Coaching for a Purpose: The Journey of Gibbo

An English-American finds new philosophy through his travels as a coach
by Austin Farrow   |   Monday, September 16, 2013

Americans Overseas – column on USA soccer players playing abroad for clubs outside of North America

Paul Andre Gibbons is a 59-year-old manager who has coached various people in various locations and in various situations.

Gibbons, or as many people call him “Gibbo,” has ever-changing destinations in football after coaching mostly in Florida and Georgia for years and in England before that. His circumstances in football have now changed and with these changes brings a new light to his mentality, world view and footballing philosophy.

England

Gibbo began his career in Walsall’s youth system and community program in Walsall, England. Two years later, he decided to test himself at a higher level by writing a letter to West Bromwich Albion.

“I met the chief scout on a Sunday morning at West Brom. I watched the team and they said come to training. I ended up coaching the U17 team. I ended up being the number one coach there,” Gibbo stated with relative ease.

This didn’t quite fulfill Gibbo however. He noticed something and was perplexed. And then an occurrence brought that something to thought. A group of parents approached him one day and said, “you’re the best coach we’ve had here since Nobby Stiles.” Being that Nobby Stiles was an English footballing legend, Gibbo was surely flattered but that’s not what concerned him.

“It upset me because I’m looking around at the other coaches thinking it’s not that I am great,” Gibbo states.

Gibbo looks back on his time in England as a very important point in his career. After coaching West Brom legends such as Lee Hughes and up to seven players who eventually signed professional contracts at the club, Gibbo was set to embark on a journey around the world.

United States

Years later, Gibbo found himself coaching in the United States under the coaching philosophy Coerver Coaching and eventually would reside in the States. Now, Gibbo is an American citizen and has coached in multiple areas of the country. There was one youth club in particular, in Georgia, which would be of interest to soccer fans in the United States. That club was AFC Lightning.

Gibbo came across 3 very promising and relevant talents in his time with AFC Lightning – former New England Revolution defender Marshall Leonard, United States legend Clint Mathis and current Houston Dynamo player Ricardo Clark. Gibbo found interest particularly in Leonard while he was coaching the U-15 team.

“That’s when I first started working in America. I saw this kid. He came up from Columbus,” Gibbo said.

Leonard was not there on trial however so Gibbo decided to take a look at Leonard on a personal basis.

“I saw Bryan Robson when he was 15 and said he’ll play for England one day and I said the same thing about Marshall Leonard,” says Gibbo.

With Gibbo seeing potential in Leonard much like he did in former Manchester United player Robson, he decided that Leonard would be better suited playing on the U18 squad, where Mathis was.

Gibbo recalled a humorous story concerning Mathis while he was with AFC Lightning. The club would occasionally go to the Flint River where there was a nearby campground. The players would have breakfast and do team building through activities such as kayaking, running and playing soccer.

“We spent a week down there. When Clint Mathis got home, (he) left his bag in his bedroom and there was a snake in his bag,” recalls Gibbo.

Despite Mathis’ inability to notice that he had traveled with a snake in his bag, he had a keen ability on the field, which led to him arguably becoming one of the best American soccer players ever.

Leonard, who went on to play roughly 3 seasons in MLS before having to retire because of injury, seemingly had similar potential to Mathis. Leonard played several times for United States youth teams and it was time for him to make a name for himself as a professional player.

“I took him off to Man City and they wanted to sign him,” said Gibbo.

Gibbo also listed his former club, West Brom, as a suitor. However, Leonard had no European passport and did not meet requirements for a work permit so his trials in Europe led to nothing but interest.

“We then brought him back to Lightning and then he went to play for the New England Revolution,” Gibbons said. “A couple years later, there was a kid named Ricardo Clark coming through.”

Gibbo had a hand in molding some of the greatest names in current United States soccer. He has also taught the game to hundreds of other children across the world. His exploits had not gone unnoticed. Gibbo recently found himself training youth for one of the most prestigious clubs in the world, Barcelona.

“They were doing camps and they were looking for coaches so I sent my resume in and was accepted,” he said. “I did one week at one in Tampa. Then (I did) two weeks at one at UCF.”

Gibbo was intrigued working with Catalonians. He respected the culture and their outlook on life and referred to them as “humble.” The product on the field doesn’t stray far from the Catalonian mindset. Gibbo preaches that the Catalonian method is that of a down-to-earth nature. The footballing strategy of mass-possession is not only shared by Barcelona on the field but off of it as well. There’s a deeply instilled feeling of pride and working together in order to accomplish goals within the culture. This perhaps makes it easier for Barcelona to play the way they do. When Gibbo worked in the Barcelona camps in Florida, he found that it didn’t come as easy to Americans.

