The Joe Gallen Interview

Our latest interview is with the man in charge of youth development at Queens Park Rangers, Joe Gallen. Joe talks openly about the recent release of eight youngsters, how he sees the youth scheme at Rangers moving forward and much more. Joe, can you explain exactly what your responsibilities are within the club and how you got involved with Rangers in the first place?

JG: Well I stopped playing football when I was 26 and started doing some coaching, then Chris Gieler asked me to join the Youth Team set up at Rangers. I started off six years ago as the under 9’s coach and from there I progressed to the under 10’s, under 11’s etc until I worked my way up to Under 17’s coach.

I was working under Gary Waddock initially, when he moved on to coach the first team Des Bulpin came in above me, then things happened with Des so they asked me to be in charge. Whilst I’m still the under 18’s coach I’m also in charge of the whole youth development programme at QPR. That’s everything from under 7’s through to under 19’s. What’s a typical week for you?

JG: A Monday morning will start with John O’Brien and myself in the office going through what he and the scouts have spotted that weekend. John would have watched about ten games over the weekend himself and then, with the scouts out there as well, we are covering a lot more games than we would have before. All I’m interested in knowing is who they saw, can we get them and how do we get them. That could be an eight year a twelve year old, a fourteen year old – whatever.

At half ten we go out to training with the full time lads for two and half hours, then over lunch we’re on the phone chasing up players before another training session in the afternoon, then we come back in Tuesday and do the same thing every day, all week.

On Saturdays we have the under 18’s match in the morning then I may go and scout a game in the afternoon if needs be. On Sundays I’ll watch our schoolboys play from under 10’s to under 14’s level.

There’s not much time off in the evenings either. Monday and Wednesday evenings are spent with the schoolboys at Cranford, which is everyone from under 9’s to the under 16’s. Tuesday nights John and I will go and scout at various games, on Thursday nights we run development centres and then we have Friday nights off. So it’s pretty manic. How do you and John work together, how are your roles different?

JG: I’m in charge of the whole programme now, after Des left I had three months where I did everything on my own which was very hectic so John has come onboard to work as my assistant. To put it in perspective a club like Arsenal would have eight full time staff in the youth development centre. We have two now! There’s a lot more work involved than people might think.

We work well together John and I and we’re dying to be a success. We badger people all the time and we’re trying everything we can to make this a long term success for QPR but it’s not going to happen tomorrow. How do we find players at the moment, what sort of levels do we scout to?

JG: To be honest Mark Devlin and Ian Holloway have to take a lot of credit for providing the funds to bring in John as youth development officer. When I took over we all decided that we didn’t need to hire another coach, because I can do that myself, but we needed someone whose motivation was to go and get players from wherever possible.

Seeing how John works has been like a breath of fresh air, he has got contacts throughout the leagues, be that Sunday football, district level or county football all through London, Essex, Kent, you name it. We also now have a team of eight good quality scouts, not just blokes wearing a jacket who think they are a scout, these are guys who’ve been there and done it and have a good track record of finding young talent. Thankfully Mark and Olly have agreed to everything we’ve put to them, without their backing we’d have very little to work with. Do you ever get managers calling you to say “I’ve got a talent here for you” or are you more likely to find them yourselves?

JG: Well we put a message in the programme for people to contact us and suggest players we could look at and we’re keen for people to do that. The number is there to contact John and we’re happy to hear from people, obviously you get people suggesting their sons and that might not always be a good thing but we feel if we get five thousand suggestions and find one player then that would make it worthwhile.

If there’s a good prospect out there between age nine and fifteen then there’s a good chance that we’ll know about them. The trick is being the first to approach them and then making a decision quickly so we don’t keep them hanging about and give other clubs the chance to get in.

I think we’re well set up for that now because it’ll just be down to John and myself to say yes or say no. We’ve been known to sign kids on the spot, for example we had a kid come in on Monday that John had seen playing, I call him the new Patrick Kanyuka because he’s a six foot three inch psychopath. I knew there and then we had to do something with him. We went out to training and within five minutes we made our minds up. We know exactly what we want, whereas at other clubs there are so many levels it has to go through that it can hinder them.

