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After the huge fuss of England’s appalling showing in South Africa, the FA started another long and tedious review of how our national game should be run, what is the future of the academy at Burton and who should eventually succeed Fabio Capello when he eventually leaves. The upshot was that we need an Englishman in charge of our national game.
Great – but who? ‘Appy ‘Arry? Big Sam? Alan Pardew? There isn’t a single Englishman who really has the experience or the track record. But do you know we actually have a number of Englishmen who have international coaching experience. For instance, Bryan Robson is currently the national coach of Thailand (he actually replaced Peter Reid), Gary Johnson managed Latvia for awhile and of course there is Stephen Constantine who has managed Nepal, India, Malawi and is now in charge of Sudan. But what about someone who has had no real experience and started right at the bottom.
Fly eastwards for almost a day and you will find yourself in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Somewhere out there lay the Federal States of Micronesia. 607 islands located almost half way between Hawaii and Australia is hardly the place to find the youngest international coach in the world, but that is exactly what you will find in Pohnpei, one of the four states of Micronesia.
Paul Watson is as English as they come. Brother of comedian Mark Watson, Paul is a former non-league player who saw an opportunity and took it. Pohnpei are ranked as one of the worst in the world so the only way was up. He started by setting some achievable goals. Raise some funds, arrange training, take the team to Guam to play. And that is exactly what he has done.
In the past few months the nations footballing plight has received some valuable press in England and Paul has been on the campaign trail. A benefit concert in London cumulated in an auction that raised vital funds, and merchandise can now be bought online.
We caught up with Paul on his trip and asked the questions that everyone wanted to know:
First question… How on earth did a chap from London end up in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with the best job in the world?
I met the former Pohnpei FA head Mr Charles Musana after he moved to London. He talked about the game with such passion but said that there wasn’t anyone to coach the players there. I decided I was up for the job!
Did you have a eureka moment at some point? And what was the interview process?
There wasn’t really much of an interview process. I met the head of the Micronesian Olympic Committee and we got on very well and then I met the players and they seemed to accept me and that was it. I don’t think people were queuing up for the job!
So how have results been so far?
We’ve collected a nice string of wins over teams made up of the best foreign players on the island and we beat a US Coast Guard team 3-0. The problem is that there aren’t many people on the island to play against and we can’t afford to fly anywhere else to play.
As an International coach do you inherit a magic book with the telephone numbers and email addresses of your fellow compatriots such as Fabio Capello, Marcello Lippi and err… Peter Reid?
I think the book must have got lost in the post along with those VIP tickets to England friendlies!
Do you have a framed letter from Sepp congratulating you on your appointment?
This is a bit of a sensitive subject. FIFA have given us no help whatsoever over the last 12 months, even though we are doing everything we are supposed to do. We are developing grass roots football throughout Micronesia and trying our best to build the foundations for a new generation of footballers in a country with a 90 percent obesity rate and football’s authorities won’t even dignify us with an email, let alone development funding.
The sad truth is that unless you’re a millionaire businessman, FIFA want nothing to do with you.
As a veteran of the Chiswick and District Sunday League, would I slot in at center back with ease at a local club?
I reckon you’d get a game for International FC – they don’t exactly hold formal trials, it’s more a matter of seeing who’s made enough to venture out into the torrential rain every week!
We love a weekend away here at The Ball Is Round. What would Pohnpei hold for us?
Pohnpei is an island paradise. It has some of the best surfing in the world, beautiful jungle, blue seas and is sunny all year round. Best of all, the people are all incredibly friendly. Besides I’d buy you a pint at the Rusty Anchor.
Do you spend each weekend watching games a la Capello?
I watch a lot of football, but sadly I don’t get the tickets for free!
Have you checked out any players in England to see if they have any Polynesian roots?
I’m fairly confident there aren’t any Micronesian talents in England because I’ve been told there isn’t a single Micronesian expat in Britain! If there are, I’d love to hear from them…
What are the training sessions like? Running them into the ground or dead-ball sessions?
Fitness has never been a big problem, especially since we train five times a week. When I first arrived we needed to do a lot of tactical sessions, lots of walk-throughs, positional work etc. Now we mix up technical drills, match situations and cardio work with strength and conditioning and classroom sessions. There’s a lot to do, but I’m trying to develop players on all levels.
How big is the forthcoming game with Guam for the country?
The game against Guam would be enormous for everyone in Pohnpei. Sadly, in order to get there we need lots more sponsors and so everything is up in the air.
Based on the farce of Capello announcing his 23 this week, how do you let players know “they are on the plane”?
We started out with a squad of 16, but a couple of players were added and a couple didn’t quite show the commitment we required. Everyone who is training with us at the moment will come to Guam and they have given 100 percent every day.
Have you had any assistance from clubs in England?
Yeovil Town donated a set of shirts that we gave to one of our clubs. They have been great and even let me observe them training, which was very valuable. Sherborne Town of the Toolstation Premier League are twinned with us. They have also donated shirts and been incredibly supportive. Sadly the Premier League sides have continually ignored us and the English FA refused to give us any assistance.
I first heard of your “plight” on Absolute Radio when Frank Skinner interviewed your brother in the run up to his gig in London. How did that go?
The gig was great and as chaotic as advertised! It was amazing that Mark did it given he was so incredibly busy and some other great comedians gave up their time for free. There were some amazing people there and our Ebay auction was incredible – we even sold a rubber bath duck for £30!
What temptations/distractions are there for the players? Is there a local equivalent of China Whites and Danielle Lloyd?
There are a few bars on the island, but the good thing is that I know pretty quickly what people have been up to. You tend to bump into people fairly often!
I assume the players are part-time footballers. Any interesting jobs amongst them?
I’d love to say we had some players with funny jobs, but they are mostly students, a taxi driver, a teacher, a construction worker – the same as England really.
What level did you play at?
I was semi-professional for a bit and did the rounds at clubs around three or four leagues below the actual league, but I wasn’t quite good enough to really get anywhere so I ended up as an amateur.
So, South Africa 2010. Will you be watching with an eye on one day seeing yourself as a manager in a major tournament?
Obviously I’d love to manage at a major tournament and I’ll keep doing what I can towards that aim, but for now I’ll just enjoy the football and try and learn what I can.
What are your aims/goals for the next three years both personally but also for the team?
This summer we go to Guam. Next summer I will be running camps for the united Federated States of Micronesia team including players from Chuuk, Yap and Chuuk. Hopefully we can get accepted to East Asian Football Federation and then funding will arrive to start up the first schools league and build a future for the game.
What team do you support and who is your role model as a coach?
I’m a passionate Bristol City fan. I have enormous respect for Gary Johnson, our former manager, but also for Neil Warnock, Cesare Prandelli, Roy Hodgson and Bruno Metsu – so quite a wide spectrum!
Are you able to play in the Oceania Cup? And 2014 World Cup qualifying?
At the moment we aren’t able to play in any competition. We reformed the Federated States of Micronesia FA last February but we are still waiting for admission to the East Asian Football Federation, which is necessary for us to play in cups and qualifiers.
What do you want to be remembered for in this role?
I’m not really interested in being remembered, I just hope that in 10 years’ time I can cheer on Micronesia in a World Cup qualifier.
Many thanks for Paul for taking the time to speak to us. You can follow the teams progress on Twitter as well as their Pound for Pohnpei fund raising campaign. In a time when Premier League clubs think they can justify ridiculous sums for tickets why not spare a pound and help someone on the other side of the world. Go on then, what are you waiting for!
Stuart Noel maintains the The Ball is Round blog.