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Gary Stevens exclusive: Spurs hero on Thailand, coaching & giving back

In a town on the east coast of Thailand, around two-and-a-half hours drive from Bangkok, lies a football academy nestled in the mountains, and there you will find Tottenham and Brighton legend Gary Stevens on the pitch, bestowing his vast knowledge to the next generation of Thai footballers...

Following coaching stints in Azerbaijan, Ireland and the Thai Premier League, Stevens was unveiled as the new Head Coach at the Black Mountain Hua Hin Football Academy last month.

"The Black Mountain Hua Hin academy is very close to where I live and I've known the guy who runs it for two or three years now," the 1984 UEFA Cup winner told Tribalfootball.

"It's a nice project where I can work with youngsters and I always feel that when you're working with youngsters you can make such huge progress very quickly because they're like sponges, they take on board information and learn very quickly.

"That's definitely one area and then the other area is that football is my biggest love in life and I'm not in this moment in time working on the coaching field, working with players enough. I'm not on the coaching field.

"So this gives me the opportunity to start doing that. You know, I like to put my boots on and I like to get out there and work with players."

Stevens arrived in the South-East Asian nation five years ago to replace former Leicester City defender Matt Elliott as manager of Thai Premier League (TPL) side Army United.

After a ninth-placed finish in 2014, Stevens got United off to their greatest ever start to a league campaign with four wins and one draw from five games.

But after three straight losses, the club forced Stevens to 'take a holiday' and he was eventually sacked just ten games into the season.

The brutal decision didn't affect Stevens' stature in Thailand, with fellow TPL side Port signing him a month later, but he was once again given little chance to succeed and was dismissed shortly after.

Those experiences weren't enough to force Stevens to pack his bags, on the contrary, his affinity for Thailand has only grown.

He continued: "I really enjoyed it [managing in the Thailand Premier League] but obviously you get into management and one thing is for certain is you're going to get moved on or get the sack.

"All in all I've really enjoyed Thailand and the experience, the change of environment really, and the culture.

"I think any football coach needs to coach outside their native country to experience the fact that there are other styles, other methods, other cultures, and it's improved me as a coach and it's improved me as a person for sure."

Now working at the grassroots level of the Thailand football structure, Stevens could have an impact on how the sport grows in a relatively young footballing nation.

Rules of the Thai Premier League state clubs are allowed to have only three foreign players in their squad, with most allocating large parts of their budget to sign such players.

It is not an uncommon practice in the major leagues across Asia, but Stevens thinks placing the money into grassroots will have a greater long-term impact on Thai football.

"[Thai football] needs the conveyor belt. But because Thailand is a relatively young country, as far as football is concerned, that isn't in place," Stevens added.

"But if they really, really want to progress then [grassroots] has to be put in place. So yes it's wonderful that they bring in some good foreigners and pay them a lot of money, but really and truly they would better off, in my opinion, bringing in less foreigners and using some of that money to build that base and the foundation from a grassroots level."

Getting more experienced coaches and former players of the same ilk as Stevens would be a wise move by the Thai football authorities.

After breaking through the ranks at Brighton and Hove Albion in 1979, Stevens famously scored in the 1983 FA Cup final draw with Manchester United.

The Seagulls lost the replay at Old Trafford but Stevens' quality secured him a £350,000 move to Tottenham Hotspur, where he established himself as a club legend across a glorious seven-year spell.

The utility defender started and scored in that famous UEFA Cup win over Anderlecht and was included in England's 1986 World Cup squad, eventually winning seven caps for the Three Lions.

A knee injury ultimately forced Stevens to end his impressive playing career at the age of 30 following two seasons at Portsmouth.

Now distanced from the rigours of professional football, Stevens has turned his attention towards helping the next generation of footballers, which is proving an enriching experience.

"I am in a stage in my life when actually giving to people, helping people, I find very, very rewarding.

"And with this Black Mountain Hua Hin Academy we've got some initiatives where local youngsters are given scholarships so that they can be involved because they can't afford to be there.

"For example, we've also got a scheme running in its infancy where we are doing stuff with youngsters who are very isolated, where they are on the Myanmar border and we provide them with football and we provide them with everyday life needs i.e food and thats very, very rewarding.

"If I had millions of pounds I would like to give more but sometimes it's not about money, it's about being present, turning up, having the contact, communication and providing some very basic items that everybody needs to live."

As much as Stevens is enjoying his time in Thailand, he admits it would be difficult to reject an opportunity to coach in his homeland.

If given the chance, Stevens explains how he will follow the same philosophical tact as top level managers such as Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.

"It would be a great challenge and opportunity, and also I've got a lot of ideas and beliefs at any elite level club. Without getting too deep into it, it is about relationships, it's about non-confrontational situations or keeping confrontation out of it.

"I think if you look at the most successful coaches at the moment in the English Premier League, and a lot of people will say it's because they've got the most money etc.

"But if you look at the style coaching and management of Guardiola, Klopp, Pochettino, they have really close relationships and bonds with all their players. You know they are not frightened of showing love, whereas historically in the male dominated game of football, it's about being macho and aggressive and wanting to lead players by fear.

"I remember as a relatively young player and this was as a professional player, the manager pinning me up against the wall at half-time. Now you can imagine how that really helped my second half performance."

Even if the homecoming call never arrives, it won't deter Stevens. He'll remain the same positive and outgoing man who gives his all for whatever task is at hand.

"I've been on the treadmill as it were. I've been chasing the big bucks and the big house and the fast cars etc. But those material things don't guarantee that you're happy, they really don't.

"And I would undoubtedly swap just about everything that I've got for being happy and content and enjoying life because that's the best way to be.

"Ok it's not for everybody and not everybody gets to that position. But I am in that position, and my life because of it is way, way superior and above where it used to be."

Gary Stevens is currently the Head Coach of the Black Mountain Hua Hin Academy in Thailand. You can read Gary's website by clicking on the link here.

Andrew Maclean
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Andrew Maclean

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