Brighton & Hove Albion F.C
A fresh approach to modern day coaching
Meet David Wright – The ex-pro turned academy coach who, step by step, is proving himself to be one of the hottest prospects within the coaching world.
The boom in academy development in recent years has offered a second career in the game to some players coming to the end of their careers.
Time and again we see some of the biggest names wanting to make their move into the coaching world once it comes to hanging up their boots.
But not everyone experiences the ease in which the likes of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard have been able to go into top jobs in management.
Instead the vast majority have to start again at the bottom, working with the kids and trying to build a new life and career.
One who has done just that with great success is leading youth academy coach - David Wright, who saw his own dreams of a successful playing career first hit by financial crisis and then ended by a knee injury by the age of 21.
Wright was on the verge of the first team at Portsmouth before the club entered administration and forced them to release players – and suffered a similar experience at his next club Crystal Palace.
With other clubs across the country watching him, a shattering knee injury effectively brought a halt to a playing career that had only just begun.
But that proved a blessing in disguise for the midfielder who was then forced to rethink his life plan and embark on the long road to fulfilment outside of playing.
Wright, now 38, said: “I was going on trials here and there and then I did my knee. I was playing at Bognor, had clubs watching me and the knee went – everything that could go did.
“I tried to get back but I could never get back to the levels pre-injury.
“I always kept my education going, which my parents encouraged and I managed to get into University to do a sports science degree and Pompey offered me my first opportunity to begin coaching youngsters.
“Sport science wasn’t then what it is now, I wasn’t really enjoying it. I found it seriously hard coming out of pro football and becoming a student.
“I didn’t know what had hit me to be honest. I was interested in how the body works but it was all a bit too much for me.
“Then I thought about teaching, I was training to be a teacher but had an experience at secondary school that frightened the life out of me. I went to see my old teacher at a primary school and he suggested that I pursue a career working in a primary school.
“ I was already coaching kids at primary school age, so I decided that would be the route I would take. I would train to be a primary teacher whilst part time at Pompey doing my badges.
“Soon after, Pompey reached the heights of the Premier League and that’s when they offered me to go full-time meaning I had to give up my job as a teacher. The decision was made easy as I knew that working in football was where my passion lied.”
Wright soon found his feet and then earned an opportunity to join Stoke, where he was quickly promoted to Academy Director by the age of 30. And it was there his eyes were opened to a whole new side of the game which players are not usually aware of when they first consider a coaching path – strategic operations.
He overhauled the setup at Stoke, and after working for a period auditing Premier League academies he began a similar role back at Portsmouth. Now he has been cherry-picked by Brighton’s new head Dan Ashworth to drive through a revolution at the Seagulls
He added: “I ended up overseeing the Stoke academy there for nearly seven years, helped them achieve category one status, a lot of investment went in and they are starting to see the fruits of that now.
“There’s quite a lot coming through there. That’s what many people struggle to grasp, with youth development it takes years.
“You don’t always see it immediately, I like to think I left it in a healthy state and they are seeing the benefit.
“Kenny Jackett asked if I would go back to Pompey and set up a new recruitment structure, a crossover between academy and first team and then moved more onto the operational side. I really appreciated his advice and enjoyed the first team experience.
“Once Brighton came knocking it was a no-brainer. I couldn’t turn it down. Where they are as a club, the facilities, the ambition and with Dan Ashworth going there heading things up it’s on a completely different level.
“You want to work at the highest level where you can and challenge yourself. I didn’t achieve what I wanted to as a player so I’ve worked extremely hard carving out a career, and you don’t get many opportunities to work at that level.
“As academy recruitment manager I will be responsible for player recruitment at all ages. I will have my own department, set up a recruitment structure with scouts, admin staff, and set up a national recruitment structure and depending what happens with Brexit, a European structure.
“I clung on to the coaching for as long as I could, because that’s what I wanted to do. Because of the route my career took, without really planning it that way, it’s now gone more operational and administrative.
“It’s more strategic, overseeing and putting things in place rather than actually being out on the grass delivering.
“You can’t just turn up and put a coaching session on and expect to deliver players, there’s a hell of a lot more to it than that.
“You have to apply yourself and be dedicated to it. You have to be prepared to put your time in, and learn – maybe even do things for nothing. I’m not saying that’s right, but you need to go and watch sessions, go and watch games, put your time in, go and see different coaches work.
“Looking back that’s why I did, I was craving learning and trying to better myself.
“It’s a lot easier now to get a job because of the amount of jobs there, the pathway is slightly easier, but people do still seem to want things handed on a plate to them.
“But you’re moving into a completely different industry. Your playing days, as useful as it is to pass on that knowledge and experience, you’ve got to learn how to get that message across, teach and educate. There is a skill to that.
“The welfare, the safeguarding, all the things you didn’t think about when you were playing, you have to be conscious of if you want to work in youth development.”