Jason Euell decided honesty was the best policy. Although he has known challenging times, there was no point in hiding parts of himself if he was going to nail his interview for the job as assistant coach of England’s Under-18s. “We’ve all been through different chapters,” Euell says. “Not everybody’s going to have a fairytale journey.”
Euell is thinking about the final stage of the interview with the Football Association: the lifelines section. He spoke about his mother, who was a single parent, and how his uncle was his male role model. The 43-year-old talked about going bankrupt after a property venture went south in 2010 and explained how highs often accompanied lows, recalling how tragedy struck after he scored twice for Charlton against West Ham in 2001. “The next afternoon my girlfriend, now my wife, is going through labor and has a stillbirth,” Euell says.
As he thinks back, Euell remembers entering the Crazy Gang environment after joining Wimbledon as a 12-year-old. He calls it “the school of hard knocks” and says it made him a man. Impressed, the FA hired him and has since promoted him to the Under-20s, assisting Lee Carsley.
The former Wimbledon and Charlton striker is developing. His coaching journey began at Charlton’s academy and he has risen through the ranks, becoming their Under-23s coach. His success is highly visible: he has played a part in the development of Liverpool’s Joe Gomez and Fulham’s Ademola Lookman.
Euell understands sacrifice. “I always say to my players that I’m not going to sugarcoat,” he explains. “We do a player-care program with the 23s, this is our third year now, and I actually found my lifeline with the FA helped in a way of, ‘I’m putting all my cards on the table’. The dream is not going to happen for all of them and that’s where I’ve got to give them the reality. I’ve always been good at talking to people.”
Euell stays in contact with his old players. While Gomez was never fazed, Lookman was given to self-doubt. “Someone that beats himself up if he makes a mistake,” Euell says. “That was one of the things I had to work on with him.”
He was in touch with Lookman after his botched penalty against West Ham last month. “It’s building relationships,” he says. “I’m still speaking to some of the boys I had from [Charlton] Under-16s that didn’t continue as a pro. If I’ve played a part in someone having a career, I always go: ‘Brilliant.’”
As Euell opens up, he considers the challenges of handling the different personalities in his squad. Asked how many parts he has to play, he says: “Coach, manager, role model, mentor, big brother, uncle, friend, dad.” It sounds draining but Euell understands the long-term benefits.
“That’s giving me that head start into what management would look like,” he says. “Nothing is going to get you ready for first-team football because it’s a different animal ... but I’m trying to emulate what’s it going to look like with the boys I’ve been working with.”
Man-management is key. “I sometimes say that football takes care of itself, it’s all the other shit that comes with it, which is parents, agents, peer pressure, social media, and gaming,” Euell says. “That comes on top of them looking to be as good as they can.
“We look at the person heavily, not just what the player’s like. It is important that you get a good group dynamic because we want to be competitive. One or two are going to be a little bit more difficult than others but then that’s the getting to know them. A lot of it could be things happening at home.”
Football has changed since Euell’s Wimbledon days. The Crazy Gang culture would not be compatible with the Elite Player Performance Plan. “I had to tone it down quite a lot to what it would have been like at Wimbledon,” Euell says. “It’s what made me the person I am and it’s how you use those experiences. I’m going to have to change those words. A lot of these boys are more delicate.”
Euell remembers being a young player at Wimbledon and not doing a job properly with his partner, Shaun Fleming. “We had to decide whose fault it was, which we didn’t,” he says. “The boys said: ‘If you can’t sort it out, we will.’ On Wimbledon Common there’s a little river and it’s like a Gladiators thing, there’s a branch across the stream, and we are both sitting on this and we have to try and slap each other off.”
These days Euell just surprises his players with punishing runs. One thing that has not changed, though, are the barriers faced by black coaches. Only five clubs in the top four divisions in England employ BAME managers.
“I want to pave the way for the next generation but I can only pave that way by getting to that level I want to get to,” Euell says. “There’s not enough opportunity. It’s very easy to go with experience. You only get that experience by getting that opportunity.
“I’ve always said that I wouldn’t put my name in the hat just for the sake of it. For your first job you have to make sure, hopefully, it is the right job. I want to put my name in the hat knowing this is where I’m going to sell myself to the best of my ability. If I just throw my name in for every job, for jobs that I don’t want, I don’t want it to look like a statistic: ‘Well, Jason Euell’s put his name in the hat, he didn’t get it, but that’s fine – we had a black coach apply.’”
Euell has gone for two jobs. The second application earned him an interview. “The phone call I got the next day was choosing to go in a different direction,” he says. “When that person did get the job, I was surprised. It was against the remit of the manager they wanted.”
The experience has not put Euell off. He talks about hearing from people in high-pressure situations in the real world when he was studying for his pro license.
“It was about how to deal with pressure in a hostile environment,” Euell says. “It’s the manager on the touchline and you’ve got the away fans behind you in the dugout and they’re screaming. How do you block all of that out and make that decision?
“People think Under-23s is no pressure, it’s about development. I squash all that. Under-23 football is about winning. I’ve got to get these boys ready for men’s football. I never felt pressure playing as it was something I wanted to do. In this journey that’s where I’m setting my goal: to manage at the highest level.
“I look at the what-if scenarios. There’s not the noise around you that can unsettle those decisions but I have to make them. You want it to be the right one. If it’s not, you reflect and learn. I’m trying to prepare myself as much as I can within my environment.”