One day soon, Australian football might want to thank Carlo Ancelotti’s former right-hand man Paul Clement.
Clement delivered news no young footballer ever wants to hear. "Sorry son, you're not likely to make it as a professional."
That was around 2003. Clement was at the time the boss of Fulham FC’s Academy and in front of him was versatile Fulham trainee Ben Cahn.
The coach gave the English 15-year-old his verdict: Cahn’s football-playing dream was over. The kid was shattered.
Now, this is a familiar tale in football and it could've ended a few ways.
Luckily for Australia, it's turned out to our - and Cahn’s - advantage.
Bitter at the decision, Cahn drifted for a couple of years, trying to process what the hell to do with his life.
Then a game-changing fork in the road.
The teen began coaching in a summer holiday camp for local club Sutton United. A humble start but the words of Clement - who has since worked with Ancelotti as an assistant coach at Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich, and was also the head coach with Swansea in the English premier league - kept coming back to the young English player.
“At the time, Paul Clement told me, ‘I think you’ll fall short of a career in professional football’. But he said I was very analytical, intelligent and see the game well and communicate really well,” Cahn told FTBL.
“He said he thought I’d be an outstanding coach and his advice was to start that journey as early as you can.
“At that point, my only hopes were to play professional football. And Fulham being a Premier League club, I was so close yet so far to achieving that.
“So, I was devastated.”
However, as luck would have it, he moved on to another coaching program run by ex-Chelsea player Eddie Newton, who mentored the young Cahn.
“I learned a lot from Eddie, who had a really impressive Premier League career,” Cahn said.
However, Cahn’s mum was Australian and, with Cahn’s dad, had moved to Oz.
After a flying visit to sunny Noosa to see family, pretty soon Cahn was hooked on living in the Sunshine State.
NOOSA ADVENTURE AND GOSFORD STINT
He began playing for Noosa Lions but his innate ability to coach players was soon seen, and he began coaching Queensland’s elite juniors (he’d coach Josh Nisbet, currently Mariners, and Henry Hore, now at Perth Glory).
“That was when I rediscovered my love for football, at Noosa Lions,” Cahn recalled.
He became the first team coach at Noosa aged just 25 (“I’ve always been younger than many of my players!”).
Under Cahn, the Lions fell one round short of the FFA Cup Round of 32 in 2015.
Fortuitously, though, through a contact at an A-License coaching course, Cahn got an interview and began working for the Mariners.
His career was kicking into gear. It gave him a good insight into the top level in this country.
Working as Mariners’ youth team coach and head of the performance phase in 2016 and 2017, it gave him the belief he won’t be out of this depth on the big stage.
“I began working with the first team too. It was a difficult time at the club but a good learning curve.
“I enjoyed it, I gained a lot of confidence after seeing the level that the majority of the A-League was at and I knew it was possible to get there very quickly and exceed it.
“And I built long-lasting relationships with players. Some of the younger players, some people questioned me about them, but now they’re showing their value in the A-League, like Lachy Wales, Josh Nisbet and Peter Kekeris.
“These were players who I was told by some people in the organization to not waste my time with. They’re not going to make it.
"So it’s nice to see them go on and that I had a part to play in that.”
Cahn left Gosford due to a “difference of beliefs in the future direction of the club and to take the opportunity at Olympic FC.”
Read into that what you will, but he took that opportunity with both hands.
Last season, he turned the Brisbane club around in the QLD NPL.
Olympic finished second in the league and made the grand final. Not a bad first season.
And with some big names in his squad, including former A-League championship winner with Roar and former Socceroo Shane Stefanutto, plus ex-A-League talent in Alex Smith and Matt Mundy, he showed he can get the best out of big names as well as his NPL boys.
Cahn’s now signed on for 2019 at Olympic FC as their full-time coach. He is in at 10 am each weekday and leaves after the evening training session.
He may only have the players for maximum six hours a week, but he’s set up the culture and environment.
“I say to the players, the only difference between us and a professional club is the time we spend together.”
Cahn’s philosophy is what you’d expect from a modern-day coach.
“How you manage your people is very important. I’m very people and relationship driven," he said.
“It’s impossible to get buy-in on any tactical ideas however good they are if you haven’t got the trust and respect of the players and staff.
“I take a lot of care that the relationships within the environment are positive and effective for the team.
“But I like to innovate too.”
This includes manual entry of data analysis rather than being able to use, for example, Opta Pro. The club’s analyst works very closely with Cahn on a shoestring budget.
“We have to be very efficient with our processes and modes of delivery for them to assimilate,” he added.
“Time is the number one prohibitor. And resources.
“But as a staff we decided this wouldn’t interfere with our ambition. We want to be the best football department in the country.
"And if that means doing it the hard way and putting the hours in, that’s what we’ll do.”
In the short-term Cahn’s goal is to do the best for Olympic FC in 2019. However, at 31 he can see all the possibilities the world game could bring.
“I’m very ambitious. I’ve known for some years that I want to be a head coach at the highest level possible.
“I 100% believe in my ability with people, and ability to manage a football environment and succeed in the A-League and beyond.
"And everything I do will be working towards that.”
A-LEAGUE COACH RADAR
If you look. And I mean really look, coaches like Cahn are out there.
They are the future.
Call it the 30-something Oz coach club: Arthur Papas (now an assistant under Ange Postecoglou in the J-League), Shaun Ontong (assistant coach in the ISL with six years coaching on his CV), Ruben Zadkovich (new to the game and now head coach of championship winners Broadmeadow Magic in his first season) plus Ben Cahn.
Australia simply must take advantage of the knowledge of these youthful coaches’ expertise in the coming years.
Cahn is completing his pro licence in South Korea this year.
After that, there'll be no stopping him.
A diamond is in our NPL midst. A-League clubs need to start tracking his career. Now. A 31-year-old coach with over 13 years coaching experience who is coaching full-time “all day every day”.
“It would be a dream come true to one day coach against Paul Clement on the big stage,” concluded Cahn.
For the moment, though, he is coaching in Australia’s second tier NPL. But he’s one to watch.
Thank you, Paul Clement.