Grassroots Football Guru Comes Onboard SingaCup
Current Head Technical Advisor (Chinese School Football (CSF) Programme) and Official Chinese Football Association Grassroots Ambassador, Tom Byer is in town to grace the SingaCup, Singapore’s biggest international youth football tournament. The well-known Grassroots football’s
Current Head Technical Advisor (Chinese School Football (CSF) Programme) and Official Chinese Football Association Grassroots Ambassador, Tom Byer is in town to grace the SingaCup, Singapore’s biggest international youth football tournament. The well-known Grassroots football’s Ambassador from New York has been actively involved in the developing of Asian football and also the rest of the world for the past 30 years. Before the man himself gets busy, Junpiter Futbol sits down with him for an exclusive interview on the day of his arrival here in Singapore.
JPF: Welcome to Singapore, Tom! Tell us more about your days in Japan. As a foreigner, how did you manage to start so many things in a foreign land? And you even had your own TV Programme in Japan for 13 years!
TB: I have played for Japan’s Hitachi back in 1986/87 prior to the start of the J.League. So after I have hung up my boots, I decided to stay in Japan. One of the first things I did was to pitch an idea of doing football event to Nestle Japan, Milo. Fortunately, Milo signed a deal with me to do 50 events a year starting in 1989. And that deal lasted 10 years where I got to travel to all countryside of Japan’s to do football events.
In 1993, I introduced Coever football, a concept of focusing on football technical skill development to Japan. I managed to convince an investor to invest in my idea. We built schools, camps and basically we built the whole business around that. Within the span of 10 years, from 1989 to 1998, J-League was formed, Japan was picked to be one of the co-hosts for the 2002 FIFA World Cup and also, the foundation of my football network and works improved and blossomed as well.
Another great break through came in 1998, I was invited to do a daily football show, Tom-san Soccer Technique for the Number-1 TV show, produced by the same producer of Pokemon, in Japan. What I didn’t expect was that my TV programme lasted for 13 years! Although the programme has stopped, I was invited to do it again for a year together with Nadeshiko Japan’s Aya Miyama which we had just concluded the filming in April.
JPF: It was a long 13 years of TV football programme for you in Japan. What are the other TV programmes you are involved in?
TB: Recently, I am just done with a huge filming on a TV series, similar to what I have done in Japan but much bigger for China Education TV (CETV). I did 120 corners and it is going to be aired 3 minutes everyday. It is a programme to empower kids to learn on their own – a concept of 1 player 1 ball. In China, there are 1 million kids under the age of 6 years old and another 150 millions kids under the age of 12 years old, so why limit yourself to just coaches?
JPF: You are currently the Current Head Technical Advisor (Chinese School Football (CSF) Programme) and Official Chinese Football Association Grassroots Ambassador with China Football Association (CFA), how this opportunity comes about?
TB: First of all, grassroots football is the most least funded part of the game. It has the least resources because people don’t understand it. I was basically recruited by CFA because of my past histories and successes in Japan as they are kind of the gold bar standard in Asia.
JPF: Grassroots football brings in good income for you?
TB: You will never get rich working in grassroots football at that level but personally, I can subsidize my income with different brands. I have to be creative as I understand how football works. I work with Adidas as I am the grassroots football Ambassador with CFA. I work with Volkswagen China and now I also work with AIA Insurance as their grassroots football Ambassador too. Then again grassroots football is mostly filled with volunteers and depending on which country you are in, that will determine how extensive is the volunteer movements. In Japan, almost all are volunteers for the kids under the age of 12 years old.
JPF: You were once heavily involved in the grassroots football in Japan, and now you are with China’s grassroots football. In comparison, are the supports and resources you are getting in China similar to what you used to enjoy in Japan?
TB: Completely different. In Japan, I worked almost nothing to do with Japan Football Association (JFA) or the J.League. It was a much more private and commercialized in Japan. However in China, there are government policies behind football development. Basically, the Chinese government makes football a compulsory in Schools so you have the entire nation to push the thing forward. And because the Chinese government is so influential, it is easier to implement new strategy. For example, I am doing the TV show, the Ministry of Education in China actually controls that TV station and extend their support to air the show on their platform.
