Q&A: Catching up with Whitecaps FC U-15 head coach Robert Earnshaw

Earnshaw Bale Ledley

Over the past three days, Whitecaps FC U-15 Residency have been playing in the Rotterdam Football Cup and testing themselves against some of the best competition from across Europe in their age group. They have faced clubs like English giants Chelsea, among others.
Prior to the tournament,’s Gino Cutri caught up with U-15 head coach and former Whitecaps FC striker Robert Earnshaw about his first year as a coach, his recent return to Cardiff City, and his thoughts on the Welsh national team.
GC: What’s the transition been like moving from player to coach?

RE: You know what, it is probably one of, if not the, most difficult transitions I’ve ever had to make, to be honest. Not even so much in football, just in life in general. I think going from player to coach is such a hard thing mentally, it’s such a hard thing to jump across and see the game completely different from the other side.

GC: How about your coaching license, how has that been going?

RE: So far I have the [UEFA] ‘B’ license. I just spent a week with the Wales FA and the Welsh team preparing for the Republic of Ireland game in the qualifiers. They welcomed me and they were great, they really took me in, and I was part of the coaching staff for two full days so that was great. When you’re there and you’ve got the likes of Gareth Bale, Joe Allen, and Aaron Ramsey, these are the players that you’re around, and some of my old friends and teammates. But now I’m on the other side with coaching. It’s actually so helpful for me, it’s so nice, and I took in so much, so it was great. I’m going on to the ‘A’ license hopefully in the next six weeks, so I’m excited for that. It’s just something that it only makes me better, you know? I’m constantly trying to make myself better every day, but it’s another license, it’s another experience that helps you along the coaching ladder. 

GC: What has been the key to a smooth transition?

RE: A lot of people ask me this, about the transition, and to be honest the last three years of playing I spent almost thinking like a coach because you get so much experience. After a certain moment, you come to the last three or four years of your career and you start seeing certain things that the other people and the players should do. So you start almost guiding them, and that’s probably the moment where I kind of started thinking okay, I could be a coach because I see it, I can really analyze it and give advice to the players around me. I spent three or four years really thinking almost in that way of really breaking down the game, so the football side of it has actually been the easy part because once I step on the pitch I can talk about what my experiences, what the solutions are. So that part is easy. I think more it’s off the pitch, it’s the transition, and transition from doing it to know you have to give it out. You have to be the one with the answers, and I enjoy that part actually.

GC: You recently returned to your first club, Cardiff City, for Kevin McNaughton’s testimonial match. How was that?

RE: It was great actually, really really good. Such a great experience. At Cardiff, I played there for eight and a half years in total over two spells, and it’s home for me.  The fans are just so amazing for me, they’re always ready for me, they always welcome me, so it was great. Kevin is an ex-teammate I played with a few years ago. He invited a lot of the club legends to come along and play. It was really good, great to see the fans again. I spent the whole day at Cardiff there, and it was great to spend a lot of time there. My team was managed by Craig Bellamy who played with Wales, and at Cardiff, Liverpool, and Manchester City. He had a great career.  He’s actually the head of the U-23 team at Cardiff now, so we spent a lot of time speaking about football and how everything has gone. I spent a lot of time with him just discussing football and breaking it down, so it’s nice I actually got a lot out of it.

GC: Do the fans give you a hard time for leaving?

RE: No no (laughs), they’re great, they’re always great. I think forever, even when I’m 70, they’re still going to be asking me to put the boots back on and play for them, so they’re amazing. The whole club welcomed me in, and the fans are always amazing when I go back there. If I’m watching, or whether I’m playing a testimonial there, they’re always ready to welcome me, so they’re really close to me.

GC: Just to wrap things up; from the time you played for Wales until now, how far has the Welsh national team come?

RE: It’s really amazing in six or seven years, we’ve gone from really a small team with some very, very good players, excellent premier league players, to a team that can actually compete in a European Championship, can compete at qualifiers, can compete with some of the best teams in Europe. Add that with some of the best players in Europe as well in our team, if not one of the top five players in the world in Gareth Bale, and we’ve got a huge global star, a great player. I was thankful to play with him for so many years. It’s great to have him in that Welsh setup. The transition, the way they’ve gone in six or seven years, is huge. I was lucky because I was actually at the beginning of it, I was there and saw the transition from where we were, and the things we were doing to change. It’s not always on the pitch, it’s the things off the pitch, the tactical side of it, how we approached it, in everything to really break down the game. I was part of it and that really helped me in my transition as a coach because some of those things apply to this day and my team. I’m doing it right now, and funny enough some of the things I’m doing with my U-15s is what the Welsh team is doing. I went back with the Welsh setup and I’m in the background in a meeting, and I’m standing there, and the head coach of the national team, he’s conducting meetings that I’m doing [with my U-15 team]. So, it’s funny to see that because I’m like okay I’m in a good place, so that’s nice. The Welsh team, a lot of them are national heroes because of the experience of the European Championships last summer. They put Wales on the map, and also I think it’s the manner they did it in. The style they did it in, a lot of people fell in love with the team because of their passion, and also because of their football.  They really surprised a lot of people with how they played, and the style they played, and maybe slightly different to a lot of the British teams. They played more, and a little more technical, so it’s really nice. I’m enjoying it, I enjoy watching them because I understand the philosophy behind it.

GC: Thank you so much for taking the time to sit down and share a little bit about what’s going on in your life.

RE: No problem, thanks for having me.