Moving from Liverpool and somewhere you’re respected was a big challenge, I wanted to go abroad to earn that respect elsewhere.
I’d prepared myself over a number of years for a role like this and an English coach moving to Brazil is pretty unique. I’m getting better at the language! I can take training and the people in Sao Paulo have been brilliant.
The players were quite intrigued by European football, some of them speak good English, so that’s been a bonus, as has the weather.
It all came about when the manager [Rogerio Ceni] made a visit to five or six clubs in England and visited me at Liverpool, from this meeting he eventually made a request for me to come and be his assistant at Sao Paulo.
In the original meeting he told me liked me as a coach but I’d had that said to me a thousand times before. I got the call one Sunday after we’d played Reading in an U23 match saying he had been offered the job and wanted me to come over, I’d turned down opportunities from football league clubs in the past because I was happy at Liverpool but this opportunity was different.
I spoke to Alex [Inglethorpe] and then went and spent a weekend in Brazil, I arrived back in England at 7am and went straight to our U23 match against Derby. The next day I confirmed to Liverpool that I wanted to leave and join São Paulo.
I took a big leap of faith, I didn’t have a visa or anything yet but I knew that I wanted to come to Brazil and I didn’t want to regret that opportunity. After spending a weekend there I realised just how big the club is.
I was a young player at Charlton Athletic and spent nine years as a junior and professional at the club. On leaving there, I had brief trials with FC Twente and QPR but it never really worked out. I went to America to play for three or four months was at a bit of a loss as to what to do with myself in regards to a long-term career. In the space of six months, the floor was taken from under me.
I always wanted to coach, my dad lent me some money to set up a Futsal company, under the franchise of Brazilian Soccer Schools. I set up a club at my local church hall in Bromley and from this I eventually got an opportunity to go to Chelsea, coaching the kids. I spent 10 years there working with every age group, overseeing the development of 6-9 year olds and selecting players from the academy.
It was an outstanding academy at Chelsea, I was lucky enough to work at the club when Ranieri, Hiddink, Ancelotti, Mourinho etc were managers. The youth coaches I worked with such as Steve Holland, Steve Clarke, Paul Clement, Brendan Rodgers were all outstanding. It was a fantastic experience, I must have been to nearly 20 European tournaments and come up against Barcelona, Ajax, Real Madrid and Juventus.
It was a huge development for me but at the top end, clubs are spending the most money and it was hard for players to find that path into the first team. Josh McEachran played his fair share but then Ancelotti left and a new manager coming in is under pressure to deliver marquee signings and trophies.
But Liverpool was different, I went there and Brendan had a side in transition and didn’t have the same size budget as Chelsea.
The Europa League was a better breeding ground for opportunities and then Jurgen Klopp came in and continued to give opportunities.
Liverpool have a history, the Owen’s, the Fowler’s, the Carragher’s, the Gerrard’s, the people want those involved with the club and the club are connected to the fans. It’s a community club and so are Everton.
In two and a half years, something like 18 players came from the academy to make their debut and it’s a big pat on the back for Jurgen. He’s used to playing into Champions League semi-finals but he had a big faith in those players coming through.
As great as it was at Chelsea, I needed a new challenge. I was like a young player who needed a new path, I was a Chelsea fan as a kid but I stopped believing in my pathway as a coach at the club and believing in the pathway of the players to the first team.
I’d have felt a bit of a hypocrite if I’d stayed there, it was the best thing for me to move.
Liverpool was a huge opportunity, I was on holiday in Spain and bumped into the academy manager and that’s how it started. Kenny [Dalglish] was manager at the time, he was my hero for years and a close relative of my nan [Ray Harford] had been assistant to him at Blackburn. He left as I was on the brink of coming in but Brendan took over as manager so that was a pleasant coincidence.
I believed in his philosophy but I struck up a good relationship with Kenny even after he left as manager. He had a willingness to care, he has humility. He’d come in and know all the names of the academy boys, they’d be genuinely shocked.
Inviting ex-players back was a big part of the club, Steve Highway was invited back to work with the U16s and he was in charge of the academy during the years when a lot of players broke through and it was a natural thing for Gerrard to come in too.
They had to approach him before someone else did and he should be applauded, ex-pro’s get jobs without doing the groundwork but he’s prepared to do that. The hours (for a youth coach) are long and the pay isn’t fantastic but it says a lot about him as a person (that he has taken this path).
Now I’ve ended up in Brazil, it feels like a football holiday to be honest. I travel to new cities and new stadiums; the Brazil national anthem is played before every game. It’s different, the heat takes some getting used to and the game management in Brazilian football is much different.
The sessions I put on for the players aren’t too different, I have a great relationship with the players and everyone is technically outstanding.
That’s a given here compared to England, they play with quick combination passes because it’s just natural. It’s not like that in England, here you don’t have to coach invention. The academy facility is outstanding too.
Players here just need help tactically. The fans love to be entertained, it’s all about scoring, they are obsessed with the beautiful part of the game.
The nutrition side is completely different to England too, they eat ice cream with every meal. They eat rice, beans, beef or chicken – perfect for a footballer’s diet. Regarding the simple cakes, fruit sponge with ice cream. At first, I was shocked, but they drink natural juices and water, it’s a clean diet so it’s different than giving it an England player.
The diet and food is a big part of understanding the culture, you have to understand that here.
The desire to win is enormous, winning is absolutely everything. Players come from poor backgrounds, football fuels their whole family and they’re willing to put in everything to safeguard their family.
I’d say 80-90% are from poor backgrounds, you think of back home and the Range Rovers and it doesn’t match what I see here.
The players here don’t just want to be a player, they need to be a player. It means everything to them, the alternatives for them aren’t very good and I think the desire here outweighs England.
That would be the message I would send players back home, others are sacrificing everything to be a player, you see that look in their eyes.
Follow Michael on Twitter at @MichaelBeale