By Ross Hutton
‘Michael Beale! Blow us a kiss?’
This was the request from one enthusiastic bear as the Rangers first team coach walked into the Tony Macaroni Arena before the team took on Livingston in early November. A laughing and slightly embarrassed looking Beale duly obliged, much to the delight of the crowd cheering the team into the stadium.
That day Rangers would go on to beat Livingston 2-0 thanks to goals from two of the brightest young talents in the Scottish game: Joe Aribo and Alfredo Morelos. A blistering strike capping-off off a lovely Rangers move from Aribo coupled with a superb finish into the far corner of the net from a tight angle from Morelos.
On paper, these two young men could not be more different. There is little commonality between growing up in South London and South America. However, at the age of just 23 these players are united in the fact that they are living miles away from their homes and their comfort zones, at a very early stage of their adulthood. For a 23-year-old to shoulder the pressure of away from home to any football team is one thing, but to shoulder that pressure when you carry the weight of one of the expectant fan bases in the world is quite another. To enable that potential to flourish you cannot just be a coach that is a developer of players – you need to be a developer of people.
That is where Michael Beale comes in.
You see, Michael Beale is not your run of the mill coach at a football club. He boasts a highly successful and deeply intriguing coaching CV with spells at the academies of both Chelsea and Liverpool before a stint as the assistant manager at Brazilian Club Sao Paulo working under the club legend Rodrigo Ceni. Throughout his career he’s coached some of the best young talent in the world that are starting to establish themselves on the biggest stage; Trent Alexander-Arnold, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Tammy Abraham to name a few.
However, this is not alone in what makes Beale standout from other young British coaches of the day. Further to his day job he is a published author who has written books on various coaching subjects such as attacking and defensive drills, the ultimate warm up and a ‘manual’ on how to coach young players to play ‘Total Football’ inspired by the revolution in Dutch football in the 1970’s (having once described Johan Cruyff as the ‘lighthouse’ for his coaching philosophy).
Furthermore, in an era of clubs and their staff keeping their cards as close to their chests as possible, Beale is as open as the books he writes. He is more than happy to sit and be interviewed explaining his ideas and footballing philosophy to the world (shameless plug for the H&H Interview here). It is his view that coaches should be discussing ways to develop the game further in order to constantly improve both themselves and their players.
Such is Beale’s commitment to sharing and explaining ideas that he recently joined in a discussion with fans on twitter to explain Rangers tactical formation that we’ve played with this season. The concept of a first team coach doing such a thing is not only alien to most clubs around the world – it would horrify them.
But what are his ideas exactly? How did Michael Beale go from coaching in church halls in Bromley to the side-lines of the Maracanã to subsequently advising Steven Gerrard as a Rangers coach in a football stadium named after an Italian restaurant chain? In this article, we will do a deep dive into the life and career of the Rangers first team coach, the man once described as ‘the mastermind of youth coaching’.
Starting Out: 2001-2002
Beale started out his career as a left winger. Once describing himself as ‘a really bad Chris Waddle’ (with the haircut to boot) he was good one the ball with a solid left foot however he admits his lack of Arial ability let him down. After spells with Charlton and FC Twente in the Netherlands, he was forced to cut his playing career short at the age of just 20 and with his confidence and love of the game at an all time low, Beale decided to try his hand at coaching. His view of how he would be as a coach was fundamentally influenced by his own playing days from day one with a determination to ‘never let the kid feel how I felt at the end’. Forever ambitious, Beale not only dreamed of being a manager by the time he was 40 but also to manage a team outside of the UK.
Beale had always had a fascination for South American football and that was reflected in his next move after leaving the game as a player. Beale paid £32 to hire a church hall in his hometown of Bromley, charging £4 a child to learn Futebol de Salão (futsal). Despite the reasonable pricing and promise of being coached by a former footballer, only three children turned up to the first lesson.
