TWISTS AND TURNS

Chris Dunlavy pro­files Bar­net man­ager Rossi Eames

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

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.”

En­rolled

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

Re­spect

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.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

LEARN­ING HIS TRADE: Rossi Eames has im­pressed at Bar­net

IM­PRESSED: Paul Fair­clough was on the in­ter­view­ing panel

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