However it’s one thing though someone knowing the best player at a club, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s good enough. We want to know the best players in the league and then we can fight over them. To be honest I don’t think we’ve done that enough in the past but now we’re in a position where we are fighting over kids that the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea want and we’re looking to succeed in that whereas in the past I think we’ve just played at it really.

For example we’ve now got a scout in Dublin and we’ve just had a phone call confirming that this lad is going to come over and train with us for a week. He’s in their international set up and has already trained with Arsenal but he wants to have a look at us as well before he makes a decision. The very fact that is happening is progress and that’s not something that might have happened in the past. So when you sit down with a lad of that calibre how do you persuade them to join us rather than a club like Arsenal?

JG: Well it’s down to us to persuade them that joining QPR will be the best thing for their career which isn’t always easy! What we can offer them though is if they are good enough they’ll get a chance in the reserves by the time they’re seventeen and first team football will come along quicker than it would at Chelsea and Arsenal.

You come across parents who don’t see it that way but over the last few weeks anyone we’ve wanted we’ve got. We’ve used Olly to help as well, there’s a boy we’re trying to get hold of at the moment, he is fifteen and one of the outstanding boys in the south of England. Every club wants him but I’m in weekly contact with his parents and Olly has stepped in as well so fingers crossed.

Someone we can hold up as a good example of this is Scott Donnelly. He’s a good player who made an impression and as a result he’s made his first team debut at sixteen and played two games off the bench which is fantastic. We need to give him a bit more time in the long term but it shows how quickly you can break through if the talent is there.

You might be aware of Theo Walcott at Southampton and there are rumours that Chelsea are prepared to bid £2 million for him. This is what we’re up against, he’s outstanding but there’s no way we can compete with that. Also we have players at the moment who are attracting interest from major clubs and they may put bids in for them. It’ll be difficult to keep them because at the end of the day money talks but we’ll try our best. If that happens how does the compensation structure actually work?

JG: It depends on how long the boy has been at your club and it depends on what sort of contract they are on. For example if we had put a lad on an apprentice contract then we’d get a lot more if someone wanted to sign him. We can also insist on adding long term clauses to the deal based on things like first team appearances and what have you. Can you explain exactly how the scholarship structure works?

JG: Until last season you had kids on a two year contract with an option on their third year then, if you wanted to keep them after the third year, you could take them for a further two years or release them.

That system has now gone and now it’s changed back to the old style two year system. If you’ve proved yourself to be good enough after two years then you get a professional contract if not then you get released. It’s just like the way it was in the old days and that’s why the youth team structure reverted to an under 18’s level rather than the split levels of under 17’s and under 19’s. I think it’s a much better system, everyone knows where they are and what they are working towards. Players like Scott Donnelly, Stefan Bailey and Shabazz Baidoo are on the first year of this new structure. What sort of day to day interaction do the under 18’s have at the club?

JG: They’re full time, they train every day and we work them as hard as we can. Due to the size of our club we only have two groups of players training and that’s the first team and the youth team. Each week Olly will want the youth team to play against the first team so they can practise what they are going to do on the Saturday, so whilst looking at the first team it gives Olly a chance to see any of the young players who are standing out. Where does the decision come to step someone up to the reserves?

JG: That’s worked out between us all really, we’ve got a white board in the first team office, Olly and the coaches will pencil in the first team players that they need to have in the reserves side then they’ll turn to me to fill the gaps with whomever I feel deserves the chance.

We’re also looking at getting some of the lads out on loan to get them more experience, for example Ryan Johnson will be playing for Carshalton and we’re looking at finding Pat Kanyuka a Conference South club as well. I’ve seen most defenders at this level and I have to say that it would be difficult to find a better pair than Ryan and Pat but youth team football is too easy for them now and because of the way the combination league is structured there’s not that many reserve team games for them to play in. I need to push them on a bit so a loan looks to be the best option to continue developing them as players

I’m delighted for them though, Pat for example came from Leyton Orient where he was earning exactly nought pounds a week, he’s come here, impressed and now he’s on a pro contract. What happened with the Manchester City approach for Pat?

