Steve Darby has officially been appointed as the new technical director of the Laos Football Federation, ahead of what appears to be a crucial period for the nation’s footballing scene.
They are currently preparing for the World Cup qualifiers, with fixtures against Lebanon and Myanmar coming up soon, while the U-23 squad is also getting ready for the SEA Games, which kicks off next month.
Preparation, led by head coach Dave Booth, is already underway, but the ex-Kelantan head coach has been brought in to further beef their technical department up, and boost the quality of football on a short-term as well as on a long-term basis. We caught up with the man himself for a quick chat on his new role.
FO: Hi Steve, congrats on your appointment! What convinced you to accept the role?
SD: I had just completed a great contract in the Indian Super League with Mumbai City, working alongside players such as Nicolas Anelka and Andre Moritz, as well as quality Indian internationals. But as it’s only a four-month season, there’s an eight-months break before the next season. In reality, you just miss the day-to-day football contact and of course, the bills keep coming in.
Dave Booth (Laos National Team Head Coach) contacted me to see if I was interested in a technical director role at Laos and that set the wheels in motion to meeting with the Laos President and General Secretary. We discussed what Laos wanted as I feel it’s culturally naive for a foreigner to walk in a country and make unrealistic demands and assumptions. We agreed terms and that was it!
FO: What is the job scope like, for your brand new role?
SD: I don’t like the clichés; philosophy and projects etc. The aim of the job is quite simply to try to make as much improvement in as many coaches and players as you can. That essentially means, getting as many education courses and resources for coaches that I can. I know the realities of the job as I was a technical director in Australia and Thailand before this. You have to learn to work within varying budgets as well as cultural and football expectations.
FO: Laos have not had plenty of international success, and based on your understanding, what’s the depth of talent looking like over there?
SD: We have to be realistic. Laos only has 6 million people, so the talent pool is so much smaller than Indonesia and Thailand. Plus, you have to look at the economics as well. Football is budget driven; you have to be realistic in your aims. Over the last 10 years, Laos has made massive improvements in Youth and Women’s football. They have linked in strongly with AFC and FIFA projects and benefited greatly from them. LFF has two great artificial pitches, accommodation and a well-equipped gym at their base. They have utilized FIFA funding superbly.
Having been in SE Asia since 1998, I’ve observed the progress of nations within this region closely, the gap is a lot more smaller now. There will always be differences due to the massive populations of the big teams, but I do believe in the cliché that there are no easy games between countries in South-East Asia.
FO: What is your immediate focus for the time being?
SD: Immediate focus is on the pitch, as we have preparations for both SEA Games and World Cup qualifiers running simultaneously. So for the first part of the job, I will be working with Dave Booth on the park until this program is over, before looking to conduct coaching courses for coaches and also try to bring in as many experts to Laos as I can. The Women’s football scene is also booming in Laos so it’s essential to support that area as much as possible as well.
FO: Laos will be facing a tough challenge in the World Cup qualifiers, but what’s the aim of the Laos Football Federation? Is there a balance between ambition and realism?
SD: There is talent and enthusiasm in the players in Laos. Hard work and dedication will not be an issue. Biggest challenge in the WC qualifiers will be South Korea. After that, we have Kuwait and Lebanon. All three a strong nations with massive wealth behind them. You have to also be serious and remember that Laos has six million people, plus the other nations in our group have got fully structured professional league. In reality, a national team is only as good as the national league allows it to be. I don’t think I’ll be taking Russian lessons for 2018, but you must make every game competitive and honourable for the fans. Every game will make the players tougher, and force them to set personal goals. It’s the only way to improve.