Bob Houghton: Coaching the key to raising standards
On first glance, there is little about Bob Houghton which would suggest that he is a successful footballing coach, but on closer inspection you begin to realise that this is a man who is truly in love with the beautiful game. Football has taken the 58-year-old coach on a remarkable journey throughout Europe, North America and Asia and FIFA.com was eager to learn about his next port of call.
FIFA.com: After your spell as Uzbekistan manager you have returned to China to coach Super League side Shenyang Ginde. How do you feel about coming back to the Far East?
Bob Houghton: It's great to come back and see all of my old friends in China. I had planned to return here when I left Uzbekistan and I had been calling Zhu Guanghu (the coach of the Chinese national team) to see if there where any positions available. When the Shenyang Ginde job came up, both Zhu and I agreed that this was a great opportunity for me.
You are particularly renowned for your exploits in Asia where you have coached China, Uzbekistan and a number of club teams, for example Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad. Would you say you have a special relationship with Asian football?
Yes. I coached Al Ittihad on three separate occasions and I had a good time in Saudi Arabia and I have coached a lot of teams in China. I also enjoyed my short time with Uzbekistan and although they failed to progress to the World Cup, they have proved they are a good team.
What was behind your decision to move to China rather than stay on with Uzbekistan?
I had a good time in Tashkent. The Uzbekistan Football Association gave me a lot of support in preparing the team for the World Cup qualifiers. They have a lot of talented players and passionate fans. After the play-off with Bahrain, they offered me a four-year contract. I would have stayed there had I not been in contact with people from China.
How do you perceive the development of football in Uzbekistan?
I think that it is understandable that they are experiencing some difficulties. When the USSR was around, the good players from the various republics played in one national league. However, after the break up of the Soviet Union, a lot of the better players wanted to remain in Russia - and therefore the quality of the domestic leagues in some of the states suffered.
Nowadays, many of Uzbekistan's top players are playing for top clubs in Russia and Ukraine and so it was difficult for me to bring the squad together. However, I am impressed with the way that the Uzbekistan FA continually strives to overcome these obstacles in order to develop their domestic leagues and improve their national team.
In August 2005, the 3-2 win over Kuwait in qualification was considered a shock in Asian football. How did you manage to achieve this?
One of a manager's responsibilities is to get the best out of his players and I think that may have been the case on this occasion. The Uzbekistan players were excellent to work with and I believe that with a good coach they will be able to produce better results and be ranked among Asia's top five teams. I was lucky because I was given time to prepare the team properly for the games with Kuwait and Bahrain. The fans also gave us excellent support and filled the stadium whenever we played.
Do you think you lacked luck or experience to beat Bahrain in the play-off?
A match is decided by many things, but I would say two things cost us the chance to progress. Firstly, we had to play the match in Manama without Maxim Shatskikh. He is the team's best player and a real leader on the pitch. When he is in the side the team is able to play with confidence. Secondly, the weather in Bahrain was unbelievably hot and humid. It also prevented the team from playing to their strengths. We were slow and couldn't play the way we liked because we were struggling in the conditions.
Would you have fancied your chances against Trinidad and Tobago?
Yes. In fact, I believe we would have qualified for the World Cup. I really thought we stood a chance had we qualified for the deciding play-off.
Your former team, Al Ittihad, impressed the watching world last month in Tokyo by beating Egyptian side Al Ahly in the FIFA Club World Championship. Do you think this was a sign of the progression of Asian football in recent years?
They did a fantastic job against Al Ahly. I would say they also played well against Sao Paulo despite losing 3-2. I think that Al Ittihad's success on the continental scene provides a great example for other Asian teams. They have good facilities and finance and so they can attract to import high-quality coaches and players. This raises the standard of their 'home-grown' players, so the level of football in the country is being improved all the time.
In your four month spell with Uzbekistan, you acted as not only the national team head coach, but as a Professor of Football, giving lectures to local coaches. Is it your responsibility as a FIFA approved lecturer to pass your coaching knowledge to other people?
Well, I enjoy sharing my experiences and knowledge with coaches who want to learn. I also did this when I coached the China national team. A coach should be a teacher who to passes on his footballing knowledge in order to improve the game worldwide.
It is said that Asia needs top coaches more than it needs star players. What is your opinion on this?
I think at youth level a good coach is particularly important as he can teach the players elementary skills and knowledge, on which their future development will be based and enhanced. Therefore, for many Asian countries, it is urgent task to set up various courses to produce qualified coaches.
What is your sweetest memory in your coaching career? Guiding Malmo to the UEFA European Cup final?
I would say so. You know, it is a big step after you finish you playing career and start coaching, so your first job is always memorable. I was only 27 when I took charge of Malmo. We won the Swedish championship four times and reached European Cup final in 1979.
It must have been amazing to guide a side to a European Cup final at the age of 32. Did you find it difficult to command the respect of the players when you were younger?
A coach earns respect not with his age, but by what he does. Firstly, you respect the players and you have to show that you are keen and confident to make them successful. Then you need to prove you can win matches with them and make them better players. Then they have no problems listening to you.
What are your hopes for the New Year?
Shenyang Ginde are a very young team. Most of the players were born around 1985 and are now in their early 20s. We have a lot of work to do before the new season begins. I hope I can develop these promising young men into really good players. I want to get as many of them as possible into the national team.
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