U19 manager Al Sugg had a chat with UCDSOCCER.COM about the season and more
Al Sugg is the UCD U19s manager. He arrived in January 2012 towards the end of last season’s 19s campaign.
So how did he get into coaching?
“Many years ago, I got involved by helping with my younger brother’s team and it progressed from there. I’ve been very lucky to get to travel through coaching – England, Scotland, Germany, Faroe Islands, South Africa and Georgia, amongst others. It’s been an education, every step of the way.”
Al has held a number of different coaching positions throughout his career. He’s been manager of the UCFL’s Senior and Youths teams, Assistant Director of Coaching for the DDSL as well as Director of Coaching on a caretaker basis, Director of Coaching to Mount Merrion Youths FC and he’s worked for AC Milan’s summer camps in Dublin.
Coaching badges are something every Airtricity League coach must have, and Al is no different.
“I’ve gone through the usual coaching pathway, as far as the Uefa ‘A’ Licence, which I did a few years ago. I’ve done some of the goalkeeping courses, but not to the same level, as well as some courses with the English FA when I was working as a scout, such as Player ID Certification, etc.”
Away from coaching, Sugg has been a scout for many years and has worked for a number of clubs including Bristol City, Glasgow Rangers and Southampton.
“It’s been both interesting and educational. Rangers Ibrox is a wonderful, old stadium, like going back in time, whilst my time with Southampton coincided with the time of Theo Walcott and Gareth Bale etc being in the Academy. In some cases, I got the opportunity to do some coaching sessions with the Academy teams, though my Dublin accent proved difficult for the boys from Glasgow at first!”
Al was coaching with Templeogue Utd at schoolboy level, helping with player ID and match monitoring for the FAI’s Emerging Talent Programme, coaching with St Kilians school, as well as doing some freelance coaching/workshops for various clubs before he came to UCD, and he explains how the move came about;
“I had been considering doing the Pro-Licence and realised I hadn’t coached at the higher level in quite some time. Martin Russell & Diarmuid McNally were happy to help me out with this.”
As above, Al came in towards the end of last season so had time to get his feet under the table before getting ready for the current season which sees the UCD U19s on top of the Elite Division with six wins from their first nine games.
“After twelve minutes of the season it was a bit disastrous (UCD were 3-0 down at home to Shamrock Rovers) but it’s picked up from there! We found ourselves 3-0 down to Rovers but the players showed the character then, coming back to lose 4-3. Our character has been apparent throughout the season.”
At UCD it’s not just about results, with Al and coach Jamie Moore’s aim to develop the players for the first team.
“It’s been a great start to the season in terms of results but, more importantly, all the players have been applying themselves very well and have adapted to the higher demands of the Airtricity Elite Under 19s division.”
“All the lads have displayed a great attitude and togetherness in their early months as this higher level. It’s too soon to say who’s really impressed, though I can see some of the boys making an impact at 1st team level in the future.”
The U19 league is in its second season, having replaced both the A Championship (reserve league) and the U20 league. The FAI’s decision to drop the reserve league has been criticised by many clubs and players but everyone is very happy with the addition of the U19 league.
“The standard is good, with all the teams in our own division capable of beating anyone on their day. The FAI and the clubs are striving to present these young players with a platform to show off their skills – the fact that games have to be played on schedule is vital for the integrity of the league. The only downside is that we don’t always get to play on National League grounds, though sometimes it’s the weather that causes that anomaly.”
At the start of the season clubs were told to play their games on their home grounds, with most obliging.
Al spoke about the aims for the season.
“Ultimately, we want to progress as many players to our first team as possible. For those who don’t quite make it at the end of their 19s careers, if they get into college, they should be readily prepared for the demands of playing for one of the other UCD teams, which may still see the player make the first team, just by means of a more ‘roundabout’ route.”
UCD is the best club in the country for youth development and opportunity, a look at the age profile of the UCD first team squad will show a very young squad with a sprinkling of experience, Paul O’Conor is the oldest player in the squad, he has just turned 25. Eight of last season’s U19s have played for the first team this season.
Sugg believes this, and the similar style of play that all the teams in the club play, is crucial.
“The 19s train in a very similar manner to the 1st team, often alongside them, if not with them. It helps when the younger players enter the 1st team environment that they can integrate more readily and easily. Our style of play and playing formations also reflect what the 1st team do.”
Al also enjoys working with the other staff at the club;
“There’s a great team togetherness about the group of coaches and staff. The support to each other is excellent and no-one is afraid to get their hands dirty in terms of jobs to be done.”
He’s slow to put his team forward as title contenders just yet, with 2/3 of the season still to go.
“I’d say it’s too soon to narrow the field to the teams at the top at the moment. It could a topsy-turvy type of league. Our goal is to produce players good enough for the 1st team – to bring as many as possible to that level and ensure that everyone is given a fair chance to make that standard. With the similar training regime to our first team, it gives our players a great chance to advance as individuals. That could lead to league honours, who knows? I wouldn’t rule it out but let’s wait and see.”
The U19s play Dundalk away in the cup on Saturday before league trips to Drogheda and Finn Harps.
“We are expecting three more tough fixtures, when you’re top of the league, you’re there to be shot at. All we can do is approach each game and maintain, hopefully raise our standards. We need these games to put the challenge to our players so as to measure their progress.”
Al tells his players to go as high as the can in football, but what about himself?
“For me, I’ve found that sometimes opportunities arrive in front of you without you seeking them. For example, I ended up in South Africa in 2010 during the real event and won the Schools World Cup with an Irish Schools team. It just happened. Who knows what might happen next.”