Former Pool Striker Coaching In America
Two months on from holding trials for prospective new players, former Blackpool striker James Quinn is putting the final plans in place for a season in charge of the Central Jersey Spartans.
Now residing in America, the 38-year-old has taken on the challenge of coaching a club that was formed just four years ago.
Holding his relevant UEFA badges, including Pro Licence, he’s now earning his stripes quite literally, in the Land of Stars and Stripes. His personal development remains an education but he’s relishing the transition from his days as a player.
“I’m learning all the time because, like everyone says, it’s a completely different job to when you were playing,” he says, speaking down the line from his office in Lawrenceville, New Jersey. “It was alien to me when I first starting doing it. The more I’ve done it now – it’s been three years – the more I love it. I feel like I’m improving.”
His appointment as a Head Coach in February is a natural progression from the previous years he has spent working in youth football.
The Spartans play their games in the Premier Development League, the fourth tier of the American Soccer pyramid. It is split into nine regional divisions and the sides competing aim to give aspiring pros a platform to shine, with many of the players being elite college talent. Only eight players in each club’s 26-man roster can be over the age of 23.
Due to the above, the fixtures in the PDL take place between the months of May and July when there is a break from educational commitments.
“We play in the North East of America so our league has teams from New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and even Bermuda, with Shaun Goater involved at that club previously,” Quinn explained. “It’s a very high standard and some of the clubs are now throwing plenty of money into it financially but our club can’t compete. There are some very wealthy people in charge at these clubs and it’s a hobby for them. They want to win so they’re bringing players in from all over the world.
“It’s a development league as well so a lot of kids come from college to play in it. It takes place when the kids are out of university so that’s the main reason for the season being short and sharp. If you get through to the play-offs then it can carry on for another month or so.
“We have to stay local, with our players coming from around the New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia area. We try and work with them and we’re trying to compete with teams that are further up there.”
One of the biggest names to step out for several games in the PDL was former Germany international and current USA boss Jurgen Klinsmann, who appeared eight times for Orange County Blue Star in 2003. It has also been a launch pad for the careers of Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan, Stoke City midfielder Geoff Cameron and former Watford defender Jay DeMerit.
The top teams in the MLS often use the competition as a shop window to identify talent for the MLS Superdraft, which allows sides to select players who have graduated from college every January. Quinn has already seen enough to suggest that the game in the States will only get stronger.
“I predict that in about 10 years the US will be challenging to win a World Cup,” he admitted. “Some of the kids that we see coming through here and at other clubs are phenomenal really with the ability they have. A lot of English guys are over here coaching and the standard is high.”
Learning the other side of the game step-by-step, Quinn opted to pack his bags for America in 2010, initially. He took on the option of coaching youth football in Princeton, before returning to England to link-up with ex-Blackpool team-mate Gary Brabin.
“I hadn’t really coached before so it was a case of coming over here and learning from the bottom up, literally. I started with an under-9s team and I worked my way up. I was over here for about a year-and-a-half in 2010 until 2011.
“I loved the time I had out here and I was surprised with the standard of football, or soccer as they call it. It’s a really high standard and the way of life is great – I’m five minutes away from Manhattan. It’s a good place to live and a good place to coach, really.
“I came back to England in September 2011 and became Chief Scout at Luton Town under Gary Brabin, and then when Gary got the sack I decided to go back out to America for another stint.”
Signed by Blackpool from Birmingham in 1993, Quinn spent four-and-half years at Bloomfield Road and went on to become a Northern Ireland international, collecting 50 caps for his country prior to his retirement in September 2007. His time in tangerine is one he cherishes.
“I just loved playing for Blackpool because it suited me, and I had some great times there,” he said. “The whole experience that Blackpool gave me kept me grounded and helped me learn my trade as a footballer. It made my career, really. I’ll always be grateful to Blackpool and the fans.
“I was watching in a bar in New York when Blackpool got relegated from the Premier League and I was absolutely devastated for them, especially because I’d been to Wembley for the play-off final against Cardiff with my dad. That was a magnificent day and I was really pleased that they got there.
“It probably hurt more because the relegation went right down to the wire. Another season in the Premier League could have led to massive things, but that’s football I suppose. Hopefully now they've stayed in The Championship this year they can kick-on next season.”
Quinn, who played over 500 league games in his career, ventured abroad in 2002 when he joined Willem II in Holland. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he’s now sampling a different culture in America.
“I like travelling and I like seeing new things, and when I was a player I always wanted to play abroad,” he said. “It’s no different now that I’m coaching. I don’t know what my long-term plans are but I’d definitely like to coach in different countries around the world. You get better by doing that. My game as a footballer raised tenfold by playing in Holland because I had to completely re-model my game.”
For the moment his future is clearly in the States, yet he won’t completely rule out a managerial role in England further down the line.
“I don’t know if I’m a manager, as such. If I could pick up my life here and move it to the quality of football in England I’d do that, or vice-versa, but you can’t have everything. I’ve done my Pro Licence now and it costs a lot of money and hard work, and one day I’d like to put that to good use in the UK.
“At the moment I’m still learning and it’s a case of educating myself now. If I think I’m good enough and the time’s right, I think I’d definitely come back to the UK and have a go at it,” he added.