(i) You played your early football with the Wimbledon youth teams. Can you tell us about that, where you played (position and home ground), any special memories, and did it have a lasting influence on you in your football life?
Alf: My serious football life began when I was 13, playing for school, district and county. I was offered a football scholarship at Millfield, an independent school in Somerset, which was known as the leading sports school in Europe. At 14 I played for their first X1 under-18 team. Unfortunately, at 16 my mother died and I was obliged to return to the family home in Wimbledon. I joined Wimbledon and played in their youth team and in some pre-season reserve matches. We trained at Plough Lane. I was a number 11. Football was always my passion to the detriment of my school work. My first bit of advice: Learning is the best investment a young person can make.
(ii) I understand you have lived in Wimbledon for most of your life. Do you have a special bond with the area?
Alf: I still live in Wimbledon and I am now involved with helping AFC Wimbledon and their Academy. It is very special for me. Since leaving the club my career as taken me to 27 countries. I have been lucky enough to have worked as a coaching educator at 17 federations, including France, England and Japan as well as over 50 clubs, such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Arsenal. Coming back to Wimbledon towards the end of my career is, I think, an interesting story. My playing career, unfortunately. ended after four knee operations by the time I was 18. I still wanted to stay in football and early on I took my FA preliminary badge. Eventually, I went to the USA, tried to play again but it wasn’t possible. In 1976 I married an American and soon after created along with two American friends, the Lake Placid (New York) Soccer Camp. We started with 26 kids .. fast forward 40 years and now it’s over 25,000 boys and girls who have been through that camp. Mostly proud that about 40 per cent were girls. I am a big fan of women’s football.
(iii) Tell us about how you became involved with Coerver Coaching, how you met up with Chelsea wing wizard Charlie Cooke to be the co-founders (is there a friendship with Charlie that’s behind this? – any background to it) ?
Alf: In 1984, Charlie Cooke, the great Chelsea legend, who was living in the USA and was football manager at Nike, discussed with me an involvement in soccer in the USA. Charlie and I then decided to begin our own soccer schools. We had similar ideas about how football should be played and coached. Fortunately. in 1984 at a soccer convention in Philadelphia we met, by chance, Dutch coach Wiel Coerver. After conversations with Wiel, Charlie and I were convinced by Wiel’s philosophy about football, which basically was that in the formative years 8-16, the focus should be more on individual not team development. Coincidentally, six months later I was doing my full coaching license at Lilleshall in England and Bobby Robson, who was the national team coach at the time, invited Wiel to Lilleshall. The next three weeks I spent almost all my time absorbing everything that Wiel said.
(iv) What were your initial aims with Coerver Coaching, how and why were you influenced by the football thinking of Wiel Coerver?
Alf: I called Charlie and told him I thought we had after all this time found a philosophy that we could build our coaching programs around. Wiel had a job in Dubai so he did not want to join our venture, so we bought the rights to the Coerver name, registered and trademarked it. Charlie and I founded Coerver Coaching in 1984. Our first task was to devise a curriculum and method. Since then we have built perhaps the largest skills curriculums for young footballers throughout the world. Currently, probably every FA and all the top professional clubs use some part of our work in some way.
(v) What is your basic ethos about football coaching, what are the pillars of your thinking on how to develop young players?
Alf: Coerver Coaching, in my opinion, is indispensable to effectively play the future game. I say that because I believe that the future game will require good levels of ball possession to control the game and I believe between the ages of 6-16 Coerver is the ABC that can make that possible.
(vi) You have had phenomenal global success with Coerver Coaching, working as a coach instructor with 17 National Federations and 50 top professional clubs. What gave you the most pleasure/personal satisfaction out of that?
Alf: Of course. I may be biased, but the fact that we have been acknowledged by some of the great clubs, coaches and FIFA over these 40 years, I believe gives Coerver Coaching the credibility to make the statement that I believe is essential in a young player’s football education. Working with Gerard Houllier and Aime Jacquet in coaches education was a highlight. In the early days working at Manchester City was a highlight as was many years at Arsenal, but there are so many great clubs I’ve had a chance to work at that it’s difficult to choose.
(vii) FIFA gave you an award in 2014 for 40 years contribution to the development of the game around the world. How did that make you feel reflecting on your life’s work?
Alf: Of course, I have many coaches who I have worked with over the years. For example, my closest friend Gerard Houllier, who sadly passed two years ago and who I miss every day. brought me to work with the French FA in 1993 and our working and personal relationship lasted both with the French Federation but also at Liverpool and Olympique Lyonnais. Gérard is on record as saying he believes Coerver was an essential part of France’s global football successes in all age groups. Another person, who I admire greatly and am close to, is Arsene Wenger and, of course. Sir Alex Ferguson. There are too many people to mention, I have been more than lucky to have learnt so much from them and many others. And what also may interest your Australian readers is that I was also very fortunate to work for the Australian Federation for three years under German Han Berger, the technical director. I was the instructor to a group of ex-Australian international players that Han wanted to fast track so they could pass on their valuable experience and talents. It was a great idea. In Australia my very good friend Jason Lancsar, who played Futsal for Australia, is now the Director of Coerver Coaching in Australia. He has developed a fantastic national program, which I recommend to all Australian parents and coaches.
(viii) AFC Wimbledon announced last February that you would become ‘Technical Consultant’. to its Academy under Michael Hamilton. What is your role with that, how does it work. Give an example of what input you might give to the Academy?
Alf: I am happy that I am now able to help Michael Hamilton, the AFCW Academy manager. Michael is a talented young coach and has some great ideas about how to help the club develop. Each month either online or live, I work with the coaches at the Club, sharing some of my experiences and ideas. I am a big AFC Wimbledon fan — of course!
(ix) Finally, Alf, there is considerable international travel involved in all this.Is there an end in sight for you and Coerver Coaching, what’s the future?
Alf: The future …well, whether good or bad news, I’m not going to retire as long as I’m useful .. there is still so much for me to learn.
“Meeting Alf was a game changer for me and our Academy” Mark Robinson
I was first introduced to Alf Galustian over 15 years ago by Nigel Higgs. We had real common beliefs that a player’s technical skill-set has a huge impact on their decision-making. At the time I was making up my own technical sessions (both unopposed and opposed) to improve players technique for certain game situations. Meeting Alf was a game changer for me and our Academy. He introduced me to the great work they do at Coerver Coaching and at the same time agreed to give up his time in his busy schedule to come in up to four times a season to put on sessions for our Under-18s. His special way of linking skills and technique to the game opened my eyes further to a way of coaching I believed in. I used many of Alf’s drills within our curriculum and adapted drills of my own to make them more effective. Our belief in developing two-footed players further benefitted from the Coerver coaching style. I am very proud to say Alf and I have become great friends since that first meeting. He has introduced me to some great people with great knowledge and we have enjoyed hours upon hours of player and coaching development chats.
[The Alf Galustian Interview was first published in the December-January 2023/24 issue of the Wombles Downunder fanzine. Details on how you can subscribe to Wombles Downunder.]