Former U20 boss Rob Gale named head coach and GM of Valour FC
Rob Gale got his dream job Tuesday,
Typically when people describe a post as a “dream job” it’s the culmination of a long standing goal.
In Gale’s case, it’s much more literal.
The 40-year-old was hired as the first head coach and general manager of Winnipeg’s new Canadian Premier League team Valour FC. The job allows Gale to run a club and work with young players every day, it will give opportunities for young Canadian players and it allows him to stay in the city and province he loves with his wife and two daughters. Gale couldn’t ask for more in a job and until recently it didn’t even exist.
“The whole league and everything about it is so exciting for Canadian soccer. It’s a dream job,” Gale said. “It’s rare that you get to put your stamp on things completely. To be able to build something in your own community, with your friends and family around, that is totally from you, from the brand to the vision to the philosophy, it’s such a unique opportunity.”
Gale signed a three-year contract to get Valour FC off the ground when the CPL debuts in the spring of 2019.
Gale was born in Zambia when his English father was coaching in the African nation. He has lived in Tanzania and England, but to him Winnipeg is home.
“I love Canada, first and foremost. I feel that Canadian identity. I go back (to England) and my family says I’m more Canadian than I am British,” Gale said. “The prairies is such a great place. There is such a community feel. Manitoba has provided me so many wonderful opportunities. It’s a great place to raise a family and it’s a great standard of living for me and my family. I’m exceptionally grateful for that. This is just a small way, hopefully, that I can give back and help professionalize the sport here and unite and ignite the soccer community — and the community as a whole — towards the beautiful game.”
Gale has spent the past four years in charge of the Canadian under-20 men’s national team. He is looking forward to the challenge of building a club from the ground up and establishing a style of play and a club culture — both on the pitch, but also in the change room and on the training ground.
Gale’s vision for Valour FC doesn’t start with tactics, it starts with people. He wants to bring high-character players into the fold who will represent the club the right way.
“We need to be representative of the people of Manitoba. They’re hard-working — it’s a typical Canadian culture in many ways, battling against the elements — but they rally around each other,” Gale said. “I need players who are going to come in and understand that, understand the history of the place. You need to be approachable. You need to be good people and have the right values in your life as well as on the soccer field. It think it’s vital for me to be the head of that. I want the club to be representative of myself, but also of the community. Better people make better players.
“Your character and intelligent people are going to be the ones that we’re looking out for. As well as building the culture we want to be entertaining. Sports is entertainment.”
Gale is as well-equipped as anyone to help launch a CPL club. He was the technical director for Manitoba Soccer from 2006-14 and then began working as a youth coach for Canada Soccer. In 2014 he was named the Canadian under-20 head coach. He guided the team through two qualifying cycles and posted some notable results, but failed to qualify the side for a FIFA Under-20 World Cup.
Gale signed as a youth player with Fulham FC when he was 14 and spent a year with Wycombe Wanderers while he worked towards a degree in media production at the University of Luton. He came to Winnipeg to run a summer camp in conjunction with Fulham. He just happened to meet his future wife Erin who was working with the Winnipeg Youth Soccer Association. They were married in 2003.
Gale has worked in youth and academy programs at a wide range of levels, but will face a new challenge taking charge of a professional club. Still, as the CPL finds its feet, he feels that background will be a benefit and that he will need to do more teaching and developing of talent than many other professional managers are required.
“I’ve been involved in youth development all of my life. I love that coaching side, the learning and growing of the players and myself as well. It’s sort of an ideal fit for me in terms of a start in coaching in professional football,” Gale said.
Coaching is in Gale’s DNA. Five members of his family have UEFA coaching licences, including his brother-in-law John Peacock.
New Canadian men’s national team head coach John Herdman is also in charge of the men’s EXCEL youth program. In speaking with Herdman, Gale realized how much he was relishing getting back to his coaching roots.
“I knew I was transferring over and I was having conversations with John Herdman and he asked me ‘do you want to be a system builder or a coach?’” Gale said. “It really struck home because… what John is looking for now, he really needs those builders and people to do infrastructure work, policies, procedures, processes… all of that needs to be in place with a clear vision. The amount of time that we get to work — and have that human interaction that I crave on and off the field — is very, very limited. When I took the (U20) job, I never really considered how little would actually be coaching. I was coming into March of this year and we hadn’t had the under-20 group together in 12 months. And you think to yourself, how on Earth are we going to be on that level playing field and am I really utilizing the skills I’ve developed over the years and is this what I want to do?
