Meet the international boss who’d aim to lead Ipswich Town to the Premier League within two years
- Credit: Archant
Taiwan manager Gary White believes he should be considered for the Ipswich Town job. STUART WATSON spoke to the ambitious 43-year-old about his globe-trotting journey.
Gary White – the most successful English international boss you have probably never heard of – believes he should be part of the conversation regarding the vacant Ipswich Town manager’s job.
The ambitious 43-year-old has catapulted four island minnows – the British Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Guam and Taiwan – up the FIFA rankings, transforming the fortunes of nations that had become accustomed to losing by cricket scores.
He’s had stops at clubs in Australia, the USA and China along the way. He is one of a select group of people with the FA’s Elite Coaches Award and made the final three for the England Under-21 job last year.
And now, following a two-decade globe-trotting odyssey, White is ready for Europe to know his name as he boldly sets his sights on one day taking charge of the Three Lions.
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Speaking exclusively to the EADT and Ipswich Star, the former winger, who dedicated himself to the art of coaching after being released by hometown club Southampton as a youngster, explained: “Not a lot of people look to Asia for success stories or appreciate the achievements of British managers who go abroad.
“In what other business does a manager spend millions, fail, get sacked and then walk straight into another top job? It’s frustrating that happens in football, and that younger, creative, passionate people with fresh ideas get overlooked, but I am not bitter. It just makes me more driven.”
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Since taking charge of Taiwan last September, White has overseen six victories from seven to lead a nation ‘not used to winning’ up to their highest-ever ranking of 121.
Loving life in East Asia with his Chinese wife Yu Rui and two-year-old son Flash, he said: “I’d only be interested in going to a club that has a developmental mindset – and Ipswich seems like a club that you could grow.
“It’s a club with a big history and there will always be pressure on a coach because of that. This may sound bold, but in 20 years I want people to talk about me in the same terms that they do with the likes of Sir Bobby Robson and Sir Alf Ramsey now.
“My goal is to follow in the footsteps of your great leaders and become England manager one day. If I was at Ipswich I’d be looking to reach the Premier League within two years.
“I’m not being arrogant or cocky, I just believe in myself after the journey I’ve been on. I’ve learnt to get results with what I’ve got. I’ve learnt to adapt to different cultures. It’s been good to grow out of the spotlight, but what’s the point in staying under the radar forever?”
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There’s substance behind the soundbites. There’s more depth to the story than initially meets the eye.
The instant and understandable reaction to Gary White – a complete unknown on these shores – boldly claiming he wants to follow in the footsteps of Ipswich Town legends Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson to one day manage England is to scoff.
Delve a little deeper though and it’s not quite as ridiculous as it sounds. Just as records pre Premier League era should not be so readily forgotten, success away from the media spotlight should not be instantly dismissed.
Let’s start from the beginning...
Born in Southampton, where his parents still live, Gary was a ‘good prospect’ of a winger that was ultimately let go by his hometown club. After a brief stint playing in non-league for Bognor Regis Town he jetted off to Australia to sign for Fremantle City.
“It was then, in my early 20s, that I decided ‘if I can’t be the best at this, I’ll try and be the best coach instead’,” he explains. “I wanted to get a 10-year head start on all those who only started thinking about coaching once they hung up their boots.”
And so the journey began. He faxed ‘every FA in the world’ and got a reply from one – the British Virgin Islands. Age 24 he became the youngest international manager in the world. BVI promptly rise 28 places in FIFA’s rankings to 160. A certain Andre Villas-Boas, then a 21-year-old Portuguese prodigy, replaced him the hot-seat ‘but didn’t get as good results’.
White moves on to another Caribbean island, the Bahamas, and over the course of a decade moves them 55 places up the rankings into the top 140.
Then comes a spell as head of the elite player development program for MLS side Seattle Sounders before he takes the Guam gig, guiding the tiny island nation in the Pacific Ocean from 195 to 146 in the world over an 18 month period and leaving another top-class development program in place.
In 2013, White is handpicked by the Football Association as one of 16 Englishman under the age of 40 ‘with potential to manage the England national team or manage in the Premier League later in their careers’ to take the newly created Elite Coaches Award.
In 2016, he was head-hunted by struggling Chinese League One side Shanghai Shenxin. The team was third-bottom, had just 11 points, scored just nine goals and the mid-season transfer window had closed. They ended up beating multi-million pound teams managed by Fabio Cannavaro, Clarence Seedorf and Ciro Ferrara to comfortably survive, break records and finish the campaign as the 53-goal second-top scorers.
In February last year he narrowly missed out to Aidy Boothroyd in getting the England Under-21 job, interviewing along with Stuart Pearce, Phil Neville, Tim Sherwood and Michael Appleton. In September, he took the Taiwan job where, once again, he is working his magic.
“Dick Bate (the FA’s experienced Elite Coaching Director) has been a big mentor to me,” says White. “He says that coaching is communication. And I’ve certainly had to learn to communicate going to the places I’ve been – you are dealing with different languages, cultures, religions, food, weather…
“I’ve always put myself outside of my comfort zone. It’s sink or swim and I’ve always found a way to swim. I think it’s important to do that with players too. They can never be allowed to get too comfortable. You always have to challenge people.”
Connecting with the unique culture of the places he’s been has been a big part of White’s success. At the Bahamas he got the bands who perform in the national festival of ‘Junkanoo’ to play during games. At Guam he introduced the impassioned ‘Inifresi’ chant – their version of the Haka – before matches. His Chinese wife Yu Rui has helped him understand the Asian culture in recent years.
“You always have to remember what we are all doing it for,” he says. “Without the fans you just have an empty shell. I’ve seen that first hand in China where they have fantastic stadiums, fantastic facilities, but without the passion of the fans the life of the game is missing.”
Quizzed on his football philosophy, he explains: “We’ve persuaded players to buy into what we want to achieve and to play a more positive brand of football. Previous managers looked at some of the defeats they had been suffering – we’re talking 10, 15 goals – and focused on damage limitation.
“I said ‘if we’re going to lose, we may as well go down with a fight’. I encourage my players to express and enjoy themselves. It’s amazing what that can unlock in people.
“I like my teams to take some risks, show courage and play football in a way that is interesting to watch. I get so bored when people set up teams to just sit in, not concede and try to nick something.
“I see too many players who aren’t truly motivated because of the way they are stifled. They might not even realise that until someone shows them a different way. It’s about creating an environment that inspires people – players and fans.
“For me the attitude is always ‘let’s go and try and win it’. If you don’t have success with that approach then it is my job to fix that problem and keep the motivation.
“My simple philosophy is to engage with hearts and heads and then the legs will follow. A lot of coaches only worry about the legs.”
He continued: “In international management you have to work with what you’ve got and I’d take that into club management. First you have to see if you are using what you’ve got to the full potential before going to the shops. Ask yourself if you giving the players you have got the best opportunity to perform? Spending money is the easy and lazy option.
“When I went to Shanghai the transfer window had closed and I had to look within. I looked to the youths and reserves and found some diamonds there. It’s important not to make your mind up on players based on the opinion of others, but to use your own eyes and ears to form your own opinion.
“In just six months I transformed their fortunes and we stayed up against the odds.”
White adds: “I’ve had 20 years of coaching now. I’ve been all over the world and got pro licenses in England, Japan and the USA.
“I’ve put myself in some really difficult situations from a young age in order to grow and learn on the job. And I’m now at a stage where I feel comfortable in what I’m doing and feel ready to come out from under the radar.”