In a conversation with new Fury FC coach Paul Dalglish, we find out what kind of team Ottawa can look forward to seeing in 2016.
Paul Dalglish has been in Ottawa just a few weeks, but he’s been hard at work ever since he arrived. Since being named the new coach of Ottawa Fury FC, he’s found a place to live in the Glebe but he hasn’t had time to explore any of his new city beyond his new workplace at TD Place stadium. Even skating on the canal will have to wait. “I’ve bought ice skates but I’ve not been on [the canal] yet. I’ve been told that because I can’t skate I’ve got to wait for the ice to get in better condition before I go on it, because otherwise I could fall through. I might wait for the wife and kids (who arrive in a few weeks from their previous home in Austin, Texas) so we can all experience it for the first time.”
In the UK, any sports fan with a pulse knows the name Dalglish. Paul’s father Kenny is a legendary figure who starred with Celtic and Liverpool, as well as the Scottish national team, during a playing career that spanned 21 years. Paul is a former professional footballer as well, with a resume most would envy. The 38 year old Scotsman has played at the Premier League level in England, as well as in Major League Soccer(MLS), winning a championship with Houston Dynamo in 2006. He’s experienced the difference, as a player, between playing in the UK and playing in North America:
“It’s totally different. When you come to MLS, the truth is, no one knows who you are. When you play in the UK everyone knows who you are. Soccer is much more entrenched in people’s lives in general, or it’s entrenched in more people’s lives. It’s a massive part of the community in the UK compared to North America. You get to live a normal life in North America, it just so happens you’re a professional soccer player. When you play in the UK, you live a professional soccer player’s life.”
Kenny has gone on to manage some of Britain’s top teams, including Liverpool, where Paul, as a youth, was once a mascot. After watching his father on the sidelines, Paul knew he’d one day follow suit.
“Some of my earliest memories are obviously of my dad playing, but most of my memories are of my dad being a coach. Most kids grow up idolizing and trying to follow in the footsteps of their father, and I was no different. So coaching was always something I’d been interested in. It’s something that I’m much more comfortable and much more confident in my abilities than I ever was as a player. And I did ok as a player.”
Though quite young as far as professional coaches go, Dalglish is already seven years into his coaching career, has been steadily building up some impressive credentials. Having coached teams at the USL, NASL and MLS levels (the top three tiers in North American soccer), his most notable accomplishment is leading USL side Austin Aztex to a league championship, and winning Coach of the Year honours. He’s found success encouraging a style that not only promotes offence, but also one that attracts fans.
“When you’re involved in sport, especially a sport that’s new to a city, the most important thing… it’s about entertainment. Winning isn’t enough. When I’m on the sideline, I want to see a team that I’d want to pay money to see if I was a fan. When you’re trying to increase ticket sales, you want more people in your stadium, when they get there, there’s got to be an entertainment value. For me, part of my responsibility for growing the Fury is to make sure people come to the games, to make sure the players play a style of football that is entertaining for the fans, that they enjoy watching, to create an atmosphere, via the style of play, that people want to shout about. The best way to complement that is by winning at the same time. Results without quality are boring.”
There has been a very large amount of turnover on the Fury roster this offseason. While it’s been hard to see some fan favourites leave, it’s meant the new coach has an opportunity to build this season’s team more in his image. Signings such as James Bailey, Johnny Steele and Dennis Chin point to a team that is younger and more athletic that the Fury squad last year. But there are certain internal qualities Paul says he looks for when recruiting players.
“Intensity, grit and determination. Because the team has to represent what I am. The team has to represent what I would want to watch, as a fan. I think Canadians are a lot like where I grew up in Britain. We like to see somebody try, and we’re not too keen on flashiness and we’re not too keen on superstars. We want a little bit of humility and humbleness, and we want to see hard work. We want to be the best, but we want to do it through hard work.”
A few more signings are on the way, including an attacking player from Brazil who Dalglish says will be announced “imminently,” but it is the signing of Gerardo Bruna that perhaps has fans most intrigued. Once dubbed “the next Lionel Messi”, Bruna came up through the Real Madrid and Liverpool youth systems, but hasn’t lived up to the hype. Dalglish thinks Fury FC can be a place where Bruna can finally flourish. So what kind of player is he?
“Playmaker. Really really creative. Somebody who needs a fresh start. He was in the Spanish second division and moved to the north of England for family reasons. But the team that he’s with isn’t conducive to the type of footballer he is. When I found out he was available, I got talking to him, and it turns out his partner has family in Ottawa. So it was perfect. He’s a guy who will fit in with the way I want to play. This kid was going to be one of the best players in the world for his age. Unfortunately for him he never really got the opportunity to show it. We’re hoping we can play our part in helping him relaunch his career and helping him fulfill the potential that he’s always showed.”
In his short time in Ottawa, Fury FC has already seen an incredible amount of change. The 2016 season holds plenty of potential, but will also likely be Dalglish’s biggest test as a coach, but he seems more than up to the challenge. While he’s knows he’s here to develop his players as best as he can, he’s fully aware that his own development as a coach is ongoing.
“What’s maybe changed [since starting his coaching career] is my teaching philosophy. How you impart knowledge, I’ve become more educated on how that works. It’s never going to be perfect, but it’s the eternal journey towards perfection. You know you’re never going to get there, but you never give up trying.”
Ottawa Fury FC training camp opens February 15th. Regular season starts April 3rd, away at NY Cosmos. First home game at TD Place is May 1st against Miami FC.