‘He’s as price­less as a 15-goal striker’

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

AS school­boys at Nor­wich City, ap­pren­tices at Bris­tol Rovers and house­mates through­out their for­ma­tive years, Luke Wil­liams and his best mate Bobby scrubbed boots, cleaned toi­lets and shared their dreams of hit­ting the big time.

Yet, while Bobby – Zamora, that is – be­came a Brighton leg­end and Premier League star worth mil­lions, the Swin­don boss was forced to wait a lot longer for his day in the sun.

Re­leased by Rovers just as Zamora emerged, Wil­liams was re­build­ing his ca­reer at Non­League Ash­ford Town when a cat­a­strophic knee in­jury put him in hos­pi­tal.

By the time he’d gone through three gru­elling years of op­er­a­tions and physio, he was 23 and any chance of a re­turn to the progame had gone with the man­gled car­ti­lage.

So, while Zamora won golden boots and lined up with Rob­bie Keane, Wil­liams knuck­led down to the unglam­ourous busi­ness of cling­ing to a ca­reer in the game.

With no rep­u­ta­tion to fall back on, early for­ays were mod­est. In 2006, he headed up the Beck­ton branch of Kickz, a part­ner­ship be­tween West Ham and the Met Po­lice that used foot­ball to keep kids aged 13-18 off the streets. Zamora, a for­mer street kid him­self, would reg­u­larly drop by.

Then came jobs as an FA Skills coach, com­bined with coach­ing at Ley­ton Ori­ent un­der Dean Smith and Martin Ling. A part­ner­ship with Brain­tree Col­lege also saw him head up the academy at Non-League Witham.

So far, so eclec­tic. But, in 2009, Wil­liams took a call from his old mate, who’d heard through the Brighton grapevine that Gus Poyet was seek­ing an in­no­va­tive young de­vel­op­ment coach.

Hailed

Aged just 29, Wil­liams beat off nine other can­di­dates to win the job. And, over the next five years, he would rise from just an­other back­room boy to be­come one of the most eu­lo­gised coaches in the Foot­ball League.

Ini­tially, it was Brighton’s kids who felt the ben­e­fit. Jake ForsterCaskey, Solly March and Steve Cook have all hailed Wil­liams’ in­flu­ence in their de­vel­op­ment.

“Luke helped me so much,” said Cook, now a Premier League reg­u­lar with Bournemouth. “I'm a dif­fi­cult player to coach be­cause I’m quite im­pa­tient but he stuck with me, made ev­ery­thing easy to un­der­stand and I’ll al­ways be grate­ful for

that. He’s a bril­liant coach and a great per­son.”

By his own ad­mis­sion, Wil­liams’ suc­cess at Brighton re­sulted largely from a merg­ing of foot­ball philoso­phies, Poyet’s purist prin­ci­ples meld­ing with his young trainer’s pro­gres­sive be­liefs in pass­ing and pos­ses­sion.

“At most of the places I have been, as a player and as a coach, it has of­ten been frus­trat­ing be­cause peo­ple don’t want to play the game in the man­ner I think it should be played,” he said in 2010.

“I’ve had times when my boss hasn’t been happy be­cause I’m try­ing to teach them too much about the game. They want them taught less, taught one way of play­ing. Gus was the to­tal op­po­site.”

En­ticed by Wil­liams’ sin­gle­minded be­lief in flow­ing foot­ball, Swin­don chair­man Lee Power lured him away to be­come Mark Cooper’s as­sis­tant in 2013. Ini­tially at least, it was the per­fect part­ner­ship, with Cooper the ex­pe­ri­enced prag­ma­tist tasked with win­ning matches and Wil­liams the hands-on tech­ni­cian em­ployed to em­bed a phi­los­o­phy.

To­gether, the pair led the Robins to the play-off fi­nal. Yet it was al­ways Wil­liams for whom the Swin­don play­ers re­served the bulk of their praise.

“Luke is an ex­cep­tional fig­ure in my foot­ball ca­reer and that’s over 20 years now,” said Dar­ren Ward, who played in the top flight with Wolves.“He taught me things that no­body else did, and I’ve worked with some top, top coaches.”

Andy Wil­liams, scorer of 22 goals last sea­son, added:“He was as bub­bly as they come and made ev­ery day en­joy­able. He made you want to learn. I gen­uinely think a lot of my suc­cess was down to Luke. I’ve learnt so much in the space of one year. He makes us play foot­ball in a way that is so much eas­ier than the way we used to play at this level.

“He just un-com­pli­cates ev­ery­thing, and it re­ally is such a re­fresh­ing way to play. It is a lot more en­joy­able than just hav­ing the ball booted up to you as a striker and be­ing asked to fight with a 6ft 7ins de­fender.”

Ex-Manch­ester United trainee Nicky Ajose had bounced around sev­eral clubs be­fore land­ing at Swin­don and says Wil­liams is the man who got him back on track.

“He im­proved me so much,” said the striker, now 24.“It was just lit­tle things, like if I went to speak to him and said ‘Luke what do you think about this?’ he would sit down and go into de­tail about it and he would work with you af­ter train­ing.

Met­tle

“I said to a few of the boys ‘You need to ap­pre­ci­ate the train­ing you get here be­cause it’s very rare at League One level that you will still be able to im­prove as a player through train­ing.

“He is prob­a­bly the best coach I have worked with. He can eas­ily work at the top level, he is that good.”

And there has been in­ter­est: from Sun­der­land un­der Poyet, then As­ton Villa when Tim Sher­wood was in charge. Yet Wil­liams stayed and, when first Cooper and then Ling left the County Ground, Power gave him the chance to prove his man­age­rial met­tle.

“The longer Swin­don can keep him the bet­ter be­cause it’s as good as hav­ing a 15-goal a sea­son striker,” added Ajose.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

UN­COM­PLI­CATED: That’s how his ad­mir­ers de­scribe Luke Wil­liams, who is in charge of Swin­don un­til the end of the sea­son DIS­CI­PLES: Nicky Ajose, above, and Steve Cook, left, are fans of Wil­liams’ meth­ods

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