A Lions man at the helm for 2022/23
We have an insight on what the arrival of long serving Lions Gibraltar member Adrian Parral’s as head coach brings.
Images with kind permission from Lions Gibraltar photographer Daniel Ferro
During the past three seasons, up to January 2022 Lions Gibraltar were considered as the most defensive team in the league. An Orange or grey brick wall was expected in most matches, with the rare counter attack, with most teams uncomfortable about playing them, but rarely worried of facing defeat. This was the image created around Lions Gibraltar during the time of former head coach Ferrer, an image, which although not wishing to comment on, new head coach Adrian Parral is putting behind as Lions Gibraltar enter what could be a new era in the Gibraltar football league.
The impact of Adrian Parral’s presence at the club was immediately felt in the latter part of the 2021/22 season. A club whose players looked demoralised as they faced one defeat after another, saw players respond well and starting to enjoy their football with five draws, one victory and one defeat in their final six matches, which although not lifting them from the bottom of the table, set the tone for changes within the club.
What had at first been a temporary role, saw Adrian Parral bring back a new confidence and enjoyment in football within the senior ranks of the club which has this summer seen his role confirmed as permanent.
Close to thirty years with the club, as he told this newspaper, Adrian Parral is among the longest serving members of Lions Gibraltar. His return to a permanent role within Lions Gibraltar as their senior team head coach, as he explained, was not a path which turned its back on his US project which has seen him in recent years travelling to and from the US as he established the foundations of his football project across the Atlantic. Instead, it was additional to, using the fact that he could accommodate both seasons into a calendar year and continue working on his project due to the foundations already build, whilst focusing his attention on building on what has been his local clubs future. Mr Parral, highlighting that he was taking each season as they came and was looking at how things progressed whilst still very much keeping a focus on his own ambitions in football, which still included making his US football project a success.
Notably, for Lions it was a significant move which sees one of the longest serving members of the club return to active duty and significantly place the club into a new path at the hands of a person whose loyalty to the club few could challenge.
Having already gained his respect after his time as Lions women’s head coach and then Gibraltar women’s national coach before his decision to seek new ventures in the US, where he maintained his links with Lions open, Adrian Parral’s return seemed to fit seamlessly with Lions pathway from the moment he took the helm as an interim head coach at the latter part of last season.
An advocate of maintaining the five home grown player rule intact for the foreseeable future, Adrian Parral will be looking at keeping Lions Gibraltar’s home grown player development policy intact. His presence has already seen the clubs’ recruitment drive this summer attract players such as Sykes Garro and Cecil Prescott to the club, and bolstering what is already a significant home grown player pool. Among some of the players he can count on includes Thomas Hastings, Evan Green, Shea Breakspear, Byron Espinosa and Aidan Serra, players who along with Garro and Prescott have graced the ranks of Gibraltar’s national squads both at youth and senior levels in some cases since Gibraltar joined UEFA. Some have at some stage been the focus of attention as players to look out for but in some cases falling foul to the transitions Gibraltar football has undergone in recent years where home grown players, especially those who have passed through the big three clubs, have seen their presence on the field reduced.
With more home grown players now looking at trying to get more time on the field instead of seeking the “glories” of being in clubs playing European club competition football with the prospect of higher wages, Lions Gibraltar, which maintains what it describes as its humble financial status, has seen players attracted to them looking to play, instead of the money.
Adrian Parral also hopes to bring a new era in the football on the field which he hopes will see the players enjoy the game and compete. Although he was realistic in his expectations.
We had a chance to speak to Mr Parral as his club started their preseason preparations. First asking on whether his presence would see changes on the field in which the club would be moving away from their defensive style which has dictated play for the previous three seasons prior to his arrival in January.
“Every coach has his philosophy, and every coach has his style I am no one to criticize how coaches set up and their philosophy. My philosophy is very different to the previous coach.
“I was interim coach January February and I think a lot of people saw the change in mentality and formation the team played. Then again I only had two months to put things together but now I have a whole preseason to put things together and go with how we want to play.”
Asked on whether he was keeping to Lions home grown player development policies which saw the club several seasons ago adopt a policy not to pursue trying to compete on the financial side but instead look towards developing players from grassroots, Mr Parral was quite adamant that the policy would not change. Indicating he was in support of the policy to develop home grown players.
“Yes, absolutely we are keeping that. I think we have a good balance between local and non-local players. Our locals are pretty strong and we have managed to retain many and we have had some interesting signings like Sykes Garro which is actually a coup, and even the non locals which have bought into the idea on how we want to play and what we want to do.”
“Money is always an issue. We are a humble club.
