Michael Beale and the journey from Liverpool to São Paulo and back again

Michael Beale and the journey from Liverpool to São Paulo and back again

YOU MAY BE HARD-PRESSED TO FIND MANY ENGLISH FOOTBALLERS willing to take the plunge and hurl themselves out of their comfort zones via a move to Brazil. While the country has great pedigree in footballing terms with a bevy of strong, well-known clubs, the move represents something of an unknown. The lifestyle is a huge change, while the general financial uncertainty in comparison to England means that it is a move that could throw up plenty of off-field obstacles.

Those factors naturally represent even more of a hurdle for football coaches to cross. But Michael Beale was the outlier to this, throwing himself at a challenge few would take with firm hands. The persuasion of Rogério Ceni, along with São Paulo’s facilities, were crucial factors in his decision. Ceni is a São Paulo legend, a one-club man and a player that may be in the record books for eternity with a goalkeeper-high 131 goals in his career. Working under a manager with that sort of pedigree was enough to turn his mind around.

Why did he take up the São Paulo job? In his eyes, it was an opportunity to further his knowledge as a coach. “I took it for personal reasons of development – to learn from Brazilian players about how they view the game and their beliefs, to learn another language and to improve myself inside a historic club in world football.” These are reasons that make sense on paper, but it certainly takes a leap of faith to move from the comforts of Liverpool to the unknown in São Paulo. It’s a leap that Beale feels can and will be beneficial for all coaches.

Moving out of the comfort zone is something he recommends other coaches to try. “I feel that it’s important for coaches to go and learn a different language, culture and way of seeing and playing football. This is fascinating for me personally as I believe I am a big student of football and therefore always looking to learn more about the game.

“My advice would be to make sure everything is calm and organised off the pitch so that you can enjoy your football work on a daily basis. This was something that was not perfect for me. In the future, I will insist that these things are taken care of much more quickly.”

As a young player Beale spent nine years as a junior and professional at Charlton trying to make it as a footballer alongside the likes of Scott Parker and Paul Konchesky. He had brief trials with Twente and QPR before going to America for a few months. Introspection gave in to the conclusion that a long-term career wasn’t going to materialise. “I was a young player at Charlton that just didn’t make the first team level. I had played a number of games in the reserve team. Unfortunately, when I dropped down to semi-professional football, my appetite for playing the game wasn’t the same. Therefore, I decided to become a junior skills coach and start my own soccer school. Player development was something that I immediately fell in love with and I haven’t looked back since.”

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At his school – a franchise of Brazilian Soccer Schools – he specialised in coaching futsal to young school children. He then spent nearly a decade at Chelsea, from 2003 to 2012, in a number of different roles. He worked his way up the age groups, starting off as a development centre coach for players under the age of nine and finishing off as a full-time youth development officer. He then moved to Liverpool, where he continued his progression up to becoming the senior development coach, as well as the under-23 manager. The assistant manager role to Ceni at São Paulo is the tip of the iceberg, at least for now.

At Chelsea, he worked with coaches such as Steve Holland, Paul Clement and Brendan Rodgers; all now established managers having travelled to some of the top clubs on the continent. But with the club’s failure to bring youth players to the first team, Beale needed more, just like the players. Liverpool have more of a pathway from the academy to the first team, something that enticed him to the club. Their signing of Dominic Solanke this summer was said to have been influenced by Beale, who had worked with him at Chelsea.

For Beale, his experiences as a footballer don’t necessarily aid in his coaching; rather than that, he cites other intangibles as key factors. With players-turned-managers, there’s no criteria that states a playing career is a guarantee towards a successful managerial or coaching career, something that the likes of José Mourinho exemplify. “I think a love and passion for the game is the biggest help you can have. If you get that from playing the game or from watching it, then it’s all the same. It’s true that being a player can help you to become a coach but it can also hinder you too – as coaching is completely different to playing and it’s very important that you learn the skills of being a good communicator and how to plan and implement training.”

His inspirations in his coaching career have their footballing pedigree set in stone, however. “I have many inspirations as a coach; for development I would look at someone like Johan Cruyff as a lighthouse for my ideas and then Carlo Ancelotti for management of people. I think Carlo is a master of this side of the game.” 

His coaching philosophy remains succinct, focusing on the individual primarily. “My idea is to inspire the individual to improve the collective. I spend a lot of my time on people and understanding them. It’s important that each player is developing, feeling comfortable in the club and therefore improving the team. I like attacking football with lots of expression. 

“I have had experiences in some of the world’s biggest clubs and also in the development of young players. These experiences enable me to see things in players that other coaches may miss. I think the next step to senior football is something that I need more experience in to see if I will enjoy it as much as development football. This is a weakness in this moment as it’s the unknown for me in regards to how I will live in this different side of football.” 

