TWISTS AND TURNS
Chris Dunlavy profiles Barnet manager Rossi Eames
FOR any rookie coach, controlling a dressing room full of battle-scarred pros is a daunting prospect.
Especially if, like Rossi Eames, you’re 31 and your playing ‘career’ consisted of a few run-outs with Amersham Town.
But, when you’ve ditched your parents and moved to Slovenia at the age of 16...well, managing Barnet was hardly going to faze him.
Back then, football was the last things on Eames’ mind. A talented gymnast, he spent his teenage years training under Klemen Bedenik alongside GB’s future Olympic champion Max Whitlock.
Though he would later joke his stablemate was “Champions League while I was Conference”, Eames was still good enough to win a medal at the British Championships.
Bedenik, a former Slovenian gymnast who ran his gym out of Hemel Hempstead, was effectively a third parent.
“He taught me everything,” said Eames. “From being a professional sportsman to being a professional person. The way I used to eat, the way I used to recover and train. I took so much from Klemen.”
Sessions were tough. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph in 2016, Bedenik described how his students would perform “600 circles, then another 500” on the pommel horse alone. “It was boring and it was repetitive but it built discipline,” he said.
When Bedenik returned to Maribor in 2001, several of his charges followed him. Whitlock, aged just 12, returned after three months. Eames lasted two years.
“I was cooking, cleaning, doing laundry” he said. “And I had a coach who couldn’t speak a word of English, so I had no choice but to embrace the culture and learn on my feet.”
Eames grew up fast, and those experiences would provide a solid footing when, at 21, he turned his back on gymnastics. “It was nothing dramatic,” he said. “Mentally, I had just reached the end. I wasn’t enjoying it.”
He enrolled at Leeds Met, graduating with a degree in sports science and coaching. Work placements at Bradford City and Leeds United yielded a job at the latter.
Essentially it was a cluster of part-time jobs. Eames worked in the community department under former Coventry striker Mick Ferguson and helped coach a women’s side, including current international Rachel Daly. One of the most profound experiences was a visit to a social behaviour school, which used sport as a tool to build friendships. “It taught me a lot about what makes people tick,” he said. In 2009, Eames returned to his Southern roots. Barnet had advertised for a performance analyst and Eames, still just 24, got the nod. Paul Fairclough, the England C manager and Barnet academy director, was on the interview panel and has since worked closely with Eames. “He was very calm, very
Eames worked his way through the youth and reserve ranks, forming an effective double act with fellow coach Henry Newman. Nevertheless, few expected him to be named interim boss, with Newman, when Martin Allen abruptly departed in 2016.
At 32, he was the youngest manager in the EFL, significantly younger than several of his new charges.
“You’ve got people like Michael Nelson, Jamal Campbell-Ryce, lads who’ve been in full-time football for 15-20 years,” says Michael Gash, a striker at Barnet last year.
“But, even though he hasn’t got that footballing background, he got respect. Nobody was sniping behind his back or saying ‘He doesn’t know what he’s doing’. If you look at his training sessions, it’s obvious that he does. thoughtful,” said the 67-yearold. “And he was very young, but we saw that as a positive.
“There are too many of these old ex-pros who think ‘What was good for me as a player is good enough for you and I ain’t changing’.
“On the other hand, lads who come through academies and universities tend to be very switched-on people. They’re intelligent above and beyond football. They understand sports science and are far more open to new ideas. We certainly saw that in Rossi.”
“And the way he came across also helped. To us, he was just Rossi, and he was careful not to get ahead of himself. There was no ‘Right, you’ve got to start calling me gaffer now’ or any of that.”
Gash and Fairclough highlight the same qualities in Eames. A methodical, analytical approach to the game. A desire to play attractive football. A steel core masked by a softly-spoken, approachable exterior. The work ethic instilled by Bedenik all those years ago.
“He’s dedicated,” adds Gash. “He gets there early in the morning, doesn’t leave until 67pm. And training is very in-depth. Rossi knows everything about an opponent.”
When results nosedived after 12 games, Eames was asked to take a step back. Kevin Nugent arrived but was swiftly dispatched.
Now chairman Tony Kleanthous has put his full trust in Eames.
“Tony has chopped and changed a lot over the year and he wanted someone to grow with the club,” explains Fairclough. “That’s why I think you’ll see him persevere with Rossi this time.
“It’s early days and the big test will come when he has a couple of defeats. But what I like about Rossi is that, while he’ll listen to ideas, he’s also got the personality to believe in himself. As a manager, it’s a good combination.”
LEARNING HIS TRADE: Rossi Eames has impressed at Barnet
IMPRESSED: Paul Fairclough was on the interviewing panel