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McGuckin passing on his experience as he heads up Pools development
IAN McGuckin is sat in an office at Victoria Park. He’s been in the corridors of power there plenty of times before.
The difference is that this time it’s his office, not that of the manager issuing a stern warning to his young, combative centre-half.
McGuckin has come a long way since his Hartlepool United debut in 1992. Now, via playing spells at Fulham and Oxford and coaching work at Middlesbrough and East Durham Colleges, he’s back at Pools heading up the club’s development centres.
His official title is lead youth phase coach, a position introduced following the FA-led revamp of the youth system across English football.
There’s a lot of competition for the North-East’s most talented youngsters. Eyes will always be turned towards the so-called big three, while a number of independent academies are rounding up the same prospects.
However, with a streamlined track from development centres to the first team and the prospect of coaching from the club’s UEFA qualified staff, McGuckin is confident the future is bright for the club’s youth sections.
At Pools, certainly under Colin Cooper’s lead, young players will be given their legs in the first team.
And there’s two shining right now in League Two as a case in point.
“When there’s talented players to work with, you know what’s achievable and what can happen,’’ reflected McGuckin. “I worked with Luke James – anyone at the club now can look at him and see what can happen.
“He didn’t learn his goalscoring from me, that’s for sure! But he is a prime example of what can be achieved by someone who demonstrates the right attitude. He was travelling a long way, from Northumberland, for training and shows what can happen.
“The other one is Brad Walker. He has come into the first team squad and, if he continues to work on his game, who knows what he is capable of.
“For us, as an academy, what better example is there to aspire to?’’
McGuckin made his Pools’ debut in 1992 and 178 appearances later moved to Fulham.
It was right at the very start of the Craven Cottage revolution. Signing players from Division Four wasn’t going to happen anymore. McGuckin was the last of a breed there.
“I was reluctant to go and spoke to Fulham,’’ he recalled. “I spoke to other clubs, and ended up later at one of them (Oxford). I was happy where I was. I didn’t want to leave. Some players are happy where they are. I was captain as a young lad here, was comfortable.
“But the club was short of cash, you have to think of other things. I knew I had a knee problem I was playing with and I gave it a go.
“I moved at the right time, but the wrong time. I was in talks with Fulham and was told something was going to happen, something massive.
“You are thinking that it’s just talk, nothing more than to sell the club to me. Then Mohammed Al Fayed takes over!
“You are getting a chauffeured car to Harrods and all that. I was in good fettle, had a good pre-season, and was confident then I did my knee again. By the time I got back there was multi-million pound defenders ahead of me.
“Realistically I was never going to achieve any sort of success there. But I was settled, adjusted to life in London.’’
Kevin Keegan soon took over and McGuckin was on his way to Oxford, but the knee trouble ended his playing days.
“I had started studying for my badges down there and working for the Oxfordshire FA,’’ he recalled.
“I had an idea that my career was ending because of knee trouble, but you always think it’s going to prolong and you always feel someone you played with will phone and offer you a job.
“Suddenly the phone doesn’t ring and it’s hard, strange. It makes you do something about it. I had good experiences, bad experiences and I really wanted to put something back in. This is the next best thing to playing.’’
And so, after coaching football in local education, McGuckin’s career has come full circle.
“I came back working part-time in the academy and enjoyed it,’’ he said. “With the Elite Player Performance Plan coming in now, it’s meant a lot of coaching opportunities.
“It means I can come in full-time, it’s a massive risk financially for me personally, but you cannot turn things down like this.
“I could never live with myself if I didn’t take this opportunity and I’m so thankful for the chance.
“There’s a million footballers out there who will say the same – once you fall out of that circle, the phone doesn’t ring.
“You can be very isolated and, for me it’s all fallen back in place, now I want to kick things on.’’
And the club – and McGuckin’s philosophy – go hand in hand.
There’s no pressure on the prospects. If they want to join in the development center sessions and enjoy it, that’s all that matters. If they progress through the youth system, all the better.
“There’s so many good players here to work with,’’ admitted McGuckin. “Me and Gus Di Lella take the under-15s, but also oversee the other groups and the smooth running of the system. There’s so much more paperwork involved now with the EPPP!
“Then I’ve been looking at schools of excellence in the North-East for different levels and ability. It’s important to me, we want to work in the community, boys clubs, junior clubs and the like – not work against them, work with them.
“We have a good link-up with Brian Honour and his soccer school, it all ties in. Slowly we are gaining the trust of the clubs out there, we aren’t trying to snatch their players, they can still play each weekend for their teams.
“If one comes through then great, if not they get good coaching from a professional club. There’s a strong philosophy throughout the club that filters down from top to bottom.
“I’ve experienced the bigger clubs as a player and it isn’t always the answer.’’
Passing on those experiences to the kids is part of the role.
“You have to explain that to the boys,’’ he added. “It must be a really big decision to make if a big club is interested.
“There’s a constant battle to attract players, but that’s football at any level. If the kids are happy that’s all that matters.
“If players enjoy our coaching and coaches from a young age and are happy then I hope they won’t want to go to another club.
“If they do, then no problem, best of luck to them. Some come back, the system churns a lot of players out.
“It’s up to the boys to learn where they will enjoy their football best, the best place to make the most of their talents – and that could be with us, another club or another academy.
“It’s up to parents to guide them and help make a decision. You hope that when they are deciding, we are in high their thoughts.
“We have a scouting network spread out and a lot of that is voluntary work, which shows people are willing to help and are a godsend.
“Everyone is looking for the next big thing. The boy aged nine scoring every week isn’t always the one who makes it. Growth spurts – different conditions on games, a lot of factors come into play.’’
Few would have had McGuckin down as a thinker, someone who could shape the club’s future.
He’s not the only one to have changed. Victoria Park is a different place, with a successful recent football history. A different tale to the struggles he had to put up with.
“It’s a different club to the one I left and I came through the Garry Gibson era don’t forget,’’ he joked.
“You have seen so many clubs go under, a lot of our former rivals as well. Clubs have to be ran on a tight ship and this club is stable.
“It’s a pleasure to be back and it’s so much easier when you know faces and people want to catch up.
“I’m on my A Licence right now, want to get that finalised and move that side of my career on.
“This is just the start for the club with the EPPP and it can only benefit everyone. It’s exciting and that’s how it should be. It excited me, the project of developing the academy.’’
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