The reason this particular brand of coaching appealed to Beale for a number of reasons. The first being the fact that it could be done indoors and is therefore unaffected by adverse weather conditions. The second reason is because of the individual aspect attributed to it stating, ‘If every individual player gets better than naturally the collective is stronger’ adding ‘it was about an individual with a ball, learning skills, which is something I loved to do when I played’. This helped Beale reignite his passion for football and he fell in love with coaching.
After cutting his teeth for 6 months in the church hall, Beale was offered a part time position with his boyhood club in 2002 by his good friend and former Chelsea player Damion Mathew. Beale was initially tasked with working with children in his local area between the ages of six and nine, an age-group Beale has described as ‘innocent’ due to the kids playing purely because of their love of the game before they are exposed to the commercialised nature of modern football. It was the foot in the door that Beale needed to show his coaching prowess and particularly impressed in adapting his coaching style during a time of significant change at the club.
Beale was present during the summer of 2003 when Roman Abramovich poured his billions into Chelsea to become the owner of the club. Accompanying the takeover was Abramovich’s ruthless desire for success and he gained notoriety for showing little patience with managers who did not meet his lofty expectations. In Beale’s decade at the club, he worked under no less than eight different permanent managers, all with various coaching styles and footballing philosophies.
‘During my time at Chelsea, there was a lot of change in terms of the man at the top’ says Beale. ‘When a new manager comes in, the Under-18s and Under-23s have to adapt because they’re the teams you’re trying to get players out of into the first team. The teams managers might keep an eye on’.
‘The first time around, Jose Mourinho was very interesting in that respect. He shared a lot with the academy in terms of what he was looking for. And Carlo Ancelotti was fantastic. Sometimes he’d come in and explain his plans for a game that was coming up. As a young coach, I was fascinated by it’.
Despite the constant managerial position of flux at the club Beale stated that nobody could tamper with the coaching structure of the academy. This allowed Beale to play a key role in shaping many of the established premier league talents that we see today, coaching both Tammy Abraham and Dominic Solanke at Under-7s level.
Being a youth coach in a club famed in the past for not giving youth a chance may seem initially like a fruitless endeavour but Beale sees it on a wider scale, stating previously that the lack of opportunities given to young players isn’t just a problem exclusive to Chelsea but in his own words is in fact ‘a football problem’. He describes there being a ‘bottleneck’ of players in the English Premier League between established pros and foreign signings that hamper the chances of a young player breaking into the first XI. He has seen first-hand the damage it can do to a player’s confidence if there is no upward mobility at a club and realises the responsibility he has to ‘open the door’ for the next generation of players. These values are currently being displayed at Rangers with youngsters Nathan Patterson and Kai Kennedy both making their first team debuts this season, showing both them and other young players not only that there is a pathway to the first team but also that the management are serious about giving young players an opportunity.
It was, however, this problem of a glass ceiling to youth development at Chelsea that ultimately disheartened Beale.
‘You need to put yourself in the position of the parent… I reached a point where, when it came to recruitment, maybe I wasn’t believing what I was saying to parents anymore. After all, they see what we see – players not getting through’.
‘My wife thought I was joking when I came home from work one day and said I was leaving Chelsea to go to Liverpool’.
A decade after Beale had joined Chelsea, he was feeling like he needed something more. His new job opportunity came as him and his wife were facing their own fresh challenge as new parents to their first son Henry. It would have been convenient at that time (dare say even easy) for Beale to remain at Chelsea and pick up a significantly higher salary than he got at Liverpool, but It was his natural desire to challenge both himself and his philosophy that drove him to Merseyside.
‘At Chelsea, I felt we had the best players’, so we all won. Every coach won. I’d started asking myself: were we winning, or were the players winning for us? I needed to explore that’.
While there was a culture around Chelsea the time of not giving youth a chance, the opposite could be said of Liverpool. This is a club with a proud history of bringing through their young players into the first team which in turn has created a fanbase that demands homegrown talent on a regular basis. In the recent past the youth academy has produced world-class players like Jaime Carragher and Steven Gerrard (anyone know what he’s doing now by the way?) and has recently produced Trent Alexander-Arnold and the highly exciting Curtis Jones.
