Life On The Job: Technical Director Of Football

Steve Darby, a technical director of football tells readers what it's like to be in his shoes!
Steve Darby
Technical Director of the Lao Football Federation

What do you do in your job?

We can talk about a day in the life of a technical director of football from two points of view: at the national level and at the practical level.

At the national level, I can speak of my experience as the Technical Director of the Lao Football Federation. A typical work day can include meetings with government agencies such as the Ministry of Sports or Ministry of Education, to discussions with sponsors such as FBT (Football Thai Factory Sporting Goods Co Ltd) which is the supplier of the team kits for the Laos national team.

On a more practical level there is talent identification, which the most enjoyable part of the job because it actually involves coaching players!

What do you like most about your job?

It can be well paid! But you have to accept it is not a reliable job. You can be sacked in a day for nonsensical reasons and may not get another job for a year. But money isn’t everything. You can’t beat the feeling of walking out in front of 100,000 people at Bukit Jalil for a Malaysia Cup Final or coaching the Thailand national team against the team you grew up supporting, in my case Liverpool.

You will also develop lifelong friendships with players and other coaches, and these are certainly things money can’t buy. You get to love the daily relationships with great players, the humour and sometimes the sadness. The dressing room can be a wonderful place.

On the other hand, the challenges are quite simple. The media! It’s a big pain having to deal with people who are trying to provoke you to get a headline, or people who just basically tell lies. Some journalists are great and have professional ethics, but others have very poor standards and make coaches and players reticent to speak to them. Hence you get the bland monosyllabic responses from the players.

What skills do you consider essential for your job?

It does help if you have played at a reasonable level, but that is not always the case (Jose Mourinho comes to mind). Most of all, you must know your football. Players at a professional level are ruthless and will find you out if you try to bluff them. You must be organised and know how to plan long and short term, and you must have player management skills. Honesty and consistency are two values that help out in this area.

A more recent “skill” is to learn to manage upwards. How you deal with, say, presidents and owners? That is not always easy in Malaysia. I have had to deal with high flying CEOs, federal politicians and the royalty. The reality is that football is dictated by funding. You must deal with the money-providing people to maximise the resources for your players.

You must also hate to lose, but learn how to handle it with intelligence and dignity as you will lose games.

You will also have to be a decision maker and once you make a decision you will upset someone and you have to deal with that.

Most of all, do not be ashamed to be in love with the game!

Some advice

Firstly, play as much football as you can. That’s the greatest learning experience. Watch as much football as you can, at all levels. Then start the qualification trail and try to do graduate studies in sports science or physical education, and then undertake the coaching licences. It is now nearly impossible to get a coaching position without a coaching licence so start early. I started my licences while at university and it was so much easier. As a student your mentality is still very much in learning mode. It’s harder as you get older!

In closing: love the game. It can be obsessive and almost a narcotic. But the rewards are fantastic.