The former head coach
As appeared in the Red & White supplement January edition
Gibraltar football has entered an era in which it is moving into the professional game. Since it entered UEFA and FIFA the game has undergone a transformation which at times many forget derives from its foundations well over a century earlier. There are few still in the game who saw and lived Gibraltar’s football through the amateur days and into the new era under UEFA and who are actually an active participant in the game. Even less who have walked through the doors at the top levels and are still involved. One such person is Charlie Cumbo. A young player in the 60s who went on to play for Gibraltar and later became head coach of the national team. His involvement with football did not end there as he moved into youth coaching, now working with Lincoln Red Imps youth teams. We had a chance to speak with him.
Can you summarise your football days?
I started playing for my HOUSE team St. John at Bishop Fitzgerald School. I was not good enough for the first Xl. Two reason firstly good players for the school team and secondly the teacher responsible for the school to at the time did not like me running all over the pitch and not keeping to my designated position. I understood what he was saying, but hey that was my nature full off running. At secondary school St. Jago’s when I turned 13 the school had two teams A and B in the Gibraltar Football Association 3rd Division. Under the umbrella of the GFA I started playing for the B team the A team being older boys. That’s when my link with the GFA started. Soon after ending my school days a group of school leavers from St. Jago’s, Lourdes and Technical College got together and formed a team to continue playing in the GFA 3rd Division and named Astoria. The following season we entered the 2nd Division and before Christmas 1966 Julio Peire, Richard Bear and myself were already playing for Gibraltar United in the GFA 1st Division. Played 16 seasons for the Club in the 1st Division. During my time with Gibraltar United I represented Gibraltar at U18, U21 and the Senior squad for a number of years. Always felt proud at representing the Gibraltar selections. Then to keep myself in shape I played a few seasons for various clubs in the lower divisions and for the Admiralty Fire Service in the Essential Services in the 1980’s. A league founded by Charles Ferro, Armando Cruz and myself. As a spin-off from the GFA The Gibraltar Veterans Football Club was founded in 1991. Founder members Richard Bear, Eric Abudaram, Leslie Asquez, Antonio Avellano, Eduardo Tellez, Francis Negron and myself got together with the idea to unite retired players to form teams bearing the names of the glory days i.e., Prince of Wales FC, Britannia FC, Europa FC and Gibraltar United FC. Although competing for a trophy such as the Cavalcade Cup and Poppy Day , money was collected and given to local charity. Something which is very close to my heart and in complete contrast to the football provided by the schools a new football league was born in 1970 that of Junior Football and founded by the following J.Apap, F.Sash, P.Martinez, G,Parody, J.McGillvary and myself. In order to be able to get allocations at the Naval Grounds the (cradle of football in Gibraltar) and through F.Sash as a member of the Gibraltar Naval and Dockyard Social Club the first matches started on Saturday the 3rd October 1970. This was at U14 level so much was the success that season that the following season we had to introduce an U11. In 1989 I was lucky enough to get a Coaching position with the GFA. Eleven great years from 1989 to 2000 and during that time I was fortunate enough to be involved in coaching the U18, U21 and the Senior Squad.
I must say that the time that gave me more thrills as a coach was when we held the Island Games in Gibraltar obtaining silver in the process. Great squad of players and not forgetting the Manager Adolfo Ramirez and fitness coach Joe Falero. Great time never to be forgotten.
In 2001 was attracted by a club that had a definite vision and way of playing football, Lincoln Red Imps. My eyes were gradually opened to being the Head Coach of the Senior squad and to what could be achieved with a group of players of which the majority were coming to the end of their playing days in the top flight. The majority of the players there had spent most of their playing days with the club, hence my decision to promote young players from the lower division and mix them with the players that stayed behind. The young players too many to mention managed to cope every time the challenge was increased. Many represented Gibraltar at the highest level at a very young age, something that made me very proud. Spent four years with the Senior squad in which time the squad achieved three League title, two Senior Cup, two Rock Cup and three Pepe Reyes Cup. Nearly 20 years on I am still with the club and coaching the U16.
Who have been your role models and why?
