Ex-Manchester United graduate making waves in Asia

In his first season in his first overseas role, Bengaluru FC coach Ashley Westwood won the Indian I-League title with a club incidentally in its first year of formation. Westwood then only narrowly missed out on retaining that title this year, finishing runner-up to traditional heavyweights Mohun Bagan.

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It was a fantastic achievement for a relatively new coach that has embraced the challenge of improving football in Asia. Westwood is a forward-thinking man who is constantly looking at new ways and methods to improve himself and his team. Having faced Johor Darul Ta’zim in AFC Champions League qualifying earlier this year, he also has views on Malaysian football.

A graduate of the Manchester United Academy, Westwood’s playing career included stops with Sheffield Wednesday and Bradford City and concluded with a player-coach role at Portsmouth.

FFT sat down for a chat with the 39-year-old Englishman, who is still in contact with Sir Alex Ferguson.

FFT: You have only been in the coaching/management game the best part of five years, do you think that hinders you in any way?

AW: As a player, from the age of 18 or 19, I was always the captain of my team and I played as a central defender. A big part of my game was my talking and communication skills. From a very early age, I was a leader and almost like a coach on the field, an extension of the coaches I've played for. So it was quite an easy transition to go into coaching and management because I felt I had those skills as a player. So although it's only four or five years now as an actual coach/manager, if I add my playing career I feel I'm fairly well equipped.

FFT: Did you always think you would go into coaching after hanging up the boots?

I think there are still ways to push the Malaysian team as far as possible

AW: Without a doubt. Football has always been a major part of my life since I started playing at the age of 10. So I was always going to stay involved in the game, whatever level and role. I was always sure that I wanted to stay in football.

FFT: You started out as a youth player at Manchester United during Sir Alex Ferguson's tenure. We heard you still approach your former gaffer when you come unstuck in the management world?

AW: It was always a trademark for Sir Alex to keep an eye out for his fledglings, the people who have worked under him. I went into coaching in England at some big clubs that he was obviously aware of, the likes of Blackburn, Blackpool and Portsmouth. I saw him once at the Professional Footballers’ Association awards in England and he said if I ever needed anything, I know where to find him. The avenue is open if needed but obviously I don't abuse it. If there's something I feel like I need a bit of advice on, I just fire a text over and thankfully he replies.

FFT: You’ve also worked with another revered coach in Dario Gradi. How do he and Sir Alex stack up?

AW: With those, you’ve probably got two contrasting styles. You’ve got one that is a fantastic manager, someone you can look up to with regards to leadership, determination and winning things in Sir Alex. In Dario, he was always ahead of his time with regards to his coaching techniques and methods. He was the first to play with the 4-3-3 system, rolling the ball out from the back and playing football the right way. That's what Dario did in the ‘90s. It was good to have worked with both to take from each of them bits and pieces of what it means to be a coach.

FFT: Your staff at Bengaluru are mostly foreigners. Do you handpick them and are you particular on who you work with?

AW: When I went into the club, it was new. There was an Indian assistant who was already in place. Then it was a case of going in and assessing and finding out what we needed. Adding people as we move and as we become more successful, so it was a work in progress. Obviously in football there's lots of contacts, lots of friends and lots of people in specialist positions if needed. As the stakes got higher and the success got bigger, obviously it's great to have that support from the management team to add key individuals. That is something that is important at a football club, to have specialist support in specialist areas because they can make a difference if you're allowed to bring them in.

FFT: In the first season, Bengaluru played the home games in an astro-turf pitch. You moved to a natural grass stadium for your second season, is there a big difference playing on the two surfaces?

AW: We always try to look at the positives whether it's playing on turf, grass or concrete; it doesn't really matter to us. We adapt our style and we don't really see a difference. In the league last season, we only lost three games in total. The astro-turf arguably suits us a little better because we can play a faster tempo game, moving the ball around a little quicker is one of our trademarks. But we had really good form on grass especially last season, so it didn't really affect us what we played on.