If Jason Scotland decided to quit the world of football, he would bow out a legend.
A terror in the 18-yard box during his playing career, the 40-year-old from Morvant has played over 370 games and scored 119 goals in his career in Scotland and England. Today, he is keen on conquering another area—the dugout.
But scoring a coaching gig in the UK is proving harder than he once found finding the back of the net.
Scotland, who earned his UEFA ‘A’ license in 2018, a year after he retired from playing professional football, quickly got his first job as a striker coach in the Scottish Premier League (SPL) with Hamilton Academical FC. However, when Hamilton manager and former teammate, Martin Canning, was sacked in January 2019, Scotland received his marching orders as well. The Hamilton senior team was 10th in the SPL and on a five-match losing streak—eight losses and one draw—when the axe fell.
“One of the things on my side was that I played with the manager, so that’s one of the reasons I got appointed as the Under-18 coach at Hamilton. But generally, [in Europe] it’s difficult for black managers and black coaches trying to get into the coaching industry.”
Since January, the job-hunt has broken Scotland’s early momentum.
“I’ve been talking to other managers and other friends about the lack of opportunities in the UK,” he said. “I sent my CV to 12 or more clubs so far this year. I’ve had one response, I did one interview and that was it.”
Scotland’s experience in the UK is not unique. In January 2018, the English FA adopted the NFL’s Rooney Rule that now requires teams to interview at least one candidate who is black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) for every coaching role.
In the same year, the Professional Footballers Association and the English FA launched the BAME Coach Placement Programme to ensure coaching placements across all England teams. The measure became necessary as minority stakeholders felt they were not being given a fair shot at the 92 head coach jobs available in the UK’s five tiers of football.
According to reporting by the Independent: “Since 1990, one in four—just under 25%—of retired England international footballers have been black or from an ethnic minority background (BAME). But of those ex-players who have subsequently gone into a management job, that drops to just one in seven.”
The article further stated: “… just 7% of the Premier League and Football League managers were BAME … 2.6% of all permanent managers in Premier League history are BAME, and … almost two-thirds of all BAME managers in Football League history have never got a second job.”
In May this year, Brighton fired manager Chris Hughton after they finished 17th in the Premier League. Hughton had led the team to the Premier League for the first time. BAME managers across the UK saw his sacking as a major blow.
“Even he [Hughton] said it the other day,” Scotland said. “He’s trying to get back into coaching, but the opportunities are just not there.”
Despite a situation grimmer than British weather, Scotland remains upbeat.
“You always stay positive in every way. You don’t want to drop your head down, just like we tell the players. Hopefully something comes up and you get to do your best.”
Scotland said his coaching journey began even as he was kitting up for the Tykes in South Yorkshire. “In 2013, I did my UEFA ‘B’ license when I was playing in the Championship with Barnsley. It’s something that I did just in case I wanted to get into coaching. It was on offer.”
It is a path taken by other Germany 2006 World Cup heroes like current T&T Senior Men’s head coach Dennis Lawrence (UEFA Pro license), his assistant and T&T Under-17 head coach Stern John, Barbados head coach Russell Latapy (UEFA Pro license) and Carlos Edwards (UEFA ‘B’ license).
With Hamilton, Scotland made his UEFA competition coaching debut against Basel with the U-18s in the UEFA Youth League just over a year ago, earning a valuable 2-2 draw in Switzerland.
“It was a good opportunity and a good experience seeing how technically and tactically sound Basel’s players were on the pitch,” he said.
He has been carefully blending the experiences of a storied 21-year playing career with the insights imparted to him by the men that stood on the sidelines during his playing days. Even today, he is still absorbing all he can.
He described his coaching style as a bit of Roy Keane and Roberto Martinez, two coaches who made an impression on him as a player. Keane, a Manchester United legend and serial Premier League winner, signed Scotland at Ipswich Town while Martinez, the current Belgium National Senior Team head coach, managed him at Swansea City and Wigan Athletic.