“And I think players, especially the local ones, have seen beyond that, and its not about money, its about playing and enjoying the game and the players have actually bought into that.
“To be fair we have done our business early and I’m really happy with the squad we have got.”
Mr Parral expressed his satisfaction at seeing players such as Sykes Garro and Cecil Prescott joining the Lions ranks. Garro, notably was a player returning to Lions after having left them to play for Europa, then Lincoln Red Imps and finally St Joseph. Although having been a part of the national squad at one stage, his transition through the top teams saw how the player had seen reduced minutes on the field and as the new Lions coach explained was among one of the many players joining the club looking to play the game and not chasing for the money. Among the Lions squad entering the 2022/23 season other players such as Evan Green, Cecil Prescott and Thomas Hastings among others had also transitioned through top clubs and were now searching to play football rather than chasing the money.
Whilst not pointing at any specific player Adrian Parral explained how some players had been “ caught out about the money and they have realized now that their careers as a footballer is a short one.”
“Before you blink you are twenty seven, twenty eight, twenty nine and you have very little to go and I have seen a lot of players who have realized that and seen how they now think it is not about money it is about playing and enjoying the game.”
The new Lions coach was also facing the prospect of being one of only a handful of local coaches at the helm in the domestic league.
Asked on how he felt returning to the game in Gibraltar it was clear that the Lions job was not one of just coaching a club, but one in which he was coaching a club he was loyal to.
“I joined Lions when I was 22 23 and I have been there ever since been longer there than Alex (Grech) who is the president as an active member I am probably the longest serving so for me I’m proud to come back.
“I have always plumed for female football, I still do, I love the female game and I don’t want to lose touch of that sometime in the future.
“I was interim coach in January February and the players responded really well. When I took over in January February the team, the players, were mentally broken, they had had a very rough season between injuries and suspensions. That squad was probably the toughest and strongest Lions have had in the last three years and it’s the one that has underperformed the most.
“So it was a task.
“What I saw in those two months, the way they responded to me, the way they started to enjoy the game, even I enjoyed the coaching I was left with a good taste.
“So when the decision was made that we were rebooting the US project it gave me an opportunity to be here for the next 24 months to 36 months to see where we go so for me it was the perfect opportunity. And for me I was extremely proud to take over the senior team of the club.”
Asked on what experience he brought back from having spent the past four years involved with his US football project Mr Parral was quite philosophical with few pretensions as many would have expected from having spent time abroad.
“I told the players that no coach can invent the wheel but every coach can push the wheel differently.
“Although I have been out for the past four years in the States, and I would recommend every coach to go out there and see the world because its not just Gib football, you pick up a lot of things and what the reality is that as a coach you have your own philosophy. When I went to the States, I took my own philosophy, and it was me imparting to them.
“You always learn. A good coach would never, never say, you never learn. I always learn. You always pick up things from different countries, different styles and philosophies, but I went imparting my philosophy. And I think I strengthened my own philosophy learnt and that is what I think I am going to be imparting again, at the end of the day it’s the way I want the team to play.
“And what I think I will bring an exciting brand with bold attacking football without fear. With respect but without fear. The players have got to enjoy themselves and the players have got to be happy, trust in the process and I think we can surprise a few people.”
After four years away from direct involvement in Gibraltar football when asked on how he saw the game in Gibraltar Mr Parral was cautious when answering, deliberately hesitant in his response but once again philosophical in his response and focusing towards his club without getting involved in the politics of the game which has cursed the sport during the past seasons.
“I think the league has settled. Back in 2013 which was obviously like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow everyone shot out the blocks looking for money even the association to a degree weren’t ready for what came. But slowly things have settled, in the financial side. Clubs have realized they couldn’t sustain this.
“Alex (Grech) and the club have supported me to the hilt they have been fantastic.
“Lions are a humble club and they try to do things the right way. We have constraints but even with that all the players we needed to retain we have retained, all the targets, bar one or two, we have got. The targets that we wanted we got which says a lot for the club but also says a lot for the players who have bought into everything that we want to do.
“To name like a few people like Syskes Garro, Lavra, Elis Wilson, Cecil Prescott, these are players who could easily play anywhere else and for a lot more money, but its beyond that and they have bought into it.
”They would be the first to admit they want to play and that is something that has come from local players. Every player that we have signed, and have been in the top teams, and I don’t mean this begrudgingly, and I don’t mean this by slight on other clubs far from it, the admission from the players has been I want to play and I think that is something we can offer and something we can develop.
“And I am glad they still have the five home grown player rule I really am. It suites as to the ground as I think we have a good strong local group. It should be five and I think we are still a number of years before we can start lowering it in my humble personal opinion.”