Greener Pastures: Iceland remains a welcome home from home for Andrews
Well-travelled coach has amassed ample experience far from his native land
John Andrews, left, being unveiled as Vikingur women’s head coach: “The reason I’m a better manager now is because I’ve been in different cultures, I’ve seen different styles of play, different types of nutrition, attitudes of players.”
Name: John Andrews
DOB: September 27th, 1978
Club: Vikingur FC
Hometown: Mahon, Cork
Position: Head coach of the women’s team
All of Iceland remembers the date: October 9th, 2017. The nation had just beaten Kosovo to qualify for the World Cup, becoming the smallest nation in history to reach the finals of the competition.
Amidst the celebrations raging across the small North Atlantic nation, as they readied for the heady trek to Russia, one social media user suggested it to be the greatest day in Icelandic football history for an entirely different reason.
“King John Andrews is back,” they proclaimed.
And it was true. Whether by happy coincidence or not, the Cork native was returning to the country he had spent six-and-a-half years in as both player and coach before leaving in 2014.
“You couldn’t get a better confidence booster,” laughs Andrews as he recollects the comment. As facetious as the comment may have been, it illustrated the esteem in which he was held on the island.
In his three-year absence from the country, he buttressed his prior knowledge with further experiences, eventually moving to India to work with the Liverpool International Academy and DSK Shivajians in Pune.
DSK eventually ran into financial trouble and Andrews was back in Cork when another call came through from Iceland. His time off the road was never prolonged.
“I love Ireland, I love being at home and if I could do what I’m doing here at home and earn a living I’d be home tomorrow,” he says. “The upper echelons of the FAI know that because I’ve spoken to them about it during the Pro Licence.
“But the reason I’m a better manager now is because I’ve been in different cultures, I’ve seen different styles of play, different types of nutrition, attitudes of players. Now, you can put me into any dressing room in the world and I can adapt and associate and relate to the players. That may not make me a better coach, but it makes me a better manager.”
He’s currently stationed at Vikingur FC, one of the many clubs based in Reykjavik, where he is managing the club’s women’s outfit. It was a little further outside the city where he first dipped his toes in the female game, an experience which he maintains was an “eye-opener” that forced prejudices to be quickly erased from the outset.
As an assistant coach under another Irishman, Gareth O’Sullivan, at Afturelding, he was thrust into the role of head coach for one day when, 20 minutes into a training session composed of fun drills and games, the Cork man was taken aside by O’Sullivan’s wife, Anna, one of the players on the team.
“She said: ‘We don’t want to have fun. We’re in the Premier League. This is the top league. We wanted you because of the way you treat the men. We don’t want to be treated any differently’. That opened my eyes to the standard of the elite player.”
Since then he’s developed into an ambassador for the women’s game, approaching every new experience as a learning opportunity and, as it turns out, the Icelandic model has proved an apt ground for such learning.
But what is the secret to their success?
What enables the nation to punch above its weight?
Most importantly, can their methods be replicated?
“All our coaches are paid,” he says.”Coaches as far down as under-5s and under-6s are all put through their licences. So they all have that desire and that hunger to come and work, to come and produce a good product on the field.
“Players are playing because coaches are being paid. And coaches are coming out and training three, four or five times a week. They’re ingrained into a society of training three or four times a week by the age of 10, 11, 12. It becomes their life.”
It’s a system that has taken root in Ireland, somewhat sparsely and most notably at Shamrock Rovers where Damien Duff famously took early morning sessions with underage squads. It may not be an initiative that is warmly welcomed by all, some questioning the merits of such a professional approach with youngsters, but Andrews strongly asserts that it should become a more popular practice.
“The data behind it suggests players pick up more before they go to school. So why not get them in at 6.30am? If you deal with elite players, they’re hungry to go at this time of the morning. The players buy into it because there might not be much else to do, but they’re all training, they’re all being coached well and they’re all competitive. And the infrastructure is set up for teams to train four or five times a week here.”
He’s open to the idea of implementing these methods in Ireland, his grá for the country failing to evaporate despite the numerous global excursions.
The door remains ajar. Until that opportunity crops up however, King John Andrews is Iceland’s gain.