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Adrian Heath On Everton, Howard Kendall And Managing Minnesota United In MLS

Adrian Heath On Everton, Howard Kendall And Managing Minnesota United In MLS

An interview with Adrian Heath, by Callum McFadden for WFi.

You are the Head Coach of Minnesota United in Major League Soccer having been appointed in 2017. How would you reflect on your time at the club so far?

“I have enjoyed my time in charge at the club so far. I took over when the club became an expansion club and entered MLS for the first time in 2017 which is something that I previously had experience of at Orlando City.

“I worked in USL with Orlando then led them into MLS as an expansion club during my time there.

“The first couple of years at Minnesota were challenging because you are starting from scratch without an established squad.

“We did not have any Designated Players during our opening season too. We were expected to enter MLS in 2018 but when the opportunity arose for the club to enter in 2017, it was something that could not be turned down.

“We have improved year on year since I have been at the club and we are the only team in the Western Conference to have made the playoffs each year over the last four years.

“We have also played in the Western Conference final during my time in charge and the challenge for the club is to become one of the elite clubs in MLS.”

How has your approach to coaching the time evolved during your five years in charge?

“At the beginning, we were backs against the wall because of the lack of an established squad.

“That meant that I had to be pragmatic in my approach and ensure that we were a hard side to beat as well as being effective on the counter-attack.

“However, as the club became engrained in MLS, I was able to play the type of football that I want my teams to be associated with, which is front-foot attacking football.

“I want us to take teams on at home and on the road too. We are a possession-based team although it is important that our possession has a purpose.

“This is something that I have always emphasised to the players because we do not want to keep the ball for keeping the balls sake. We must create chances and trouble the opposition with it.”

What are your aims for the 2023 MLS season?

“Our aim is to make the playoffs. That is the holy grail for any team in MLS and we are no different.

“This year will be a challenge for us to do so again because teams such as Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders did not make the playoffs last year and as such have heavily invested in their squads this year to try and get there.

“We had a great start to the season by winning away to FC Dallas which is a tough place to go.  Our aim is to build consistency as a team this season to reach the playoffs again.”

You managed Orlando City to league titles and cups in USL before leading the club in its inaugural MLS season. What are your memories from your time at the club?

“Orlando City was a great challenge for me and I enjoyed my time at the club.

“We did not have a great budget when I arrived but I relished the challenge of managing the club even if it was not an MLS club upon my arrival.

“Some people from the UK think that you could just walk into an MLS job but that is not the case. You have to start somewhere and work your way up and joining Orlando City in USL was an opportunity for me to do just that.

“My goal when I took over at the club was to create the best team outside of MLS and we successfully achieved that at Orlando with what we achieved in USL.

“On the back of that, when Orlando City became an MLS club, I was trusted to manage the club there and prove my worth in the league which was always my aim.”

You started your playing career at Stoke City. How special was it to represent the club that you grew up supporting?

“It was incredibly special because my grandparents and my father were season ticket holders at the club and took me to games from the age of four.

“I was fortunate to be a talented young player and as a result, I had the opportunity to join a range of clubs but I only wanted to play for Stoke City.

“I can remember my first game like it was yesterday and to play for the club in front of my family and the fans who supported the club like I did was incredible.

“I made friends for life at the club which was nice and I still follow the club to this day.

“I will always be eternally grateful to the club for giving me my first opportunity to become a professional footballer.”

You joined Everton in 1982 from Stoke and went on to play a major role in the most successful side in Everton’s history. What was it like to part a part of such a great side under the leadership of Howard Kendall?

“We had a great manager in Howard Kendall and he had a strong coaching staff working alongside him.

“As a squad, we came together at the right time and gelled well. Graeme Sharp and Trevor Steven had just arrived at the club as young players and went on to be key players for the team with their best years ahead of them.

“Howard also signed Neville Southall from Bury. Not many people had heard of Neville but Howard helped him become the best goalkeeper in the world.

“Similarly, he brought in Pat Van Den Hauwe who was an unknown at the time but was so good that he remains the best full-back that I ever played with.

“Then, in Andy Gray and Peter Reid, we had two players who were the catalyst for so much of what we were able to achieve.

“Our team under Howard Kendall had a little bit of everything and I believe that we could play against any team from any era and give them a run for their money.

“We came together as a group at the right time and fortunately, we achieved great success under a great manager.

“To think back to that era and know that I played in the most successful era of Everton’s history fills me with so much pride because Everton is one of the great clubs of world football for me.”

What was Howard Kendall like to work with? How did he approach training and match days?

“Howard was a player’s manager. He always used to tell us that he would give us enough rope to hang ourselves and, to be fair to him, he did (Laughs).

“We always felt like we owed him something and we would do whatever we could to make sure that we succeeded for the club and for him.

“He was a mild-mannered man. A total gentleman but if he needed to get straight to the point then he could be cutting.

“He left us as players under no illusions as to what he expected from us and if you did not deliver then you knew that you would not play under him.

“His motto was – play well and keep your place in the team, but know the consequences if you do not.

“To Howard, the badge on the front of the shirt meant more to him than any name on the back so it was always a collective effort to succeed for Everton Football Club and that is the way football should be.”

Winning two league titles was an incredible accomplishment. However, winning the FA Cup must have been extra special given the importance placed upon it during that era of football. 

“You are right that the FA Cup final back then was such a special occasion in football.

“Every kid growing up in my era dreamed of one day playing in an FA Cup final. That is how special it was.

“The final itself was an incredible day and the cup carried such importance that to be able to play in at Wembley in front of 100,000 fans and win it was such an amazing feeling. One that I will always cherish and never forget.

“It pains me to see that teams would rather finish in the top four of the Premier League than win the FA Cup.

“I do not understand that because winning trophies is what any player should want to do.”

You played in La Liga with Espanyol in 1988. Was playing abroad always an ambition of yours?

“Absolutely, from an early age, I wanted to play abroad. As a youngster, I was like an encyclopaedia of football because I loved learning about clubs at home and, in particular, clubs abroad.

“I love European football and the opportunity to play in Spain was something that I had always wanted to do.

“Playing against teams such as Barcelona, Real Madrid, Athletic Club and Atletico Madrid was special and I regret coming back to the UK after one season.

“However, I had to return home due to a family issue so I had no choice even though I loved my time in Spain immensely.”

Finally, Adrian, you returned to Stoke City towards the end of your playing career to win the FA Trophy at Wembley under Lou Macari. Where does that rank for you in terms of what you achieved in football?

“It is right up there, without doubt. I always think about the sea of some 40,000 Stoke fans singing ‘Delilah’ at Wembley is something that I will never forget.

“Many of my close friends are Stoke fans, as am I, so to win with the club at Wembley is something that means so much to me personally.

“It is a moment in my career that I am so proud of even though it came towards the end of my career.”