JG: When Pat played a reserve game there was a Man City scout there and Pat’s agent told him that he wasn’t on a contract and, if they wanted him, they could take him tomorrow. The City scout got on the phone to Manchester and told them that he’d seen this seventeen year old defender who’s six foot three and wins every header, why don’t they take a look at him. So it was agreed that Pat would go up there and play on trial for them but it was at the time we were making decisions on the kids, so when we offered Pat a contract it didn’t happen. I wasn’t involved in how much he got or how long his deal was but I was keen for him to stay, as I was keen for Ryan to stay as well. I’m not one for making predictions but they have potential and we have to see what happens from here. I guess that must be one of the most frustrating things, to see a young lad with all the talent in the world get distracted off the field and drift out of the game?

JG: What we’re trying to do is recruit better players to begin with, I’ve no doubt we can do that but at the moment there’s a lot of boys being released and we want to see players progressing with the club past the age of seventeen or eighteen. From there it’s really down to the board and the manager what happens but if we do our job right first then I’m sure they’ll see the long term potential in our players and take it from there. You mentioned the releases that we saw happen recently, was that something that was solely your decision?

JG: No it’s done in conjunction with all the coaching staff, myself, Olly, Tim, Gary and Penny. All the lads played some reserve team games and then we sat down and discussed it. At the end of the day the final decision is ultimately with the manager with input from all of us.

I was the one that had to tell them which is very tough but it’s all part of the plan to improve what we have. The key question was ‘will these lads feature in the first team next season’ and unfortunately the answer was no. This club is looking to have a go at getting promotion to the Premiership next season so we need to raise the standard at all levels. Like I say if we can recruit better in the first place then I’m sure Olly will give some boys a longer term chance. That must be a horrible job to have to do?

JG: It is, to be honest I think some already knew or guessed whilst some were in tears but they were all pretty devastated. It is hard because I know them really, really well and they had all represented QPR fantastically. You can’t knock their performances on a Saturday morning, I’m the first to say that we’re not about results but to keep winning that many games over nearly two years is an outstanding achievement for them but unfortunately my job is to get players through who will make an impact on the first team. So what would be a good number of players to keep from a year group?

JG: Well this is the thing, we might have released eight players but we have signed two in Johnson and Kanyuka, plus we have Stefan Bailey, Scott Donnelly and Shabazz Baidoo still with us. Whilst we’re disappointed about the other lads the fact is we’ve brought two lads through onto professional contracts so, from the club’s point of view, if just one of them goes on to break into the first team that’s not too bad.

I spoke to the guy at West Brom and he told me that in the last five years they’ve not had one player from the youth department make their first team debut, that puts it into perspective. I don’t think we’re doing particularly great at the moment but we’ve had more than that with the likes of Marcus Bean and Scotty D just recently. Don’t get me wrong though, we still want to do much better. If you take a team like Derby who are in our division and bringing through all these great young talents how far behind would you say we are?

JG: In my opinion we’re very far behind. If you look at their team they have two keepers in Lee Camp and Lee Grant, Tom Huddleston at the back, Lee Holmes in midfield and there’s others on top of that. They’re in a nice area up there to attract talent, they’ve got a fantastic training facility and they’ve not long come out of the Premiership so they’ve got advantages on us but that’s the sort of level we’re aiming at. We want first team regulars coming through, not just lads who make one or two appearances then disappear, John and I want home grown QPR lads in the first team and I’m sure all the QPR fans do as well. If we get one through that might just kick start everything. Is there a two or three, or five year plan we’re working towards?

JG: Well it’s definitely a long term situation. I had a meeting with Mark Devlin recently and I said that things won’t change tomorrow morning. We’ve got to look to change everything round but by bringing in someone of the calibre of John O’Brien it’s only going to help us bring better players to the club. Kenny Jackett said to me a couple of years ago that he’d never known a coach who can make a bad player into a good player and to be frank he’s probably right. Don’t get me wrong we have to coach and improve players but we need to get the right quality in the first place.

At the moment we’ve got four boys signing for next year and we’re looking to add a couple more but we’re going to be more a lot more selective from now on. It’s not about finding the best team it’s about finding the best players and if we had five great centre forwards we’d take them all. We’d get hammered on a Saturday but if one of them made it then it would be worth it. We’re not going to win the FA Youth Cup but so what, that’s not what it’s all about. One of the major differences you notice between our lads and those at the Premiership sides seems to be size, is it the case that the big clubs snap up the bigger players?

