An impromptu chance to help train Arsenal with Aussie coach Pepe Montemurro has ignited former A-League player Alex Smith’s dream to coach abroad.
Smith, 33, rocked up to Arsenal’s training centre at London Colney last month to catch up with Montemurro.
He’d met the Arsenal boss in 2014 as a coaching course instructor in Melbourne along with other players including Leigh Broxham and Adrian Leijer.
As luck would have it, Montemurro’s assistant coach was unavailable on the day Smith arrived.
And so the former A-League midfielder was thrown in for the day to help coach one of the best women’s teams in the world.
What an eye-opener it turned out to be.
“Joe [Pepe] and I got on well and we kept in touch on LinkedIn. I was in Europe to see Messi play and try to get some coaching experience," said Smith.
“So I messaged Joe and asked about watching how they do things at Arsenal and he was happy to help. He picked me up and I spent the day at Arsenal. It was unbelievable.
“I got to fill in as the assistant coach for a 90-minute session with some of the best female players in the world.
“What struck me was how the session generally was uncomplicated. There was a short video session based on West Ham their opponent then we were out on the pitch.”
Arsenal beat West Ham 4-2 the following day.
“It was a fantastic experience," said Smith. "Inspiring is a word used often these days but the experience definitely struck a chord with me.
“For one, that someone from Oz can get to a club like Arsenal and be in charge of one of the best teams in the world. And I didn’t feel out of place for a second. I spoke with a few of the players joined in.
“And an amazing training venue. They train right next to the men. There is no expense spared. The pitches are cut and rolled every day. It’s like carpet.
“The gym was about five times the size of my house! While the video analysis room was like a home movie theatre.
“Having the women’s team in the same venue as the men’s means they can make use of all the facilities."
Smith’s nomadic career on the park is coming to an end. He’s played in the USA, Australia, New Zealand, and Malaysia.
The English-born, US-raised Smith concedes he is an “unfulfilled” player, and that is what’s fueling his desire to coach the game he loves.
The former Phoenix player has successfully completed C and B licence courses and will take his A later this year.
He’s also spent this season as an assistant coach at Brisbane Roar, who are in the finals this weekend.
“I’m 33 now, and I’m starting to look at life after football,” he admitted.
Smith has kept a coaching journal for the last 10 years. It’s outlined the many and various ideas he’s seen throughout his playing career in the NPL, A-League and Malaysian Super League and his own evolving philosophy.
He added: “It basically sums up my ideas of how I’d deal with certain situations. Whether certain situations had been handled well or not and why.
“And more broadly, my philosophy centres on the fact that football is a fairly simple game. And it’s important that individual players and their mindsets are managed well.
"Confidence is key. Work with players on an individual basis and keeping it simple on the pitch.”
Smith names Gary Phillips, Ben Cahn and the coaching duo of Peter Tsekenis and “Flea” Peter Papoythis as the best he’s played under in his career.
“Football is part of who you are though I have plenty of interests outside of football. But being a coach you’re starting over again,” Smith said.
“The old saying is an unfulfilled player makes the best coach. I’m hoping that rings true. I’ve got 25 years experience in football, I may as well put it to good use.
“And the day after I left Arsenal I said to myself, ‘You know what? I want to coach in Europe. This is where I want to be.'”