Living in a city that is consumed by football gave Beale the experience he would later need to deal with the goldfish-bowl of Glasgow. ‘You feel the noise of the fans’ he said. ‘You feel how they’re feeling’.
His first day on the job as the U23 coach was spent by watching the younger age groups play to get a feel for the entire academy and identifying the talents of a young right back in the U14s that Beale was immediately impressed with. That particular right back is now a European champion and is nailed on to have a Premier League winners medal around his neck in the near future.
It was at Liverpool when Beale learned arguably the most important lesson of his coaching career so far. He realised that the key to him successfully developing young players wasn’t down as much to his knowledge of the game, but in fact how he managed the relationships of the people around him and how he could motivate them to push their boundaries.
Part of developing this relationship with the young players is ensuring that they were comfortable in the city. Beale was aware of the huge step a lot of young players were taking by moving away from their family for the first time. In order to get to know the players better, Beale started a Liverpool version of Come Dine with Me where young players moving into their first apartment would have Beale and his assistant round to cook them a three-course meal within the first 2 months living there. This light-hearted ice breaker coupled with Beale’s efforts to study opening questioning and conversation techniques allowed him to build the relationships with players like Alexander-Arnold and Dominic Solanke that has enabled them to grow into established Premier League players.
Sao Paulo: 2017
Rodrigo Ceni Is a legend in Brazil. A one club man who made a decorated 1,198 appearances for Sao Paulo as a goalkeeper in which he won the league title three times along with a Copa Libertadores and the Club World Cup. Ceni was capped 16 times by Brazil, was in the 2002 World Cup Winning squad and is second only to Peter Shilton for the most ever appearances made by a single player in their career. However, he was most notably remembered for scoring 131 goals in his career as, despite being a goalkeeper, he was a dead ball specialist with free-kicks and penalties.
His paths crossed with Michael Beale in the winter of 2016 when a recently retired Ceni was in the UK taking an FA course for his coaching badges. While in the country he had arranged to meet some of the top coaches in the country at the time in order to discuss the game and broaden his ideas. These names included the likes of the then Chelsea manager Antonio Conte, Claudio Ranieri, Slaven Bilic and Jurgen Klopp. Beale was recommended to Ceni as one of the top youth coaches in the country and Ceni arranged to come observe Beale taking a session with the Liverpool U23s. After the session Ceni and Beale discussed their philosophies about football at length over lunch and the following evening Lucas Leiva, Phillippe Coutinho and Roberto Firmino spoke fondly of Beale while having dinner with Ceni (who knew them from his days as an assistant coach with the Brazilian national team).
In December 2016 Ceni was offered the job as the manager of Sao Paulo and having been so impressed with both his style and ideas, he offered Beale the role of his assistant in Brazil.
Beale admitted that while it was a lifelong ambition to coach abroad, he felt this challenge had come prematurely in his career. However, any doubts were dispelled when Beale flew to Brazil and was immediately hooked by the size of the club and the passion of the fanbase.
As seen with his move from Chelsea to Liverpool, Beale is the kind of person that is constantly looking for the next way to push himself to the next level. ‘Any good period in my life has coincided with me being in a learning zone’ Beale said, ‘out there, I was in a huge learning zone’. At Sao Paulo he saw the opportunity to take himself out of his comfort zone and knew it was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up.
Before leaving for the job role Beale took 17 hours of Portuguese lessons in a fortnight in preparation for language barrier. He claimed that once he was in Brazil though he was happy to converse without any further lessons, leaning the language in a more organic way with an ability to laugh at himself when he would mess up a word or sentence.
Beale started his new role as Ceni’s assistant in January 2017 and immediately began immersing himself in the culture and trying to build relationships with the players in the team using his open conversation techniques. In doing so he realised that there was a fundamental difference between the Brazilian players and the English players. Beale has described it as the difference between ‘needing’ and just ‘wanting’ to become a footballer. In Brazil the only hope the players had for a decent life was through football, they needed that route out of the poverty in order to help their family financially whereas for the most part this was not the case for young English players who just want to be a footballer for the lifestyle.