Martinez’s tactical preparation was fine-tuned to anticipate player movement and neutralise the opposition’s strengths. Meanwhile, Keane, according to Scotland, was a coaching professional who expected his players to carry out his orders regardless of who was on the other side.
Scotland said he brings, as a rookie coach, a winning mentality, fresh enthusiasm for the game and the job, and strong man-management.
“Ultimately you want to win games as a coach,” said Scotland. “You want to play good attractive football but if you’re playing attractive football and not winning games week in, week out then that is a problem. You will eventually get sacked.
“I take the love of attractive football from Martinez but from Roy Keane I take the pragmatic approach [and] Mick McCarthy as well. They know how to grind out results and win games. You have to take a little from each coach and bring their strengths together.”
Martinez, a Spaniard, plucked Scotland from Scotland First Division club, St Johnstone, and set him on a path that took the former Malick Secondary schoolboy from the English third tier with Swansea straight to the Premier League with Wigan. Scotland remembers him best for his keen man-management skills, clear instructions and exciting view of the game.
“Martinez was more patient [than most coaches],” said Scotland. “When you go into pre-season like at Wigan, from the second or third week, it is all about how we are going to play this season and our philosophy: two centre backs spread to the 18s, full backs pushed high, central midfielder dropping to get on ball, etc.
“And we do that every morning and every afternoon, practising pattern of play. You had a clear idea of what his philosophy was and how we wanted to play.”
But Scotland also learned from managers whose style of play did not particularly suit him as a player. One such ‘gaffer’ was former Republic of Ireland player and coach, McCarthy, who angered Ipswich fans when he released him on 21 January 2013.
“McCarthy played 4-4-2 and I remember I went in to talk to him about my future there,” said Scotland, “and he said: ‘Jace, I want my striker to play the whole pitch. I don’t just want him in one area trying to score goals… and I am not sure that you can do that. I want you to help the team defend. My team goes forward together and defends together’.
“So I said fair enough. His style was more pragmatic. They were more direct and about trying to get results rather than playing attractive football. If you have time and space to play, maybe we play. But just get it forward and we push up and squeeze behind the striker. That was his way and it got him results too.
“As a coach, it is about results at the end of the day. Coaches love that challenge and I am no different. It’s something that I am relishing.”
But Scotland is not solely focused on Europe. He believes that coaches have a greater role to play in the development of strong players for the national team pool and he was shocked at the lowered standards when he played locally for Ma Pau Stars, two years ago.
“Some players [are] technically poor,” he said. “Sometimes I’m up here doing drills with Under-18s and they’re doing better than some of the more senior players [in T&T]. It was an eye-opener for me.
“[…] Sometimes it’s not the players’ fault. Sometimes coaches can help them to be technically better players and they need to learn the game. The players also need to study their craft better and take in more information from the coaches.”
This is another facet of ‘Jason Scotland the coach’ that he believes will make a difference to his career going forward.
“Playing under [Leo] Beenhakker, I wasn’t in the starting line up most times,” he said, “but I did get a couple minutes here and there and I was able to play a part when called up. And that’s what a man-manager does. He keeps his squad involved.
“I am one to do that and manage the human resources I have as best as possible. Because it’s a squad game, not just 11 players. I’ve been fortunate to see it first hand.”
Scotland gave a little insight in Beenhakker’s man-management skills.
“It is easy to keep the guys who are playing happy but he would keep the whole squad happy,” said Scotland, “That would start with the sessions he held, which were demanding and competitive but enjoyable too. Sometimes we would play old versus young and if you lost you would have to serve the other team dinner that night. So we would out be there working hard to try to get the senior players [like Dwight Yorke] to serve us.
“There was a lot of camaraderie in training and togetherness. The players who were not playing always felt a part of it.
“We made it to the World Cup, and we needed the whole squad to achieve that and I think that’s one of the unique gifts I think I can bring to the table.”
From Morvant to Britain to the World Cup, ‘Scotty’ remains a success story and few would bet against him penning another exciting chapter from the edge of the touchline in the very near future.