“The opportunity to work with players on a day-to-day basis, ultimately, made this decision easy. I’d have signed up to be the kit man, I think, just to get a chance to work in club football again and be with players day-to-day.”
Winnipeg Football Club operates Valour FC as well as the Canadian Football League’s Blue Bombers. They will play out of Investors Group Field and the infrastructure and facilities within the organization and at their new home should help Valour FC hit the ground running.
“In Wade Miller, the president and CEO, we’ve got someone who came through the Canadian Football League and has made it into the Bombers Hall of Fame,” Gale said. “He admits that he would not have been given that opportunity if there wasn’t a Canadian (content) rule. He is absolutely passionate — without being a soccer expert — about providing opportunities to young Canadian players.”
Gale was on the staff when Canada went to the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2011. That coupled with the his time in charge of the U20s gives him a broad, first-hand knowledge of the young Canadian player pool. To say nothing of the local talent that Manitoba has produced in the last decade. That knowledge goes not just for their qualities on the pitch, but their make-up as young men and their character.
“I like to think it’s an advantage,” Gale said. “I’ve had many, many great players that I got a chance to work with and build a relationship with. Keeping the bigger picture in mind was always one of the key factors for me as the coach of the youth program. I always felt it was more important to get to know the person rather than just the player. To shape them and help them as much as we could so it would benefit them and the men’s national team down the line.
“Hopefully those relationships… will stand me in good stead. Those players who are maybe looking for something new or who want to be on the precipice of something different and on the ground level of something that is history-making, hopefully they’ll relish the opportunity to come and play with me again.”
When he was in charge of the U20 program, Gale lamented the lack of first-team soccer his players were getting. He feels there is no substitute for competitive games in professional atmosphere for young players. And now he is keen to teach young players how to be professionals and given them the opportunities that so many young Canadians haven’t had in the past.
“Future national team coaches will hopefully have the benefits that I never had as a national team coach of more players playing on a regular basis,” Gale said. “That’s one of the things I love (about the CPL). All of the clubs and the league itself have a clear mandate and a very clear ethos about developing Canadian players and improving our national team.”
While he is pragmatic enough to know that winning matches will keep him in a job, Gale also wants to stay true to the higher goal of improving the Canadian talent pool and growing the game.
“I want to make sure that I work with the person, first and foremost, get to know them, their situation, their family life, as I did with the national team. Then I really want to try to help them progress,” Gale said. “If you look at the leagues and the clubs — we need to be a selling league, we need to be a selling club. Other than maybe five or six teams worldwide, everybody is pretty much a selling club anyway. We need to invest in that and create that and really work with the players in a year-round basis. We need to try to give them the platform to move on to the very highest levels of the game. I think that will only help the league. We need to walk before we run and the league will continue to grow. And hopefully we will become as competitive as everybody else.”
Manitoba was able to produce some quality players during his time as technical director. In those eight years, 36 players and staff went on to represent Canada. In the two decades previous, only three Manitobans had reached the international stage.
Those local Winnipeg players haven’t always had the easiest time making a breakthrough at club level. Dylan Carreiro came home after three years in Queen’s Park Rangers’ youth team and two more at Dundee in Scotland before becoming the most valuable player in League 1 Ontario a year ago. Kianz Froese and Marco Bustos struggled to find a breakthrough with MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps and now Froese is looking to get playing time with 2 Bundesliga champions Fortuna Düsseldorf and Bustos is on loan with Zacatepec in the Mexico second flight. Moses Danto signed with Phoenix Rising FC in the USL, but the Sudanese-born striker was unable to secure a work visa.
“The talent is there. I’ve never, ever questioned the talent level that has come to me that I’ve worked with provincially or nationally. It’s just providing those opportunities,” said Gale who referenced Whitecaps standout Alphonso Davies who had a tough second half of the season in 2017 after a breakout Golden Boot-winning performance at the Gold Cup. This season Davies’ play has taken another large step forward.
“They need those opportunities and they also need the faith and the trust placed in them. It’s not just a constant rise to the top. You need to continue to put your faith in those players and I guarantee that they’ll reward you. They’re keen, they’re hungry, they’re young and they’re talented players. (The CPL) is going to provide the Canadian opportunity that we’ve all been craving.”