Ex-professional footballer Adrian Whitbread on his global coaching ambitions
PUBLISHED: 16:41 18 December 2020
Former professional footballer, esteemed manager and now a coach at Campioni Soccer Academy in Chigwell, Adrian Whitbread has done well by the beautiful game, a sport for which his passion remains as strong today as when he first started
For a man whose professional footballing career took him from captaining Leyton Orient (at 21 he was their youngest captain ever) to the giddy heights of the Premier League (first with Swindon Town and then West Ham United), Adrian Whitbread remains a remarkably humble man, devoid of any of the flash and razzmatazz usually associated with the higher echelons of the sport.
Indeed, when we kick off this interview and I ask when was it that he realised he had a true talent for the game, his answer at first takes me aback. “I don’t believe I ever actually had a real talent, I just loved the game so much and I worked so hard to be talented and to be recognised and the hard work paid off.”
In fact, Adrian, 49, admits that’s been his philosophy in life – “work hard and practice, practice, practice” – and it’s that resilience and determination that has held him in good stead. For as some readers might know, Adrian’s professional career was cut short following a persistant knee injury – at the time he was playing for Reading and had been part of the team that won promotion to the Championship, one of the highlights of his playing career.
“I was having rehab on my knee at Reading’s Madejski Stadium when I made the decision to hang up my boots,” Adrian recollects. “I literally took myself to the away team’s dressing room, sat on my own and balled my eyes out. Then, at home I was watching Sky Sports, and the breaking news scrolling across the bottom of the screen was: ‘Adrian Whitbread has been forced to retire.’ Again I cried my eyes out.”
Not that leaving football altogether was ever an option. “It was all I ever knew,” he admits, having spent his childhood either kicking a ball around with his mates near his Epping home or watching his amateur league playing dad from the sidelines and using the nets to practice himself.
A move in to coaching was the logical next step. “I’d done my badges whilst still playing so I was ready to go,” he says. “Martin Allen, my ex-teammate at West Ham and good friend, was manager at Barnet at the time and asked me to go along to see if I could be player assistant which turned into assistant manager as I just couldn’t compete at the level I wanted to.”
Since then, coaching has taken Adrian all over the world, most notably to Puerto Rico where his club team reached the CONCAFF semi finals – the equivalent of the Champions League, and where he also coached the national team.
A stint as head coach of the Antigua Barricudas followed before moving on to the Bahrain national team. His last coaching job abroad was in Jacksonville, Florida, before heading home to West Essex and straight into the first lockdown, which is when Adrian’s association with Campioni first came about.
“When grassroots football wasn’t permitted, Hayley Smith at the academy organised some small group training sessions in a local park to get children active again after months of no sport,” Adrian explains.
“Due to the huge demand, Campioni needed more coaches and I was introduced to Hayley by a mutual friend, Heather, who we both knew from West Ham and whose daughter is with the Arsenal Academy and a regular Campioni participant.”
So Adrian has joined the likes of Orient’s Kevin Lisbie, Tottenham’s Kevin Watson and Stuart Blake as a Campioni coach.
“We all have UEFA badges so the training sessions are of a very high standard and everyone has the same professional attitude,” Adrian attests. “The company’s motto is ‘train like a pro’ and that’s what the children do!”
Attracting local children who want to learn and develop in football, Campioni currently only operates in the school holidays, but all that is about to change and that’s thanks to Adrian.
“I’ve partnered with them to launch the new ‘Adrian Whitbread & Campioni Elite Football Clinics’ for older, already talented children and these six-week-long, small group sessions will be available throughout the year,” he explains.
Due to start in the new year, alongside Chigwell’s Colebrook Royals FC, the clinics have been designed to enhance personal growth and development and provide players with the opportunity to progress to the next level.
“They are an addition to, and will complement, each participant’s regular team training and will really maximise the child’s potential,” says Adrian, clearly excited at the prospect of this new venture.
So excited, in fact, he is already looking to the future. “I’d like to grow the clinics in different areas within the UK and overseas,” he enthuses. “I want to use my worldwide connections in football to give the children great opportunities.”
And with that steely determination, you just know he will.
Adrian will be coaching at the Campioni Christmas Two-day Fun-Filled Camp, sponsored by Caplen Estates and held at Chigwell School, on Monday 21 and Tuesday 22 December from 9:30am to 3:30pm for children aged 4-13 (Covid-19/Government restrictions dependent). See campioni.co/essex, @campioniacademy, @campioni_elite_clinics