Interview with Coaching Guru EDDY WHYTE . . . a Scot who gave up football and then ended up in Europe playing and coaching with the best in the business.
Maastricht . . . European Press
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HOW IT ALL STARTED
At age 14 any hopes and ambitions you had of becoming a professional footballer were suddenly dashed due to a serious knee injury - how did that affect you?
I had torn cartilages in both knees and although it was possible to have an operation at that time the success rate was only 50:50. My mother was given the choice, risk the operation but maybe end up spending the rest of my life without any sport whatsoever, or have a complete rest for 12 months whereby my knees would have self-healed sufficiently for me to play occasional sport in future years. It was really the surgeon who made the decision, but my mother agreed, there would be no operation. If honest, at that time, being a typical ambitious kid, it didn't overly concern me, because as far as I was concerned the Doctor was wrong and I would eventually make a full recovery.
Clearly it didn't work out as you had hoped, because at age 18 you left home and joined the Army?
It was a stop start situation. For 3 months I would be okay, but then the pain and stiffness would suddenly reappear and I had to rest for the next 3 months. Not only did that affect my overall fitness level but there were also physiological issues - you try to compensate by running less during a game, reduce the number of twists and turns you make, avoid tackles, and restrict yourself to short passes so as to not put too much stress on the knee joint. I was kidding myself, so eventually accepted the inevitable and went to college to study engineering. At age 18 I picked up a newspaper and saw that four of my ex-team mates, kids that I had grown up with, had all signed lucrative professional contacts with top clubs. I was gutted and the 'what could have been' feelings came rushing back. I needed an escape route, so yes, that was the reason for joining the Army. I told my dad at the time that it was purely a career move to enhance my engineering ambitions (joining the Royal and Electrical Mechanical Engineers).
So how did you go from being an Army Engineer to playing for Borussia Monchengladbach, especially after you had been declared unfit to play football several years earlier?
It all happened by accident really. I was posted to Wildenwrath, Germany (near Gladbach on the Belgium and Dutch borders) and was appointed the sports liaison officer for the base. One day as part of a local community project I asked Gladbach if they would like to visit the camp and play against a British Army team. They sent their under 18's and it all progressed from there - they invited my back to their club, I had a kick around with their first team, and that one off visit soon became a regular occurrence. The Army training had somehow strengthened my knee joints, but that said, I also had an arrangement with Gladbach whereby I only trained for one day per week. It all worked fine for about 3 months but then the old problem raised its head again. Plan B quickly came into play, no training whatsoever, just turn up on a Saturday and wear thick stretch bandages around both knees. After two months of that the club Doctor gave his final verdict - I was finished.
And that was the stage where you first entered the coaching arena, working with the boys at Gladbach?
Yes - from that very first day that their under 18's arrived at our camp I was impressed with their youth set-up. They pulled up in a luxury coach decked out in the team colours with BM Gladbach Boys Club emblazoned along the side. All of the young players were dressed very smartly in club suits and ties and their discipline, both on and off the field, was impeccable. This was vastly different to the UK way of doing things and I was keen to learn more. It was an eye-opening experience and something which has stayed with me ever since. Not only that, but I also got the opportunity to become a skill coach with the senior players - and I was only age 20. I had spent all my childhood learning the art of being a left-winger and this was something that the management team at Gladbach wanted to teach their players - close control dribbling skills, quick change of pace, confidence with both feet, and accurate crossing whilst running at speed.
FROM GERMANY TO HOLLAND via BELGIUM
Again, you make a miraculous recovery and end up playing at Standard Liege?
Not exactly a full recovery, I had rested for a while. When I was at Gladbach we played Liege in a pre-season friendly and I became friends with a couple of their players who lived near the camp. Although coaching with Gladbach I was no longer registered as a player, so when fully fit again, I played two tournament matches for Liege and then later worked with their academy boys during the evening.
I later met you in 1977 in Maastricht when you played at the International Tapien Tournament for the Army and knocked out our local professional club MVV. How come you ended up in Holland?
I was promoted by the Army and posted to the NATO base at Maastricht. Shortly after my arrival I was asked to put together a team for that tournament so I rounded up all the best British players I could find in both Germany and Holland. Again, it was circumstances, having taught the Dutch how to play football in the first round (joke), and Germany in the final after extra-time, one thing lead to another and I ended up with MVV on a part-time basis.
From there to PSV, but with a different approach this time?
Yes, I was initially going to turn down the opportunity because I new it would be short lived. Playing the odd amateur game was fine, but the higher up the professional ladder you go the less room there is for weakness, and there was no way that my knee would last the distance. And I was right, because 3 months after my debut I was really struggling.
I watched you playing in that debut match. It was certainly different and your team mates seemed confused by it all?
The manager briefed me beforehand to just do what I was good at . . . pick up the ball on the touchline, run at their defenders, take them on, and whizz the ball into the box, and not to worry about any complaints from my team mates. Not one single player spoke to me during the pre-match briefing, even though a lot of them spoke good English. I just sat there pretending to understand what the manager was saying to the others and kept myself to myself. For some strange reason, I was less nervous than normal, but looking back, I now put that down to the fact that I new this wasn't going to last. If I had a bad game it didn't matter. Unlike the others I wasn't trying to build a long-term future in the game. After about 2 minutes I picked the ball up on the far touchline, ignored the shouts to pass the ball, ran at their first defender, and once past him, waited for the second one to commit himself before hitting it around him and then whipping the ball low and hard across the six yard line. I could hear the noise of the crowd and then on glancing back I saw the manager screaming at our strikers to get forward quicker. The manager seemed happy, but I wasn't sure about my colleagues. I was undecided what to do, ignore the boss and just pass the ball for the remainder of the game, or continue to go on these mad runs. It didn't take long to decide, because every time we got possession, the boss kept shouting instructions to get the ball out to me on the wing. Yes, I had a good game, and my new friends soon accepted me as one of the boys - they even started to speak English.
Were PSV aware of your injury background and if so, what precautions were taken?
Yes, I didn't hide anything. I told them on the very first day. After the initial medical they recommended that I undergo the necessary operations, but in the interim period it was agreed that I wouldn't train, just play in a few friendly matches. This is the first time that I have admitted this, but after that first game I went to a private clinic in Holland and made an arrangement to have special pain injections before each future match. Without those, there was no way I could play football. For any young kids reading this, pain killers are a big, no, no, Although they may relieve the pain for a short period of time you are also causing immense damage to your body - in my case I was wearing away the damaged padding around the knees until it became bone on bone. Time has moved on significantly now, if fact, today, modern keyhole surgery could have solved my knee problems very easily.
You lasted about 6 months then once again went back to a coaching role?
If honest, I lasted a lot longer than I originally expected, but that was purely down to the pain injections - and when the effect of them wore off during the week I was in a bad way. Another dilemma, have the operation on my knees and maybe never play sport again, continue with the pain injections and damage my health, or give up playing. After 6 months I informed PSV of my decision to quit, but as at Gladbach, I was very lucky to get the opportunity to move sideways as a part-time technical skill coach. It was similar to my position at Gladbach but with the added role of identifying skill weaknesses and individual programming right through the academy to the top senior players. As a general coach you would normally work with the full squad at a single session, but my role was to observe players during training and matches, identify their weak areas, and during the week provide them with one- on-one specialist training. At times, I would be working with just one player, at most, no more than four at a time. All of this was possible because of a special planned training schedule where time was set out each week for either fitness, team, group, or individual training - it was different from week to week and that made life a lot more interesting.