“The American kids got bored with it because it was just possession. It was keep away in different forms,” Gibbo stated.

With coaching various people across the world, comes the realization that people sometimes have to relate to something to understand it. Different walks of life relate to different things. Gibbo believes that American sports like basketball and baseball are the reason why some Americans find it hard to relate to possession.

“I’ve juggled with this and come to a conclusion. Americans play basketball and (shoot) into one hoop and it’s an instant result. There’s a shot there. There’s no midfield. It’s all one-on-ones. There’s maybe a give-and-go with a player but there’s no midfield build up. Basketball is an end result,” says Gibbo.

Because of a less complex approach in American sports, Gibbo finds that it is difficult for kids, in particular, to understand the concept of drawing defenders out as Barcelona does. Gibbo will be able to teach the concept of possession again in the near future. He has been invited to Barcelona in late Feb. 2014. Gibbo will be going from Zimbabwe, to South Africa and then to Barcelona at the start of 2014.

Africa

When you coach for as long as Gibbo has, you are bound to have connections from all over the world. One of those connections, being from Zimbabwe, introduced Gibbo to 2 clubs – Ubuntu Football and Maningi Youth Project of the Zimbabwe and South Africa region of Africa.

Ubuntu, in English, roughly translates to human kindness. Human kindness is roughly the purpose of the clubs. Maningi, for example, teaches underprivileged children in remote areas of Zimbabwe. Gibbo, who is the global director of football for these clubs, stays in Cape Town, South Africa and commutes to Zimbabwe when he takes trips to Africa.

“The first thing that hit me when I was in Zimbabwe was a U12 team. Ive never seen so many talented players on one field,” recalls Gibbo.

Just as Catalonians relate to possession and teamwork as a way of life, similar tactics of relation are used in these clubs. Gibbo has also worked in Botswana, directly west of Zimbabwe and north of South Africa. In Botswana, he worked in an after school program. Due to Africa’s vast make-up of surrounding wildlife, the after school program focused on relating football to wildlife. They would use examples of how an impala survives or how cheetahs and lions search for prey.

“An impala survives because they’re quick. They are always looking for stuff,” says Gibbo. “So I (ask the) kids, are you always on the lookout for good stuff and bad stuff? They eat healthy and exercise, is that important to you guys? They can’t help but eat healthy and exercise because that’s all they got. When they escape, they change direction. So then we go outside and we do lots of changing direction games in soccer where you guys are the impalas and you two are the lions. They get it.”

Whilst in Florida, Gibbo found that the tactics he used in Africa were successful in a session with a U12 girls’ team.

“I was in the center and there were 4 cones around me. It was attack against defense. Whoever has the ball just has to try and pass the ball to me. It was okay,” says Gibbo.

It wasn’t working the way he wanted it to, however. Gibbo then told the girls of how he did the same drill in Africa.

“I was the little baby buffalo. When you’re defending, the mommy buffalo is protecting her child. The guys with the ball are the lions,” Gibbo told the girls. “Within a minute, you should have seen the difference. It was emotional to them. They could smell the blood and the cries and you should have seen them defending.”

Gibbo is currently striving to make professional players out of the underprivileged in southern Africa. The meaning to coaching has increased and expanded now that Gibbo coaches the impoverished of southern Africa. The work done in these clubs has resulted in 5 players going for European trials. One player is now with the Sundown FC youth team. The Sundown FC 1st team competes in the South African Premier League. Though Gibbo and the staff of these clubs will do what it takes to make professional players out of those with talent, there is still much hope regardless. Eight scholarships will be awarded to specific players in order to go to private schools and if professional football plans fall through, college in America will be pursued.

“It’s pretty spiritual bringing these kids up in the right way,” says Gibbo. “We’re giving them a chance.”

Gibbons has gained a great amount of experience on his journey across multiple countries. The examination of cultures within various European countries, the United States and Africa has not only made him more knowledgeable but has made him more determined than ever.

“It’s given me another injection,” Gibbo claims. “It’s coaching for a purpose now.”

Austin FARROW

Nationality:
USA
College:
Indian River State
Club Domestic:
All MLS clubs
Club Foreign:
Manchester City
Bringing you news on soccer players across MLS and American players playing in top leagues around the world, Austin is a journalism major who enjoys the fine arts. He doesn't favor one club over another, but just enjoys all MLS play.
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