Professional footballers with ambitions to become a head coach at a professional club appear to be more successful when they do not immediately start their second football career as a head coach at a professional club. This was revealed by scientific research into the coaching careers of 205 former footballers with Belgian coaching diplomas. The research was carried out by UGent master's student Marco Verheuge in collaboration with the Knowledge Centre of the Royal Belgian Football Association. The association will also share the scientific findings internationally as they are the first to have carried out such a large-scale study on this subject.
Which career path offers ex-professional footballers – who dream of a second career coaching a professional club – the best chance of success? And how can you increase those chances? These two questions were the foundation for an extensive scientific study carried out by Marco Verheuge. He is now a master's student at UGent. He carried out the study under the approving eye of economics professor Stijn Baert, researcher Dr Simon Amez, and with the support of Dr Matteo Balliauw, coordinator of the Knowledge Centre of the Royal Belgian Football Association.
The RBFA cracks the code for ex-professional footballers with coaching ambitions
To carry out the analysis, Verheuge charted all of the European results of no less than 205 head coaches. They previously had a professional career as a player and then obtained a Belgian coach's certificate UEFA A or UEFA B between the seasons 1979-1980 and 2017-2018. For each club or country team coached, their relative strength was determined in relation to the previous season's ranking or was based on the FIFA coefficients. This is how each head coach's success was determined for the match they coached. Verheuge also delved into the career path of all head coaches before they were given the chance to take up that role. In particular, he looked at what jobs they took on before becoming a head coach and how often and for how long they worked in those jobs.
'The study shows that the ex-professional footballers in the study who started as assistant or youth coaches before they became a head coach are more likely to be successful than those who immediately start as head coaches in professional football.'
Marco Verheuge, UGent master's student
Don't wait too long either
The RBFA and UGent study also looked at how quickly success drops off during head coaching when ex-professional football players had worked an extra year as an assistant or youth coach. It turns out that the success of the ex-professional footballers in the study declined during their coaching career after they had been assistant coaches for about four to five years. The same downward curve can also be seen after about seven years as a youth coach.
'The results confirm the intuition of Kris Van Der Haegen, Coach Education Director of the RBFA, who has been preaching patience to ambitious ex-professionals for some time now. And, with that in mind, he had already pointed to Philippe Clement's career. Using this scientifically substantiated material, we can now continue researching how the training of coaches within the RBFA can be adjusted with the findings in mind. Of course, we will also share these findings internationally because we are the first federation to carry out such a large-scale study on this subject.'
Dr Matteo Balliauw, Coordinator of the RBFA Knowledge Centre
Raúl confirms Belgian story
The study prompted the RBFA to also hear out international ex-professional footballers who are working their way up to head coach positions. Among others, Raúl González Blanco, the former top striker of Real Madrid and La Roja and currently coach of the second team of Real Madrid (Castilla) acknowledged the Belgian advice.
'Your experience as a player is important, but it doesn't determine whether you will be a good coach or not. If you want to succeed as a coach, you need training and to learn to look at sports completely differently. You can only do this by having different experiences. For example, I first coached 14 to 17 year olds and have been coaching Real Madrid Castilla for three years now, mainly with 19 to 21 year olds. Every day I learn how to better communicate my vision about football so my players perform better individually and as a team. Gradually, my confidence as a coach has also grown in the way I approach and encourage the players.'
Raúl González Blanco, former Real Madrid striker and current Real Madrid Castilla coach
Watch the panel discussion with dr Matteo Balliauw, Belgian Red Devils head coach Roberto Martinez, Spanish former international Raúl and professor Stijn Baert (UGent):