As a player I would have to say Bobby Moore of West Ham United. To me he represented everything you would ever want in a leader on the pitch. He was a fantastic player but had so many other qualities; he had a strong mind, courageous and encouraging to others in such a positive manner. He worked hard, had passion, consistency and never gave up. That has always been my philosophy in life and that’s something I try to pass on to my players.
In coaching, I have learned and been greatly influenced from each of the people I have been with but I have to say that my mentor has been Paul Holden. A top coach with the FA at the time. We met whilst he was with the Army in Gibraltar. He saw me coaching one evening at the Naval Grounds and it started from there. His presence and approach really impressed me and his attention to detail and organisation were even evident then. Thanks to him I obtained my qualifications in football. Together we introduced the Junior Management Course as it was known then. Coaching awards are a fundamental part of the Gibraltarian game now with the introduction of mandatory qualifications at the top level and, in my view, this is crucial for the game and for all Gibraltar Coaches at all levels. One aspect that has and will continue to change is how we present our Coach Education programme in order to be ready for the demands in the next decade. It is vital that we explore all options available and make education as accessible as possible to as many coaches as we can.
Do you have a coaching philosophy?
As I am very player centred my belief is that, as a coach, all my decisions is based upon the best interest of theplayers. Progressive football is important to me. If we can attack then I encourage this. Face and pass, quick feet quick passing forward and attack where possible, this does not meanplay direct long ball. Ideally I like to see my team playing through the phases, goalkeeper to defence, to midfield,to the forwards.
What do you think are the major factors involved in becoming a successful Coach?
The right personality. As a Coach you must be able to interact with your players, build trust and a sporting relationship, inspire etc. Without this, the rest of the attributes are meaningless in my view.
Experience as a player. It is essential to have a knowledge of the game, the process and the emotion involved. Whilst playing at a high level is not critical to becoming successful, I do think that it can give coaches an edge because that gives you an extra level of understanding for every additional exposure you have had.
Education. Every coach has a responsibility to ensure they are appropriately educated to give players the best chance in the modern game. UEFA qualifications are valuable as an opportunity to see how you can influence others as a coach and to share ideas and knowledge.
What have been the key factors in the development of the game in recent years?
As a team the influx of foreign players and some coaches to a certain extent. I say this because for me not all players and coaches have been top class. In Gibraltar we have had and continue to have good players and coaches. The first year under UEFA we decided at Lincoln that we had to give all Gibraltarian players the chance to compete under UEFA after many years with the club. We did with an all Gibraltarian squad and won the League with some clubs already with foreign players in their line-ups. Yes it has served to add value to our game I am not going to dispute that. With more and more foreign players coming in, suddenly our game started to have some structure and a far greater emphasis on player and coach development. Improvement in terms of performance, technical ability, mental strength, and fitness could be seen. However I must mention that the Gibraltar selection was having problems selecting players as less players could be seen playing in the top flight, something which the administration is on the right track in solving the problem.
What is your view about young Gibraltarian players?
It is obviously tougher to be selected into the top flight squads with the influx of foreign players. I would like to think that players are selected based upon their ability. Therefore, my view is that as coaches, rather than complain about this, we have the responsibility to become better coaches at all levels. We need to challenge ourselves to be able to get the players to the level where they will be selected and can achieve for their club team and future Gibraltar selections. The big question is how much are they willing to put in and how much do they want it?
What do you look for in a player?
To me effective talent identification is imperative and crucial to the progression of the Gibraltarian game. In particular, I look for first touch, mobility and game awareness in players. In the modern game you need players with athleticism, power, speed and strength now almost a minimum prerequisite for players.
What factors contribute to your team success?
The chemistry between the players and me as their coach is essential and in my experience has been prominent in a winning team set up. At a competitive level as a coach you must create ambition within your team and generate a desire to win. Within this, as a coach you need to empower individual players to work to become as good as they can be, thus maximising the potential of the players and in turn, the team. A winning coach must not be arrogant and boast about what they might achieve as they will spend every losing moment paying for their words as the season goes by and there is rarely a place for ‘fighting or winning talk’. Ultimately successful teams win because of their actions on the pitch of course.