Domain Registration

Michael Essien and John Utaka chasing coaching dream in Europe

  • April 25, 2023

“I think it’s just a matter of time before you start seeing our generation of footballers becoming top-level coaches [in Europe],” Michael Essien told DW.

A former Ghana international who enjoyed an illustrious career spanning more than 20 years playing for the likes of Chelsea, Real Madrid and AC Milan, Essien is one of many recently retired African footballers exploring coaching opportunities around Europe. It’s a path few former African stars have explored. 

After he retired in 2020, Essien was invited by Danish Superliga club FC Nordsjaelland owner Tom Vernon to take up a role in the team’s backroom staff as he started training as a coach. It was there he discovered his joy in nurturing young players.

Though the opportunities available to African coaches are few, he believes they will arise. “If you are smart enough and you have a passion for the game and still want to do something in and around the sport, the opportunities will come,” Essien said.

African coaches: Where the #equalgame ends

To view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a web browser that supports HTML5 video

Life after football

When DW visited, Essien was seated at breakfast with five young African players in the expansive Right to Dream campus in Farum, roughly 40 minutes by train from Copenhagen. It was not lost on the youngsters whose presence they were in as they discussed the previous day’s game while eating toast, drinking juice and laughing warmly.

Essien played for Ghana at two FIFA World Cups, helping the Black Stars to reach the round of 16 at their first-ever appearance in Germany in 2006. His global fame came at Chelsea, where he played under Jose Mourinho as a central midfielder, helping the club to win two Premier League titles, one Champions League and five FA Cups.

Essien could have chosen a plushier life higher up the football pyramid, but wanted to stay more connected to the game. “What I hate in my life is politics. I don’t think I will ever get involved at the political level,” he said.

“I’m doing my badges because I love being around the players on the pitch, and I stay very close to them, talking to them, giving them advice and stuff like that. It makes me happy, rather than sitting in the office or on the phone talking to people.”

Essien got his UEFA A and UEFA Elite Youth coaching licenses this year and is now working toward his UEFA Pro license, which would enable him to pick up first-team coaching roles.

“People think that because you’ve been a professional player at the highest levels, it is easy to get into coaching, but it’s totally different. That’s why I have managed to take my time and take it day by day,” he said.

Utaka’s dream

John Utaka’s path to coaching was anything but predictable. He won the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008 before returning to France to play at Montpellier HSC. He scored two goals in a title-deciding game that won them their only Ligue 1 title in 2012 ahead of giants PSG.

John UTAKA Fußballspieler HSC Montpellier
Utaka has returned to Montpellier where he won them a Ligue 1 title in 2012Image: augenklick/firo/Sportphotopicture alliance

After he retired from football, the former Nigeria striker started his academy before being hired as an assistant coach in the Montpellier U19s in 2020. He gained his UEFA A license in 2022 and is now working toward his UEFA Pro badge.

“If the opportunity comes to coach a team in Europe, I will embrace it,” Utaka said. “My dream is to win the trophies that I didn’t win as a player. I want to win them as a coach. We’ve never had an African coach win the Champions League. That is a goal for me.”

Every morning, Utaka helps the young players at Montpellier improve their craft. He regularly works with the strikers to achieve better results. He loves it and would like to do it on a bigger scale when the time comes.

“It is all about being consistent. You keep learning and keep pushing and put everything in it. It is a team sport, and you need people to push you and recommend you,” he said.

Whither the opportunity for African coaches?

When given the opportunity, African coaches have shown they can be winners. In 2020, former Nigeria goalkeeper Emmanuel Egbo led FK Tirana to the league title in Albania. It was the first time an African coach had achieved such a feat in Europe.

Others like Sunday Oliseh, Kolo Toure, Radhi Jaidi, Mbaye Leye and Omar Daf have all taken up head coaching roles to varying degrees of success in European clubs. Yet, these opportunities are not easy to come by.

“When you get your chances, you have to take them,” said Utaka. “We have to persist, we cannot lose hope. We have to push and push. Football is a team sport, and we have to work together and learn from others.”

Edited by: James Thorogood

Article source:

Related News


Get best offer
%d bloggers like this: