In the first of a new series, former Scotland defender Christophe Berra discusses his first few months on the course, which is being delivered by the Scottish FA Coach Education Department.
Since the course began in June, the new intake have attended the European Under-21 Championships in the summer and heard from several speakers - including Heriot Watt Associate Professor Stephen Morrow, Dundee manager Tony Docherty and former Hearts boss Robbie Neilson.
Berra was also joined by fellow students on a recent trip to London, where they spent time with Ange Postecoglou and David Moyes.
As well as a stop off at ambitious, innovative Premier League side Brentford, the group enjoyed lectures from mindset and leadership mentor, Steve Sallis.
Centre-back Berra, who won 41 caps for his country, hung up his boots last year following a playing career that including spells at Hearts, Wolves and Ipswich Town. He gave his reflections on the trip, and his recent coaching experience with Scotland Under-21s:
We may only be a couple of months into the UEFA Pro Licence course but I think the course leaders will be struggling to top this month’s offering – with trips to three English Premier League clubs in the space of a whirlwind two days.
During the recent international break we were fortunate to visit the Brentford training ground in Osterley, before heading to the London Stadium to spend a day with the legendary Scottish manager David Moyes. The trip was rounded off with a morning in the company of Tottenham Hotspur manager Ange Postecoglou.
Our Pro Licence course began in June and I’ve really enjoyed I so far. It’s not been as grass-based as the previous courses: it’s more classroom-based, with interviews and assignments. As a coach, your day-to-day is being out on the grass but as a manager that only accounts for a small part of it and it has been interesting to see how the inside of a football club works.
After gaining coaching experience at Raith Rovers and Livingston, I’ve recently been coaching with the Scotland Under-21s and with Falkirk as I work through the Pro Licence in the background as well.
Owing to my spells with Raith and Livingston, I actually fall into a unique category of someone who has both played and coached against Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic, and it was fascinating to hear from him during our trip earlier in the month.
I’ve listened to him on the radio and seen him on the TV countless times and he always comes across so well. I found him exactly the same in person - very welcoming and very open.
Particularly around coaching, many people don’t like sharing their messages but Ange is the polar opposite. He’s not worried about other people copying his styles because you cannot mirror what he does. It’s him, it’s his personality and it’s how he deals with things. He showed us his game model and I found listening to how he is implementing it at Spurs very insightful.
He might have changed a few things within his system but it’s the way he believes football should be played. He’s stuck by it through ten different jobs in 26 years and he’s at the pinnacle now – taking the English Premier League by storm.
He obviously came to Scotland from Japan and his time in Scotland played a part of his journey. It’s fantastic that despite the position he’s in, he took the time to give something back to Scottish football by speaking to us up-and-coming coaches.
Like Ange, David Moyes – someone who has regularly delivered on the Pro Licence – is another who has never failed to give up his time for prospective coaches. I also found him very open, talking us through some of his tactics. He showed us numerous clips of West Ham in certain games and how they’ve played to combat different opposition, before talking through tactical trends and opening the floor to our questions.
He’s also been in the game for over 20 years and has managed at the highest level for a long period of time. He started off at Preston and he explained how hands-on he was then and how – as time has gone on - he has let the reigns go a bit, allowing his coaching staff to do more and more.
He’s another coach who I could have sat with all day, just picking his brains. If you asked him a question he would give an honest answer and everyone who was there really enjoyed it.
The other stop on the trip was at the Brentford training ground where we received fantastic insight from their Head of Performance Ben Ryan, Technical Director Lee Dykes and - our UEFA Pro Licence colleague - Brentford B boss Neil McFarlane.
We talked through the process of how they sign players, how they start with ten of thousands of players and then work their way down just a handful. An innovative and forward-thinking club, they’re always trying to get that edge. Not being one of the biggest teams in the Premier League, they have to think differently when it comes to bridging that financial gap and so much they’ve done that.
That’s the impressive thing about Brentford – everything’s aligned all the way through. Everyone is pulling in the same direction – the players, the coaching staff, the kitmen, the cleaners, the chefs…they’re all in it together. It’s a great culture within that building and everyone’s striving for the same thing which is success.
Greig Mailer, Corporate Affairs Director at Brentford also gave insight to the way in which Brentford manage their communication streams to the media and fans, whilst also discussing how important messaging is internally to keep things positive around the culture of the club.
On a personal note, a hectic few days saw me fly straight to Edinburgh as the Scotland Under-21s prepared for a crucial double header against Hungary and Malta. I’ve been working as an assistant coach to Scot Gemmill for the past month or so and I am really enjoying it. First and foremost, it’s a good working environment and culture. I feel really comfortable there. Scot’s been receptive and everyone’s going in the right direction.
The players have been great as well – when you speak to them, everyone is listening. Having watched Spain Under-21s during our Pro Licence trip to the European Championships in the summer, it was surreal to then be standing on the touchline coaching against them with our Under-21s last month.
Sometimes you’ve got to pinch yourself when you see the level but we performed very well and backed it up with two strong performances and victories at home. We’ve got a couple of away games now which will be tough but we’ve got something to build on.
After finishing playing, you’re often asked about whether coaching can give you the same buzz. It’s different, but when you work with players all week, you’re invested in it and you feel a responsibility to the players. And the elation you get when you score – with the whole bench up celebrating - it’s not the same as playing, but it’s not far behind.