AN IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW WITH STEFANO GRECO: THREE FOOTBALL CULTURES, THREE LANGUAGES, ONE GIFTED COACH
- Coach has learned and grown in Italy, Ireland and the United States
- Young players have developed with him from Crotone to Dundalk to Ottawa University, Arizona
- Values person-first coaching after being nurtured as a goalkeeper in the Academy of Italian club Lecce
- Counts current Torino boss Ivan Juric as a mentor and inspiration
- Became a coaching victim of the pandemic when he put family first and returned home from valued job in the USA
HE has learned in three very different football cultures, he speaks three languages fluently.
At the age of 37 Stefano Greco is a coach at the crossroads who is well-equipped to take whatever career direction is offered to him next.
As the football world truly begins to emerge from the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic one aspect of the toll it has taken is often forgotten.
Those coaches who were in jobs they loved and were forced to turn their back on, through no fault of their own, to reunite with families before travel restrictions left them stranded.
Stefano confessed: "I feel I am like many coaches in that COVID-19 has had a big negative effect on my career.
"I was working in Ottawa University in Arizona and when the pandemic hit there was a huge decision of whether I should be stuck there in America for possibly a year and miss my family.
"I knew I had my partner Lauren and my two-year-old daughter Arianna back home and I couldn't have that.
"I had come back for New Year and when I returned to America I had a two week window to decide what to do.
"It was really tough but I had to turn my back on the coaching at a level that I was really enjoying.
"COVID-19 has wrecked the picture of progression that I had in my head as a coach.
"I had to take a job in Dubai for seven months in finance to look after my family. I had to adapt.
"I'm lucky that my friend owned a company there and that I speak Italian, English and Spanish fluently.
"They knew I could be adaptable as a translator and I worked well in administration too."
Stefano did what he had to do for his family, drawing on the work ethic that has been ingrained in him since he was a young goalkeeper in the academy of Italian club Lecce.
Yet for all that those seven months served their purpose for the bank account there were days in the searing heat of the oil-rich state that left Greco yearning for more.
He stressed: "This absence from the game has taught me how much I love it.
"My partner Lauren looked at me and knew I didn't have the spark I had when I could step on a pitch and coach.
"I miss that bond with a team, that special feeling of togetherness with a common goal in sight.
"I've got to be honest I don't get that in day jobs in the real world, only in football."
UEFA A Licence holder Greco's Sport Careers Agency CV is an impressive one.
From working with Crotone's U17s in his native Italy to Dundalk's U19s squad in the Republic of Ireland before that switch to Varsity soccer in the States.
Stefano reflected: "I have learned in those three different football countries and in vastly different cultures which in so many ways can be a blessing but in other ways a CURSE.
"I just applied for an Academy job at a League One club in England and they told me I was OVER-QUALIFIED.
"I did my presentation on PowerPoint and I thought I nailed it and they told me I was too experienced for their U15s!
"Being honest I was stunned by that, where I come from you look at the age of 13 upwards as instilling habits in kids to play for the first team.
"So that was England and then at USL level in America my UEFA A Licence didn't matter much with one club because they said I didn't have any USSF coaching badges.
"They felt I couldn't understand the level of the game there and you have to adapt to their opinions I guess even though I know that's not the case."
Stefano's coaching knowledge and his passion for improving players saw him forge a rock-solid reputation in his adopted homeland of Northern Ireland where partner Lauren hails from.
He had a rewarding two-year spell at Warrenpoint Town FC and also worked as the Northern Ireland Junior National Team's assistant coach.
From the start when he first moved into coaching his goals have been clear and he revealed: "I was moved into a dormitory with my local pro club Lecce when I was just 12.
"I felt then as if I had 25 brothers then who were training on that campus with me.
"So I feel now that I look first as a coach to CONNECT with players the way I did back then, we can look at the Xs and Os after that."
Greco's empathetic approach has now benefitted players from Italy to Ireland to the United States.
For the coach himself the rewards have come in seeing those he has influenced flourish.
He smiled: "As a youth coach I had the pleasure to coach a lot of players who then made their way to play in both Serie A and Serie B.
"Giuseppe Borello is a brilliant player who went on loan to Torino and won the Scudetto with their reserves.
"He is now battling week in and week out for the starting position in Serie B with Crotone.
"Then in the States I have six players I coached playing in NCAA Division One schools.