JPF: What is the biggest misunderstanding of grassroots football?
TB: The biggest misunderstanding is how young players or kids develop. Kids who have good techniques are rarely a result of coaching. It is more of a result of culture, their upbringing at home.
There are 211 members of associations with FIFA. Out of these 211 countries, only 8 countries have ever won a World Cup, namely Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Italy, England, Spain, France & Germany. And out of these 8 countries that have won the World Cup, 3 countries (Brazil, Italy & Germany) are serious repeaters. If you look and understand what’s happening, why only these few countries are dominating the World Cup? You will find it is not so much about coaching; it has to do with culture.
For example, let’s look at the best players from the past generation, Johan Cruyff, George Best, Franz Beckenbauer and Pele, and today’s generation, Neymar, Ronaldo, Messi and Suarez. If you look at them, you will realize that all of them learnt their games un-coached. Most of them credited their sound technique and successes to their fathers – their family. So in those countries which I have named, the culture is so strong that it’s very conducive for developing players.
There’s no special coaching going on and it’s certainly not so much about the facilities. It’s all about a child growing up with a ball at their feet. Football needs to have a different approach. And there is a lack of understanding of how development takes place. Unfortunately, most of the countries believe it’s a coaching problem that is pulling their football back. They think it’s an elite problem. They think they have to hire top coaches. But the reality is, it’s like an endless treadmill – nobody gets anywhere.
JPF: Advice to Singapore’s grassroots football?
TB: If you really want to make a different right here in Singapore, approach it a little differently. Approach it with an idea that you will need to educate the parents. If you give a 3-6 years old child a heads start in learning the basic technique, that’s a game change.
JPF: The world has known so much about your involvement in grassroots football. How about telling us your footballing days?
TB: I was from New York and back in the seventies, there was a local community college at my area where they were particularly known for their good football club. Many locals staying at the area were not good enough to get in but I was very fortunate to get in. Then, the existence of the North American Soccer League (NASL), together with many star players such as Pele, Best, Beckenbauer and Cruyff inspired me a lot too.
My real deal came when my Hungarian coach from my College got me linked up with Japan’s Hitachi. I signed with the team and played as a Defender, sometimes Midfielder. And the rest is history.
JPF: Are there any particular footballers which are the “product” of your coaching?
TB: I have been in Japan working as a technical coach and have been putting lots of technical strategies in place. I have done over 2,000 events for half a million children. I appeared in Japan’s Number-1 comic book which sold 1.2 million copies a month for 14 years. I create contents where I have my own DVD which is the Number-1 seller in Japan. I am not bragging but I do have some influence in a generation. 6 of the girls who represented Japan Youth in the FIFA World Cup are from our School. I would not want to claim that we are responsible for their successes but we do have an impact or influence on their development.
JPF: Now that you have come onboard to SingaCup, how do you think you can contribute to Singapore’s grassroots football?
TB: This is my first visit and involvement with SingaCup and I am holding a series of activities around SingaCup. Some are for the coaches, parents and even government officials. For this trip, I am hoping that I can garner enough interests that people can start thinking a little differently. My whole idea is to try to influence and convince decision-makers that they should develop a strategy around this concept of football starts at home. In Singapore, of course you need good quality coaches and good football education. Having said that, that doesn’t seems to be the problem in Asia to me. What seems to be the problem is when you look around at the technical level, for example football in Singapore, it is not as good as developed countries like Japan, Korea or Australia. The only way to really lift the entire (technical) level here in Singapore which is to start at home. I don’t think that starts with coaches.
JPF: Final message for SingaCup’s young players who aspired to be professional footballers?
TB: The most important part of being a professional footballer starts with the technical development. If you take football as a staircase, the first step is the technical component – that’s the foundation, that’s the DNA. If you don’t get that right, it is going to be very difficult for you to become a top footballer. Unfortunately, football is an extremely technical sport that takes ridiculous amount of time to practice. So you have to practice hard.
SingaCup, Singapore’s biggest International Youth Football Tournament is taking place from 7-11 November 2016 at The Cage Sports Park, Turf City. Junpiter Futbol is the Official Media Partner for the tournament.