I want Samoa that: an in-depth interview with Jess Ibrom

NO man is an island...but in Oceania Jess Ibrom looks like he is on a mission to work on just about every one of them.

The 43-year-old English coach, who cut his teeth in an elite project in New Zealand attached to the Chelsea Academy, has one of the most intriguing CVs in the Sport Careers Agency stable.

Jess is currently revelling in his latest role as Technical Director of the Football Federation of Samoa.

Coaching on the two paradise islands that make up Samoa is a world away from the wet and windy nights at King's Lynn in the Southern Premier League where Ibrom first began to make his mark.

His work after moving to the Chelsea/APFA academy was to open doors a world away as he originally travelled out to New Zealand a decade ago as part of an Academy recruitment project for the Stamford Bridge giants.

That led to his reputation growing in the region and he landed the job as Academy Director for the Wellington Phoenix in the Australia A League which was followed by a role as Technical Director of the Cook Islands.

Jess smiled: "Samoa is a holiday destination in the middle of the Pacific Ocean but the challenges in my job now are tame compared to the Cook Islands.

"There you have 15 separate islands and they are so far apart they have a geographical span the size of western Europe!

"If I was to fly from the most southern to the most northern it's four and a half hours!

"I was on one island Mitiaro that has a population of just 155 people, it was an adventure for sure!"

For now the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions mean that Jess is stuck at home in Auckland, New Zealand, doing his new job in Samoa remotely.

That hasn't dampened the charismatic Englishman's enthusiasm for the task ahead, though, as he writes another chapter in a compelling coaching story.

He insisted: "I left one island federation in the Cook Islands and said It would be tough to repeat it because it is such a unique challenge but here I am again.

"It's a great opportunity and the President of the Federation has such a strong vision and trust in me that it pulled me towards the role.

"There are two main islands in Samoa called Savai'i and Upolu and they are a 45-minute ferry ride apart.

"The population is just under 200,000 and in terms of football there are actually more grassroots players than rugby which many see as the main sport.

"Our Federation has 15 to 20 full-time staff in the capital city Apia and Savai'i and we have a good facility with three pitches there and a new training ground on the way in August.

"There are 11 countries in Oceania now - with Australia now in the Asian sections - and New Zealand will always be the superpower here in football terms.

"We know where we are but always also where we want to get to and there have been a lot of Zoom meetings and team briefings online.

"We are making progress despite the difficulties we all face working this way.

"The job for me is coaching the coaches and helping to prepare national staff for competitions.

"I am designing programs, aligning them and making sure we are meeting the standards that Oceania and FIFA set for us.

"My job is not to coach the national team, it is to develop the coaches and create the right framework to progress.

"I have seen too many others suffer that way. I made progress enjoying my two years with the Cook Islands by remembering what my remit was."

The Samoan men's team lie at 194th in the FIFA rankings but their female counterparts are a comparatively lofty 99th as they sit sandwiched between Puerto Rico and Lithuania.

Ibrom senses he could be in the right place at the right time to help fashion significant progress.

Jess stressed: "The women have HUGE potential and we have the Women's World Cup coming to Australia and New Zealand in 2023.

"That's a big target because we have never achieved any success at that level.

"One of my big aims away from helping that effort has to be coach education and club licensing and developing all of that is a huge initial goal."

When you talk to Jess about his coaching story, the threads of the United States of America are woven throughout it.

Ibrom was 21 when he first took the trip out to do a coaching camp across the pond.

And he admitted: "I guess that was when the seeds were sown in terms of travelling.

"It was different then from what it is now, the game there has grown at such a rapid rate.

"Yet those trips opened my eyes to a new culture and I realised that I could make a full-time career out of coaching.

"Eventually I would go from King's Lynn to working closely with Chelsea and then I had a chance to go to Houston Dynamo to do a study on whether they should build an elite Academy with that franchise.

"It never came off in the end but it was another terrific experience."

Along the way Ibrom has played a development role in the careers of some significant players.

These include Eugenio Pizzuto, currently with Lille in Ligue 1. Jess initially scouted Eugenio in Monclova, Mexico in 2013 before recruiting him to New Zealand and the Wellington Phoenix two years later.

Pizzuto would go on to captain the Mexican team at the recent FIFA U17 World Cup and star for Pachuca in the country's top flight league before moving to Lille who are currently top of the league in France above the likes of PSG and Lyon.

Another player influenced by Ibrom is an English export so often forgotten about in sports trivia quizzes, MLS winner Dom Dwyer.

Jess recalled: "Dom was at Norwich City until he was 14 and they released him. He then joined King's Lynn FC.

"We were in the Southern Premier League with King's Lynn at that time and Dom was coaching for me in our community scheme.

"He just came one night and told me he wanted to go to college in the States and the rest is history.

"Dom's gone on to star for Sporting Kansas City and Orlando City, win the MLS and make a superb career for himself."

Ibrom's eye for developing young players saw him land the job as Director of Football and Head Coach of Tasman United in the New Zealand National League.

There were many highs, such as the club's first ever win over Kiwi giants Auckland City, and the joy of seeing the youngest squad in club history flourish and land the highest league finish in the franchise's history.

When tougher times came, though, Jess felt it. Badly.

He confessed: "After losing a game in the New Zealand National League I was taking it so much to heart and feeling a world of stress. It meant too much to me in a way.

"I was starting to hate the game and it took a spell coaching kids after I left there to reignite my love for football.

"So it's not all smiles and sunshine, there have been some troughs too but when I've had darker days I have always had great mentors to lean on.

"When I was at King's Lynn I was lucky enough to work with a coach called Paul Hunt who I learned so much from.

"He taught me about structure and discipline and so much that I have carried with me.

"Then I met Giovani Fernandes out here, a Brazilian coach who was kind of the opposite of Paul and taught me another side of the game."

Every Sport Careers Agency client who prospers abroad will field contacts from coaches in Britain desperate to follow in their footsteps.

So what would be Jess' blueprint to achieve that?

He said: "My advice would be to commit as much time as possible to getting coaching hours under your belt.

"I spent seven years in England getting my badges and picking up cones on dark winter nights.

"Then I networked as much as possible and I did my research and you have to do that to genuinely believe in making a move.

"It's not an easy step to make, you have to give your all to the process."

One thing's for sure Jess Ibrom has done just that.

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