to say we’ve got an exceptional coaching team around us, and although some of them are young, their knowledge is just amazing. They are incredibly good communicators and very forward thinking in the way they use technology and get their message across. That’s very applicable to the new modern player.
It’s important to have a lot of communication throughout the coaching group, we have diverse thinkers but everybody is on the same page and has the same aligned culture. We want to develop every day and everyone within the club and Mikel is very big on this. We share everything, we’re very open minded.
A football club now is such a big, elite performance organisation. When I started in the early 1990s we had a manager, an assistant manager, one coach and that was it. Then we had a goalkeeping coach, then sports scientists came in – the game is ever evolving.
During the time I’ve been in the Premier League, we’ve seen a huge emphasis on physical development. When you have to play every three days, running 12K in every game, 2,000 metres at high intensity, executing every technical aspect at phenomenal speed – it’s amazing to think how big the technical and physical development of players has been.
Now we are in the midst of a tactical revolution where every team plays differently and can change at any given moment. Both in and out of possession. The way that coaches are getting their teams to play – throughout the whole of Europe – is fascinating. From one game to the next you can face completely different strategies.
And now I think we are just getting into the next wave where I can see a huge development in mental and emotional coaching, helping with mental health, dealing with the scrutiny and pressure that comes with top level football. That’s really going to develop over the next five to ten years.
So you need the staff to be able to cope with that. You have to develop players in so many different areas and one person can’t do it all. Players want that now as well, they want to get better at every aspect of their game. You have to provide the opportunity for them to be as good as they can be. Staff – whether you are a coach, sports scientist, a physio or a psychologist – have to be an elite professional operator. Here at Arsenal we have an excellent staff who are experts in their areas.
From my perspective I started out in coaching at a very young age because I finished my professional career due to injury in my early 20s. That was devastating at the time, because playing football – at any level at all – is the best thing in the world. So it was really hard to take, but even before I got the injury I loved coaching. I was coaching at the Derby County School of Excellence after I’d finish training, and did my first badges at 18. So it was always a passion of mine and that made the transition a bit easier.
I realised very early that if you want to be a good coach you have to gather as much knowledge as possible. I was self-taught at that time and it was hard work. I travelled the world, watching lots of different sports and coaches. It was fascinating to learn more and more on the journey. You then need a bit of luck and some supportive mentors along the way to help in the process. Fortunately I’ve had a lot of good mentors and people who took the time to help me develop.
Everyone I’ve worked with has helped shape my career. I’ve worked with lots of different people over the years – I worked with sports psychologist and ex-England basketball coach Bill Beswick, who changed my way of thinking. My wife, friends and family have been a big supporting influence too. Then all the managers I’ve worked with have had a huge effect on my life.
While I was working with the England team I remember sitting with Terry Venables every day for as long as I could, because the guy was fascinating. He has so much knowledge about tactics and offensive play especially.
Every club I’ve worked at, and every manager I’ve worked under, every experience I’ve had has helped me grow. Even now you have to be humble and open-minded enough to learn every single day.
Now at Arsenal, in Mikel Arteta we’ve got an exceptional manager – there’s no doubt about that. And an incredible person too, the sky’s the limit for him. The job he’s done over the past couple of years is amazing - the changes he’s made and how he’s started to develop this exciting, fresh new team. He’s building a real togetherness and spirit, not only with the players, but within the whole club.
It's difficult to compare any manager I have worked with, because they are all different people with different styles and philosophies, but at Arsenal right now, with this group of people, we’re definitely moving in the right direction.
Within the coaching staff we’ve all got a very close relationship and that’s built on trust, understanding and respect. I’ve known Mikel a long time, I obviously coached him at Everton, and I’ve seen him develop as a footballer and now as a manager and it’s great to be a part of that team.
Yes we’re honest, we’re honest with each other and we tell each other the truth. We support each other in good times and bad and it’s a pleasure to work with this group because they are a talented bunch and it inspires me every day when I come in to work.
There’s been huge change at the club and we’ve now got a really fresh and exciting team. When you are developing like this, you know there are going to be bumps in the road, of course there are. But they are starting to build a resilience, a robustness, a spirt and a cohesive togetherness which is really exciting.
They have gelled. When they lose they are devastated – devastated for each other, the team and the fans. And when they win they are so together and spirited. The connection is definitely there and it’s a joy to be a part of. Yes we need to improve, yes we need to be better and more consistent, but when you realise the average age of this squad – the next three or four years look very exciting. There’s something here we can get behind and if we keep developing we can become a real, real force for years to come, I’m sure.
For me personally I’m very proud to be a part of this group at Arsenal. It’s just a magnificent football club. For years, Arsenal have been at the forefront of everything. I have great respect for Arsène and forged a good relationship over the years competing against him. I remember coming to Highbury with Middlesbrough during the 49-game unbeaten run. We went 3-1 up – then within 20 minutes we were 5-3 down! What a team, what an incredible team, there is such a great tradition and history here.
Just before I came to Arsenal I had moved into a different career and was sporting director at Aston Villa, which I really enjoyed, but then I had a call from Mikel. He said he was going into management and he wanted somebody on his staff who was English and had experience of the league. He asked if I would be interested? I was interested right away as I have so much respect for him.
So I asked where the job was and as soon as he said Arsenal, that was it. ‘I’m there’ I told him. ‘I’m there’. It doesn’t get any better than that. Yes I knew there’s a challenge to get the club back to where we belong, but with the players and staff we have now, and with the way the supporters have rallied behind the team, I really feel that the club is moving the right way. It’s a brilliant football club, just brilliant, and we all want to make it the very best it can be.
This article first appeared in the matchday programme. All issues can be purchased here.
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