"My biggest kick comes from seeing players change their lives through the game and make that jump from youth player to senior player.
"I felt psychologically I could help them make that big jump whether I was in Italy, the USA and Ireland.
"I help them to see that it is not all rainbows and fluffy clouds the way it can be in the Academy at times.
"In the men's game you might go in for a 50/50 tackle in training and still be feeling the effects of it TWO DAYS later!
"In senior football I was at Warrenpoint and I got called in to be assistant coach after the manager was sacked and we fought relegation and stayed up in the Irish Premier League.
"As a player I just worried about myself, that season taught me how as a coach you lived the result for the next week."
In July 2019 Stefano took a coaching leap of faith to make the move to the wonderfully named Surprise, Arizona, to become assistant head coach in the men's soccer program at Ottawa University.
An excellent record of 15 wins six losses and one tie would follow and it was a time he cherished...until the pandemic struck.
Coach Greco admitted: "University soccer was at first a culture shock for me in Arizona but my language skills were a huge help to me.
"We had a lot of Mexican players and many Hispanic players won't listen to a white American coach.
"In that respect I could help my colleagues by building and reinforcing respect for the coaches and the culture.
"I was like a SALESMAN convincing these players to commit to us for the four years we would have them.
"That aspect pushed me to develop skills that I didn't have, when I was in the Academy with the U17s at Crotone in Italy I never even MET a parent!
"I would later come to work with the U19s at Dundalk in Ireland who were a community club who had outgrown themselves in some ways.
"In Italy I was given a team to coach and they had a structure to speak to the parents that simply didn't involve me.
"In Ireland I would meet and talk to parents almost every day at Dundalk and that stood me in good stead when I got to the States."
Every coach we talk to in the Sport Careers Agency in-depth series has mentors they have relied upon.
Emotional touchstones, tactical reference points, friends, father figures, inspirations.
We all draw on the experiences and wisdom of others and Stefano is no different.
He insisted: "I have tried to learn from everyone I have coached with, good or bad.
"Salvatore Nobile who played at Inter Milan was different, though, he was the first to take me in to be a goalkeeper coach at Lecce.
"He understood me as a PERSON first, I was working as a bouncer at clubs not knowing what I wanted to do with my life and he told me to get back into the game.
"Salvatore had a human connection with me as did Ivan Juric who was the manager at Crotone and is now at Torino.
"Juric taught me so much about an attacking 3-4-3 and the physical intensity required to play that way.
"He did so much specialised conditioning with that team and they were so fit, they surged to promotion when they were supposed to be favourites for relegation."
The coach who those two veterans of the technical area helped to mould is now a rounded, modern professional.
From Wyscout to ProZone to InStat and Hudl, Stefano has learned the ins and outs of each analytical platform that he feels can help his players learn and improve.
He said: "I'm technically savvy and that started way back with ProZone, I did a course on that six years ago with the League Managers Association in England.
"I always looked at the level of analysis in the NHL when I lived in Canada for a year when I was younger and wondered why we couldn't have that in football.
"So I looked at all the systems and ways to analyse the actions you have now and I recognised how much you can help young players learn that way."
For now Stefano is on the outside looking in at the game he loves, one of many gifted coaches affected by the pandemic who are ready for the next opening.
The key to what drives him can be found in a look back to the days almost a decade ago when the seeds were sown that ensured he would become a coach in a spell at FC Spartans in Boston, USA.
He grinned: "Look, I was a goalkeeper when I was a player which was not good for my mental health but it has given me a rounded way to look at the game.
"I grew up in a not so fortunate area as a kid and when I coached in Boston we found young players from those sort of areas with so much talent.
"So we worked so hard to ensure we could get them scholarships, I was emotionally involved as a volunteer coach.
"I still have so many good memories of the players we helped from those days."
STEFANO GRECO ON THE SERVICE HE RECEIVED FROM SPORT CAREERS AGENCY
"MY CV looks so professional and I love the clean, concise nature of the way it is presented.
"I'm a firm believer in being thorough and professional on how you present yourself as a coach and Sport Careers Agency ensure you do that.
"It's a huge help too that the Managing Director Piero Carrino is a UEFA A Licence coach who coaches in a professional Academy himself.
"He understands the challenges we face as coaches and is always available just for a chat to help discuss opportunities and give advice."