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The football in Brazil differs greatly from that in England, and this isn’t restricted to just stylistic comparisons. Beale had a clear vantage point from which he could observe these distinctions. One of the main differences, in Beale’s words, is the environment and way of living. “The young players in Brazil have a huge need to be footballers compared to English players that maybe want to be footballers but don’t necessarily need to be one in order to build a better life for their families. The talent and passion for football in Brazil is huge.”

Beale had his issues at São Paulo. For example, the language gap was a barrier, for which he had to use a translator to overcome. Over time he learned to manage using verbs, actions and single words. But that wasn’t all: the playing schedule was tough, games were spread across the vast expanse of Brazil, and with the kick-off times and weather conditions, life wasn’t a bed of roses.

Not that he was expecting it to be; on the contrary, the experiences helped his development as a coach. “I learned many things about how South Americans view football and I can also now take a training session in português. This is amazing knowledge for me to have personally. The experiences and moments you have, such as playing in huge derbies and difficult weather conditions, make you a bigger and stronger coach. I feel that I am 50 percent stronger as a coach for this experience I had.” 

But any logistical issues faced during his time at the club hardly dulled his experience in the country. For most people, a move overseas would pose myriad challenges, but all that would be offset by the novelties of a new lifestyle. Brazil is no different. “It was a great pleasure to live in Brazil and learn more about the people, culture and daily lifestyle, which I loved. It is a beautiful country with a huge love for football – the weather and food is excellent and it was a moment in my life that I will never forget.  

“The first home match against Ponte Preta will always be special as we played in front of 52,000 fans. When we arrived at the stadium, around 20,000 were waiting for us outside the stadium and singing – that was very special. But my favourite day in Brazil was on 15 February as my wife and children arrived in Brazil on this day after being separated for seven weeks. On the same evening, we travelled to play away in the famous stadium of Santos and won 3-1. It was a special place as it was the stadium Pelé played in for many years. This was a special day for me personally and my best experience in Brazil.”

It is through these adventures at each club that Beale has developed. They have all individually helped him, which is no wonder considering his progression at each club from role to role. “Each club is different but each one was equally special to me. In Liverpool, I lived the best moments of my career and family life too. It’s a special place for me and the place that I call home. Each club has developed me in different areas, as in each club I progressed to work with older players and with greater responsibility. I feel very honoured to have worked for these types of teams at such a young age. I have seen a lot of players make debuts across Chelsea, Liverpool and São Paulo and these are always very special moments to live for.”

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After resigning from his role as an assistant coach to Rogério Ceni at São Paulo back in July for reasons he kept private, there is a lot to look forward to in the future for Beale. His reasoning behind leaving Brazil doesn’t take anything from his willingness to take a shot at the wilderness in the first place, but there is no place like home.

In returning to England, Beale received a number of offers to return back to coaching, eventually accepting a job back at Liverpool: ‘[At Liverpool] The task of head of coaching for the foundation phase is something that has me really excited. Skill development is an area that I am hugely passionate about and working with the youngest players gives you so much joy on a daily basis. The academy is a family and it feels great to be going ‘home’ to work alongside both excellent people and coaches.’

Beales says: “I have taken a two-month rest and enjoyed being a dad again to my young children. I was away from them for a long time and it’s important that I gave focus to my family for a period of time. I have been lucky to receive a number of good offers to return to work. The dream is to be returning to the academy and working alongside the excellent staff and coaches.

“In truth, I never really cut the cord and have always kept in touch with everyone at the club. I never left in my mind and kept following the development of the academy each day. I am returning with a great experience and improved knowledge from my time in Brazil and I look forward to many more years at Liverpool developing the young players at the club.”

Beale is certainly a rarity amongst top-level coaches in that he’s willing to field questions on his career and give tips to aspiring coaches without any tinge of hesitation. That he replies is a trait to be lauded, but to do so with meticulousness and earnestness is enough to gain the respect of anybody that interacts with him, from Liverpool to São Paulo. In helping young footballers to reach their dreams of becoming a professional, he also inadvertently aids aspiring coaches in their dreams too. Author of a number of coaching books, his advice prove a source of knowledge for all.

In that sense, Beale is the diamond in a sea of rocks, proving his caliber in coaching with a personality devoid of an ego. His return to Liverpool seems like the perfect marriage after a ride in choppier seas. Working with the likes of Steven Gerrard, it’s an opportunity that’s well-deserved and hard-earned. It’s a different role to that at São Paulo, but it’s another feather in his cap, one closer to his strengths and roots.

Beale is a trendsetter amongst coaches, well on his way to becoming a big name in his own right. Time’s on his side, and he’s in no rush. For now, the plush greens at Liverpool’s academy await him 

By Rahul Warrier  

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