Interview: Adrian Whitbread – In His Own Words
While the NASL headlines have centered around the South Florida revival of the Ft Lauderdale Strikers and the reclaiming of the Rowdies moniker for Tampa Bay. Perhaps you have read up on the Jewel of Carolina’s Golden Triangle, the RailHawks losing their Head Coach Martin Rennie to the Vancouver Whitecaps, or saw that up in Minnesota the (formerly NSC) Stars claimed the first Soccer Bowl trophy, to the warbled lyrics of Oasis’s Wonderwall on YouTube. Maybe you have noticed that the Atlanta Silverbacks signed former Club America striker Reinaldo Navia, or even that the Eddies (FC Edmonton) will be getting a new Canadian rival in Ottowa in 2013.
While all this is going on, a storm has been brewing in the Islands. Quietly in Bayamon, Puerto Rico Colin Clarke and Adrian Whitbread assembled a team of locals peppered with some of the stars of the Caribbean and mainland alike that have hit the mainland with hurricane force. Since the duo took over the Islanders they have finished runners-up in both the USL and NASL, won the USSF sponsored Division II Professional league, the CFU Caribbean Club Cup twice in a row thus qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League, in which they stunned the LA Galaxy 4-1. Clarke left the Islanders in the off-season for the Carolina RailHawks, and the front office didn’t hesitate to offer the Number One Job to Adrian Whitbread whom they called “the first and only candidate”
I had the opportunity to speak to the current coach of the Puerto Rico Islanders, Adrian Whitbread. Coach Whitbread began his professional playing career in 1989 with Leyton Orient. He most notably put in a total of 259 appearances for Leyton Orient and Portsmouth (125 & 134 respectively). His playing career ended in 2003 due to a knee injury and Adrian immediately picked up coaching ultimately landing in Puerto Rico as assistant to the National Team and the (then USL) Puerto Rico Islanders in 2008 as assistant to Colin Clarke. He will now not only has the task of building a team in his image for the first time in the NASL, but he will have to compete with his former Number One on a regular basis as well.
I asked Adrian about the transition to the Gaffer role.
“the Number Two role suited me perfectly until recently,…all throughout my career a coach would leave and I would think what if ?, now I think I am ready for the challenge. Ones ambition changes over time. I think I have the respect of the players and I am ready for more responsibility.”
When speaking of his first few weeks in charge, you can hear the change in his voice when he says:
“..its been an exciting time, there are new responsibilities, agents and contracts and games to prepare and all that. Great fun, I am very excited to finish the roster and get this season started…”
We spoke at length about his relationship with his former number one Colin Clarke and whether he would continue on the same path or make some changes at the club. His answered quickly:
…if I changed a lot I would have to answer to the dressing room. The players would ask Why ?, and rightly so. with the success we have had these last four years. there will be changes but I can’t see changing things for the sake of it. If it isn’t broke, then don’t fix it will be the way to go here I think
The Islanders finished just 2 points behind regular season champions Carolina RailHawks last season. I asked coach Whitbread what he was going to do to make up those two points this season. He replied:
…in the end, we had players away on international duty and it never really gave us a chance. This season we will have a mixture of old and new. Some of the old players will get competition for their places and the new ones will bring a fresh outlook and some experience as well. I don’t foresee us having the same issues down the stretch.
I asked about his new-found rival and former Number One Colin Clarke. Specifically whether he thought either would have a leg up on the other because of their 4 years spent coaching together, you could almost hear the smile over the phone.
I just saw Colin in Kansas City (at the NSCAA convention) and spent some time with him. Our friendship will never change, that being said; we both want to win. I will have an idea of what he is doing as he will me. I hope to surprise him with a few ideas of my own. it will be great fun, before and after the match. When we step over the line on matchday it will be the same as any other opposition, the team and I will play to win.
We spoke briefly about his admittedly poor Spanish ans if it ever poses a problem for him while trying to communicate his ideas to his mainly Spanish speaking players. He joked:
They (the players) will occasionally take the Mickey outta me because my Spanish is “um porquito”, but it’s never an issue. I think I impose my personality, which is positive, in the dressing room and we share a mutual respect for the game. Many of the players are bilingual and sometimes it takes a little longer to get an idea across, I think its evident in our play that we understand each other well. We all share a common language…winning
I wrapped up the conversation asking Adrian what his idea of a successful 2012 season for the Islanders is. In the bat of an eye he replied:
My ambition is to win the lot. It has to be or the players would feel that. I very much want to win the CFU Caribbean Club Championship for a third consecutive time, both in its own right and so that we qualify for the CONCACAF Champions League again. I also believe we are strong enough to push further into that competition than we have in the past. The league, both regular season and the playoffs are both reasonable goals as well. So I want everything, just look at our past record and I have no reason to believe that those aren’t realistic ambitions for the club.
Coach Whitbread has his work cut out for him this season. Their season opener is April 7th and his roster doesn’t even has an entire first team confirmed, let alone the competition he speaks of. If past practice is anything to go by the Islanders will again be a force to be reckoned with.
This kicks off NASL Fridays here at UnionDues. Every Friday we will have NASL coverage, so “like” us on Facebook, Follow us on Twitter and subscribe for email updates to never miss a thing and be eligible to enter to win monthly giveaways.