Soccer Coaching Failure

Foreign Failures: Reasons Football Coaches Fail Abroad

An excerpt – by Blaine McKenna – from Chapter 8 of:

Coaching Abroad - Blaine McKenna - cover
Coaching Abroad Amazon


It’s not easy moving to a place where you don’t understand the culture, language, or local game. It’s no surprise that coaches who move abroad often fail. We’ve all seen it over the years with a high turnover of foreign coaches around the world. Understanding why this happens is crucial, as most coaches don’t get a second chance in the professional game.

Coaches have highlighted six reasons for failure abroad:

  1. Failing to understand the culture.
  2. Unwilling to adapt their coaching approaches to fit the setting.
  3. Expecting things to work the same way as their homeland.
  4. Poor quality of work and results.
  5. Lack of long-term thinking.
  6. Accepting jobs that don’t have the resources needed to succeed.

Cultural Issues

Michael Yau has seen many coaches come and go in recent years.

China has had a huge influx of foreign coaches in recent years. Not only at the professional level but also grassroots. Some of them haven’t been successful. Why? Because they lack cultural understanding.

Sam agrees this is the biggest area coaches get wrong.

It’s a failure to understand the culture and adapt from a coaching point of view. You have to be adaptable.

Not understanding the culture and adapting means coaches don’t get the best from people. This leads to toxic environments, poor performance, and coaches ultimately losing their jobs. Simon has seen plenty of foreign coaches getting it wrong.

Many coaches are unaware of the context and culture within the club and country. You walk in and bring your European attitude with you, and you’re going to fail and fall on your arse. Even if you get a couple of wins and you start barking at the bosses, they’re not going to like that.

Scott knows the challenges coaches face when walking into a club in a different country.

When you’re a new foreign Head Coach in Vietnam or Thailand, you can be in for a shock. You can learn the culture but is your translator translating exactly what you want? The translator may not be behind you as they wanted another coach to get the job.

You have no idea what the players are saying, what the owner wants, and what he’s saying behind closed doors. You’ve got a week to manage these players, and hope they get your perspective. There are so many unknown commodities when you walk in as a foreign coach. You’ve got to survive the first two to three months.

You need time to understand the culture and find the best way of working. Unfortunately, coaches don’t always get given the time they need.

Failing to Adapt

Sam believes foreign Technical Directors can get it wrong by imposing a style that doesn’t work in that country.

Having a Technical Director come in and copy the Spanish model isn’t appropriate for a country like Hong Kong. It can set the country’s development back years.

If that’s what they believe in, then they’ll try to coach the players that way. They might try new systems and copy how they’ve used sports science, analysis, and those sorts of things. If it’s not appropriate for the country you work in, and you are taking them down the wrong path, that’s where people fail.

Sam saw coaches who didn’t adapt their approach to get the best out of those they were working with.

Where people fail is when they try to put their ideas that have been successful in their own country onto other countries. In China, I saw coaches who weren’t open-minded enough to change their ways. They forced their preferred methodology onto the players. The players can’t do it because they have grown up in a certain way.

You must adjust because if you copy and paste from what you did at home, it’s not going to work. If you don’t adapt, you’ll quickly lose the respect and trust of the people that you’re working with.

Cederique knows it takes time to introduce different approaches in a foreign country.

If you haven’t worked abroad, it’s harder to adapt to the local culture and possess the patience required. Yes, we know it should be like this, but we are in Lithuania and we cannot change everything immediately. We can take some steps towards it, but if we try to copy it immediately – it won’t work.

Sam saw many coaches come and go.

Going to China, you have to become flexible in the way you deliver. Some coaches came out and couldn’t handle it and moved on quickly – the coaches who adapted stayed there longer.

Home Truths

Michael knows people won’t follow your approach based solely on where you come from.

You can’t think, I’ve got some brilliant methods. My way is the best way of working. This is a country where football is less developed, so you must follow my way. If you go over with an attitude like that you’re going to fail.

Simon feels a foreign coach’s ego can alienate people.

Sometimes, there’s a sense of entitlement when coaches go to South East Asia, especially if you’re coming from a bigger league in Europe. They think, I’m the superstar here. I know a lot more than everyone in this country – that’s why I’m here.

You take that attitude into a boardroom, a meeting with players, or the training ground – they’ll pick up on that. That makes it very hard for you to build relationships with players. It’s all about building relationships with players and understanding them.

Coaches who can’t adapt to the country they’re in are setting themselves up for failure, as Steve well knows.

Most foreign coaches who fail in Asia utter the same words “In my country, we do it this way.” Well, they are not in England, Germany, or Brazil!

Cederique has seen close-minded coaches who couldn’t adapt.

A lot of coaches go to a country and say, “We do it like this in Spain or Italy.” They come to China and want to do things the same as at home and it doesn’t work. People have different mindsets and ways of thinking.

They may not understand it at the beginning and get frustrated. They say, “This is bad, and this is bad.” After three to six months, they are so fed up because they haven’t adapted to the local culture, and they leave.

Things are done very differently abroad which can be a huge shock for coaches. Simon knows this can make it a challenging transition.

When it comes to Asia, there are many bumps in the road. If you get thrown off the road at the first, you’re not going to be at the club long. You’re not going to get your message across. The players aren’t going to be interested. Bosses aren’t going to want to deal with you. If your mindset is fixed on – here’s the target and this is the only path I’m taking – you’ll get thrown off and it makes it very difficult for you to sustain work in Asia.

Coaches with a tunnel vision approach and a lack of interest in the local culture are destined for failure.

Poor Performance

Sam believes you’ll lose players with poor training sessions.

If you’re working with good players, they expect a certain level of training. They expect a certain quality of information from you. If you can’t provide that, then the whispers are going to start. Once the whispers start with one player, two players, four players, eight players, then you’re struggling.

It’s not only the session quality but also the schedule organisation, the ideas you introduce, and the relationships you have with players. Owners ask for players’ opinions so Scott feels having poor relationships reduces your job opportunities.

It can work against you if you’re a muppet in player management. Going around smashing people. “No, we don’t want him. We don’t want him.” They will hold that against you.

Cederique says poor quality of work makes it hard to sustain work abroad.

The people you know or what club you work at doesn’t matter – if you don’t do a good job, they will finish your contract and stop working with you. When this happens, it’s very difficult to continue working in that country.

Colum has found owners lack patience when it comes to results.

They’re not very patient. Everybody wants to win trophies in 20 minutes. It’s the same in world football, bar a few clubs that have people at the top with a long-term vision.

Steve knows if you don’t win games at first team level, you’ll soon be getting the sack.

Coaches have to learn to adapt to the country they’re in, and what they feel is the right method to win. Don’t forget, it’s all about winning. None of this philosophy or project rubbish. If you don’t win as a foreigner, you are out as you are expensive!

Long-term is next week in many clubs. The reality is if you’re working at the first team level and you don’t get good results, you won’t be in a job for long. There’s not much stability in the professional game with owners being impatient worldwide.

For more from this fantastic book, including Poor quality of work and results, Lack of long-term thinking, Accepting jobs that don’t have the resources needed to succeed, check out:

Coaching Abroad - Blaine McKenna - cover
Coaching Abroad Amazon