Terry Phelan is technical director of Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League. He has also coached in the US and New Zealand. As a player, he won the FA Cup with Wimbledon, played at the 1994 World Cup with Ireland, and appeared for Wimbledon, Manchester City, and Everton, among others, in the Premier League.
“I never wanted to be a journeyman. At the end of my career, I didn’t want to run round the lower leagues, here, there and everywhere. I left Fulham in 2001, and then had three months at Sheffield United. After that, I had other offers: Wigan, Leicester. But I wanted a taste of something different.”
I went to America for a week with Earl Barrett. We were invited to a football conference in Philadelphia. A friend of mine was there – Todd Hoffard, who was a goalkeeper at Charleston Battery. He introduced me to the Battery CEO, who said: “What are you doing the next two years?”
So I had two wonderful years playing for Charleston. We won the league (the second tier of American soccer, the USL). The stadium was great. But more than anything, the lifestyle was brilliant for my wife and three children. After two years, Todd, who was from Philadelphia, offered me a job at a coaching company there, One on One Soccer. And that’s when I got my teeth into coaching.
Football is about who you know, as much as what you know. When I was at Charleston, a Kiwi came for a tryout – Blair Scoullar, a New Zealand international. We kept in touch, and in 2005 he was back in New Zealand playing for Otago United. He said: “Do you fancy coming down here, become head coach?” I was getting itchy feet in the US. The wife was keen. So we said: “Let’s do it.”
We could have gone back to England, but I wanted to get out of the bubble. Some people are stuck there, driving up and down the motorway, moaning about the weather. I thought: “I want an adventure. I want to see the world.” Now, I’ve got contacts all over the place, from Alaska to New Zealand. People are always asking: “Terry, are there any jobs going? Where’s good to go?”
I was at Otago from 2005 to 2009, playing and coaching. We met wonderful people there and visited some wonderful places. After Otago, I worked for the New Zealand football federation and I was running my own football school. I got a lot of players to US colleges on good scholarships and left a lot of boys and girls playing for the national team. I laid a good foundation there.
In 2011, a friend in America phoned to say there was a job going in India. It was a residential academy in Goa, which is a lovely part of the world. I had a look around, met the owners, and went for it. We sold our place in New Zealand, packed our bags, and moved over. I was there for just under two years and then, after 12 years away, we decided to move back to England.
To tell you the truth, I got bored in England. I worked part-time at Blackpool, part-time at Wigan, and I was visiting academies. But I spent a lot of time gardening. One thing I did do was work as football development manager for Templegate Training. It was for kids who’d lost direction, aged 16 to 21. We got them level one coaching badges, gave them some education. I sent two to Italy and four or five to Mexico. Two of them are still at an American school there – they don’t want to come back!
When I was back home, I got a call from Trevor Morgan in India. He said: “I’ve got a job as assistant coach at the Kerala Blasters in the Indian Super League – they’re looking for a technical director, what do you think?” That was November 2014. I came to visit in March 2015, moved over in May, and have been here ever since. I run the academies, run the football schools. And when Peter Taylor left as head coach in November, I took over for three or four weeks, which was a good experience.
Young Indian players are different to English lads. The Indians are very down to earth, very polite, well-mannered. They want to get better. Technically, some are very gifted – you could drop them into an English academy, no bother. What they lack is game intelligence.
In England, some choose not to learn. Some have determination, but others don’t. When we grew up, we played in the street. We didn’t have two cars in the house, we didn’t have holidays. And if we did, it was 12 hours on the ferry to Ireland. You’ve got to be hungry, you’ve got to work hard.
I get goosepimples when I think of my journey. When I was released by Leeds as a young lad I had a job to do. I had to prove people wrong. I went to Swansea, which was fantastic, and Wimbledon was a different world. I played for some of the biggest clubs in England, and now I’m in India. Fantastic.
Things are starting to happen in India. Liverpool have an academy, Bayern Munich might be opening an academy, Hoffenheim are taking players to Germany. At Kerala we’re getting 60,000 or 70,000 fans, which is in the top ten in the world in some weeks. The passion is unbelievable.
One problem with Indian football is players don’t test themselves. They should be going to other parts of Asia, to learn and get tougher. But if you’re in Goa, or other nicer parts of India, you can stay put and earn good money. They can play in the I League, play in the ISL for three months, and be comfortable. The think to themselves: “Why do I need to leave?” But you have to test yourself.
I also do television work in India. I’m on Ten Sports with Stevie Grieve – he’s a great lad. He teaches me things even I didn’t know. It’s three hours on the plane to Delhi, but I don’t mind. And it’s very interesting work. I meet a lot of people, learn a lot of new things. Part of the adventure.
I’d love to write a book, it’s just finding time to do it. I think it would be called “Life in a Lift”, as I’ve been living in a five-star hotel for the past year! If I was going to open a hotel, I’d know everything about it. But it’s not too shabby, I get up every day and enjoy it. I wanted to play for the biggest clubs in England, I wanted to see the world, and I have. I’ve no regrets, long may it continue.