JG: I might get some stick for saying this but I’m not going to sign any boy that can’t handle themselves physically. All of the four boys we’ve got signed for next season are five eleven to six foot, if anyone feels that isn’t important in the game then they’re mistaken. I would say that our first team is one of the smallest in the league, look at Preston the other week everyone but Eddie Lewis was over six foot.

If you take Arsenal, where John joined us from, as an example they will only sign players if they are big and quick. We used to go and play them and I’d be thinking to myself ‘I thought they were meant to be fourteen years old’, it was like the land of the giants. Don’t get me wrong there will always be space for a really outstanding smaller player but as a rule you need physical presence and you need speed to succeed. Have you been impressed with the great fund raising efforts from the likes of the LSA?

JG: The help that we get is so fantastic but I do sometimes worry if fans think 'why are we helping, they never get a player through!' That just makes me more determined to get things right because so many people go out of their way to help us. There’s so much stuff going on we are incredibly grateful.

It creates a lot of interest for the games as well, it’s a great feeling when people turn up on Saturdays to watch us, it’s nice for the lads and gives us a bit of belief but it’ll feel a hell of a lot better when we get just one lad into the first team. If we can do that then that will kick things off and create a bit of a buzz.

I read all the websites because I’m a fan at heart and I’m interested as much as you guys so I look round the sites, it’s nice to see the interest that fans take in the youth team plus it’s always good to see how much stick my brother is getting while I’m at it! What’s been the best and worst part of your job?

JG: Well there hasn’t been one yet to be honest, when we get a regular first team player I’ll stop for about five seconds and think ‘isn’t that great – now where’s the next one coming from’. The worst part has been not having any players for Ian Holloway, sometimes I think he looks at me and looks away again. I want him to be coming to me and asking ‘how’s this lad doing’. We’re trying our best to give him players and in the end I’m confident that we will. Over the last few years we’ve chopped and changed the people in charge at this level from Warren Neil to Gary Waddock then Des Bulpin now you. Do you believe stability is going to be an important factor if we’re going to move forward?

JG: I know that I’m not a big name ex player and I realise some fans might prefer someone like that to be in charge but I can guarantee that they wouldn’t work as hard as me and they definitely don’t want it as much as I do. I’ve got as good a set of coaching qualifications as anyone and I’m determined to succeed. I sort of feel that I had my playing career taken away from me and this is my chance. I worked full time for a year on very little money and I didn’t complain because this is what I want to do. Between me and John there’s a lot of desire and if we can get as long at it as other people have had then I believe we’ll be a success. What period of time would be a fair one to judge you over then?

JG: You probably wont agree with me but I think we need five or six years. I know that’s a long time but we’re trying to get things right from the under 9’s up. I can tell you now that next season that age group will be the best we’ve ever had at QPR and if we can get the base right then we’re heading in the right direction. You’re looking at six years to see the benefits of that so we need to get some other success along the way as well but that’s how long it takes for the whole process to happen. With Olly staying that helps things because if a new manager came in we could have all been out of a job as well. Is youth development something you want to stay working in or do you want to move into a full coaching role in the future?

JG: I don’t see why not to be honest, I’ve not been overawed by coaching at any level since I’ve been here so I don’t see that as being a problem. Without sounding arrogant I believe I can do whatever I want but at the same time I know I need to make a success of this first. I’d love to be a manager one day but I’ll see how things pan out, I just want to do this job right first. I remember when I stopped playing football and took the under 9’s it was quite daunting to start with but you learn as you go along. We’ve had some great coaches at the club for me to work with and learn from and throughout my career I’ve worked with some good people who’ve taught me a lot. From Chris Gieler to Ray Graydon and Kenny Jackett to Ian Holloway, I’ve learnt from all of them.

I have to say again though that Mark Devlin and Ian Holloway have been incredibly supportive and it’s clear how much they want this to work. I told them I believed it was important for us to re-introduce the nine and ten year old age brackets and they agreed. When I wanted money to get scouts in from Arsenal and Chelsea they agreed, so they have been fantastic for me and hopefully these are all good decisions that will benefit the club in the long term.

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