Jeff Wood cuts the figure of a man on a clear mission. But as the Head Coach of the Gibraltar national side, his life isn’t quite as simple as it sounds.
It befits that of a luminary, at least in the provincial community of the British-owned colony, beginning to make waves, or at least ripples on the glossy surface of European football.
Responsible for the nurturing of young talent, the former Charlton Athletic player also coordinates the coach education programme in Gibraltar, liaising with the FAW (Football Association of Wales) ensuring the progress and sterling work so far isn’t halted.
In recent years, Gibraltar’s footballing image has experienced somewhat of an ascension in Europe, aided by the likes of Lincoln Red Imps and Europa both of whom produced shock wins in the Champions League against Celtic and TNS respectively, something which Wood recognises.
“Football here has taken massive strides forward, especially since full UEFA membership was attained.
“So many people worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure the Gibraltar bid was successful.
“This was continued until our FIFA membership was confirmed in 2016. Competition at league level has increased again with our top clubs competing in Champions league and Europa League qualifiers.
“Clubs as well as the national team now embrace all aspects of sports science.”
Without a doubt, there is obvious evidence to suggest this is working. The vast majority of footballers in Gibraltar, who ply their trade in the country’s domestic leagues, like many small, peripheral countries don’t have the luxury of being able to do it on a full-time basis, which is further testament of recent achievements.
Consistent with most countries now, youth development has become paramount for the continued evolution of the sport in Gibraltar to ensure successful sustainability; a target that Wood propagates passionately.
“There are some incredibly talented young players in Gibraltar and we now need to provide them with the level of coaching and competition required to be successful at professional level.”
“We are already providing exit routes for these talented players with clubs at appropriate levels when our players move to the UK for their university degrees.”
As has been seen recently, national success at youth level can have significant impact on a country’s achievements at senior status.
Establishing this in Gibraltar was seen as a necessary step and gives young players coming through the ranks at the country’s clubs a reason to keep developing and learning, even if they don’t start regularly for their clubs.
“I think that with the introduction of our Under-21 team, who are now competing in UEFA qualifiers, we have a seamless programme where we can develop our players and challenge them with the demands of international football.”
While there might be a considerable way to go to get to the desired standards, it is a step-by-step process and Wood’s methodical, highly structured approach to coaching and management highlights his emphatic enthusiasm for the game, which in the long-term will only be beneficial.
On the subject of organic and sustainable growth, Wood’s stance clearly outlines his vision:
“We are striving to introduce a full and comprehensive football programme in Gibraltar.
“Providing players, coaches and clubs with the opportunity to fulfil their potential.
“I think we will continue to progress due to the hard work and knowledge of everyone involved in football in Gibraltar. Can we produce players and coaches who can ply their trade in Europe’s major leagues? That would be a massive step forwards to producing a more competitive environment both here and abroad.”
His coaching philosophy is remarkably refreshing and the acknowledgement that football keeps moving forward and recognising how it does ensures that on the training pitch, his players are equipped to deal with the ever-changing demands of current football.
“I think you will find most modern day coaches believe that there is always something new to bring to the team and individual.
“Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp to name just two; I have had the pleasure of spending four days with Guardiola at both Barcelona and Man City.”
One might wonder what the day-to-day life of a national football team manager is like. It isn’t too dissimilar from the likes of England boss Gareth Southgate – though with much less travelling.
In fact, it suits Wood’s highly detailed approach to coaching and no stone is left unturned.
“Due to the gaps between internationals, time away from the camps is spent analysing team and individual performances both of our players and the opposition.
“This involves hours of endlessly watching games and paying due attention to every small detail.
“There are many meetings with players providing them with the stats of their performances and encouraging reflective practice, for example ‘if I could do that again would I do the same thing, if not what could I do to improve my involvement in those situations?’ This I feel is vital to the improvement of players and coaches.”
With 474 appearances at professional level and a UEFA Pro License coach, Wood, an obvious student of the game, is ideally positioned to speak about the evolution of football and understands what it takes to succeed.
“I think football is developing at all levels, there are many forward-thinking coaches and as I said I think it is the fine details that make the difference between success and failure.”
“I like to think that I am continually studying and developing as a coach and will never believe that I know enough.”
As the adage goes, you never stop learning and for Wood, this is no different. With the continued development of football in Gibraltar at the forefront of his mind, it is obvious that he continues to strive for excellence; a sure-fire sign that the country’s football is in safe hands (Wood was a goalkeeper).