Beale was introduced to his first taste of a proper derby day when Sao Paulo met Corinthians in the final of the Florida Cup. Despite this being just a ‘friendly’ tournament, both teams had a man sent off in the first half before Sao Paulo eventually won 4-3 on penalties. Anther first for Beale was passion the fans would show for their team, with 20,000 fans awaiting the team bus arriving at the stadium before their first home game of the season. The personal highlight of his time in Brazil came on the 15th February when Sao Paulo won 3-1 In the Urbano Calderia Stadium – the stadium where Pele played.
However, Beale found it hard being separated from his young family for long periods of time on end. Towards the end of his time in Brazil, Beale spoke about the difficulty of going months without seeing his family and described that pressure as greater than anything he felt in a footballing sense.
The manic schedule of fixture congestion has also prepared Beale well for life at Rangers, with Sao Paulo needing to play 7 games in 21 days at one point between a state and national championship. He had a dream start to the role only losing 1 of his first 20 games but with the Brazilian season running during the European transfer window the hierarchy saw an opportunity to try and alleviate some of the clubs debt by selling 9 first team players.
With this came a drop in results that was to prove terminal for Ceni’s premiership and he was sacked just 7 months into the job in July along with Beale, who returned to Liverpool as a coach.
Despite the disappointing end to his time there Beale remains upbeat about his experiences in Sao Paulo saying ‘In the end I was there for seven months. But it was seven months of leaning every singe day. Seven months of developing into a more confident coach’.
‘At first, I did everything I could to stay out of Steven Gerrard’s way’.
Those were the worlds of Michael Beale describing life working in the Liverpool academy with Gerrard (then the U18s coach and ironically doing the one job Beale never done in all his time working in academies). They didn’t talk much then and if they did their conversations were constrained to brief discussions about a young player in one of their teams.
It was the end of April and the rumours had started flying around that Steven Gerrard was in talks with Rangers to be the next manager of the club.
‘Just the previous day, someone at Liverpool had said he was going to ask me to go with him. I’d laughed it off. Then, one morning, he called me. I didn’t even know the number. He asked if I fancied meeting up for a coffee. Said he wanted to pick my brains on a few things’.
Over coffee Beale was offered the role as the first team coach of Rangers. He expressed his reservations about jumping straight into another role like that with the memory of Brazil still very fresh in the mind. Beale claimed that he was going to think about it over the weekend and discuss it with his family. The reality was his mind was already made up, saying ‘I never actually got as far as speaking to my wife’.
Another chance to take himself out of his comfort zone into one of the most challenging jobs in British football? How could Beale say no?
As was said at the start, Michael Beale is no ordinary coach. He has an exceptional talent for man management that has followed him from Bromley to Brazil and is regarded highly everywhere he goes. His knack spotting and developing some of the best talent in the world is unrivalled in British football as is his addiction to learning. There is not a personal boundary that Michael Beale will not push in order to develop himself and that translates into his coaching style on the training ground.
His experiences in the UK and South America have given him invaluable experience that is helping one of the brightest talents in Scottish Football develop and flourish. Beale understands that Alfredo Morelos needs to be a footballer in the same way the players he coached in Brazil needed to be a footballer. The experience of the culture in Brazil meant that when arriving at the club Beale was able to understand Morelos in different ways to his previous managers because he understood the culture from which he came. This is a prime example of the quality of both Beale’s coaching and man-management working hand in hand to improve both the player and the person.
He is enjoying his role with Rangers, developing both our senior pros and the next generation of players. In the future Beale still has ambitions to manage a team of his own but since he turns 40 this September, he has said that this plan is on the backburner. But you never know. I can envisage him in brown brogues and a club tie in the future. Can you?
“Give them the ball and set them free. Young players have a great way of working the rest out for themselves” – Michael Beale