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Bolton Nuts » BWFC » Bolton Wanderers News » Ex-Bolton, Liverpool coach Ian Brunskill forced to cut short China job

Ex-Bolton, Liverpool coach Ian Brunskill forced to cut short China job

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Nat Lofthouse
Nat Lofthouse
Home comforts have been rare for former Bolton Wanderers coach Iain Brunskill, so a few months on lockdown has turned into a pleasant break.

The Liverpudlian, who was part of Neil Lennon’s backroom, has been on a globetrotting adventure since leaving the North West – spending time in Jordan, China, Dubai, Japan and Norway.

He had been in Guangzhou, China, at the start of the year about to embark on a new post in the national team’s technical department but when the coronavirus crisis put football on hold he found himself back in England and looking back on a busy few years which saw him cross paths with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Marcelo Lippi, Vitor Pereira and Hulk - the Brazilian one, not Bruce Banner.

“I think it’s fair to say I have covered a few miles in the last few years,” he told The Bolton News.

“it has been quite natural for me living away, so coming back home for a couple of months with the family has been like a nice break even if I am missing the football.

“In January I’d been in China meeting the coaches and helping the national team in the World Cup qualifiers. I’d been down to go to the Philippines.

“But then news of the virus broke and there wasn’t much time to hang around. I didn’t want to end up being in quarantine for a fortnight, so it was a case of jumping on a flight home right away and then waiting to see when we pick it up again.”

A player with Liverpool and Bury in his youth, Brunskill turned to coaching and went on to become part of the Reds’ reserve team staff before moving on to Blackburn as reserve team boss and first team coach.

He came to Bolton to succeed Jamie Fullarton in the development squad set-up and spent a couple of years working with the likes of Rob Holding, Tom Walker, Tyler Garratt, George Newell, Alex Finney and Kaiyne Woolery.

After leaving Bolton in the summer of 2016, Brunskill went to Jordan for 18 months working with the country’s younger sides and helping the Under-23s team qualify for the 2017 Asian Championships.

They went close to getting out of the group stages, drawing their first two games against Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, only to lose their final game by a single goal against Iraq.

“It was a great experience,” he said. “We went very close in the end. I got about four or five players through to the senior side and a couple of them went on to play in Europe.

“The tournament was in China and beforehand we went to play a couple of warm-up matches in Dubai. One was against China’s U23s and Marcelo Lippi had his staff take charge.

“In the end I left the job because we were in between tournaments. The way it works over there is different and all the money was being put into the senior team. I got offered a chance to move into the senior staff but it didn’t really feel right for me at that time.

“Thankfully at the same time I got offered a post in Hong Kong – which weirdly enough brought me back in touch with someone from Bolton.”

Brunskill was interviewed by the father of Luke Woodland, the player who spent 12 years in the Whites’ youth academy, later having spells with the likes of Oldham Athletic, York City and Chester.

“They offered me a two-year contract to be the head of academy for the Hong Kong FA and my wife and daughter were all ready to come out there and meet me,” Brunskill explained.

“But right at the end I got a phone call from Eric Black, who was working with Shanghai SIPG, a Super League club in China.

“He was over there with Richard Money and told me about a thing the Chinese government were doing, gathering together the best players for an Olympic development programme.

“There were a few dotted around – one we were involved in around Shanghai, one in Beijing, there was a select team run by Sun Jihai, the ex-Manchester City player, and another regional team, but it sounded like a really exciting opportunity, so I didn’t go to Hong Kong in the end.”

The new post would see Brunskill bring players back to the UK for eight weeks, plus spend time in Japan, and half a dozen were then selected by the government for the main group.

“They make a Trans World Sport documentary about what we were doing,” he said. “The whole thing was being co-ordinated by IMG, a massive company, so there were some big names attached to it. Guus Hiddink was brought in as as the head development coach with the Chinese national team – they definitely weren’t messing about.

“We spent time working with Shanghai’s Under-21s team, whose fixtures mirror the first team’s. So a lot of the time you would be training with the same group of quality players.

“I got on really well with the vice president at IMG and they wanted me to stay on for a project they were doing in Florida but to be honest I was looking around for other things. And I found something I liked in Norway.”

Some 5,000 miles away in the western fjords, Brunskill would link up with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer towards the end of 2018.

He knew the former Manchester United striker from their days coaching reserve team football in England and though the environment was a challenging one, Brunskill said it was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.

“Ole is a good guy and he was looking to change the way the club did things a little bit,” he explained.

“The club has a ‘Molde 2’ which plays in the fourth division – which is a bit like the Bolton Under-18s going to play in Conference North.

“It’s men’s football, you get the experience, but you don’t really get the technical or tactical challenge that you need to progress as a player who can go and play in the first team.

“Molde is an amazing place but playing on Astro Turf isn’t easy. The club was looking to change the way they recruited players and we were starting to make a difference when I got another call from China and IMG.”

A secondment back in China beckoned which would again see Brunskill work within the country’s FA in an effort to align the youth teams with the senior set-up.

The project had been due to start in January but once the country got put on complete lockdown he was put on a plane home, and is now awaiting a nod to resume the job.

“When I was out in China we’d been staying in a training base about an hour outside Shanghai which catered for all sorts of sports – table tennis, basketball, rowing,” he said.

“It’s a fascinating place and the football is coming on now they have got the teams working together. If they get it right, they will be hard to stop.

“Table tennis is still the main sport over there but when you are coaching football there’s still a kind of national trait that you have to accept. I’ve found you can teach players who to get from the edge of their own box but then it’s that final third, the individual creative decisions where it becomes more difficult.

“They are great at individual sports because it’s practice and repetition and I think China has plenty of good defenders and midfielders, athletes, and they are very strong on the women’s game too.

“It’s finding that extra little piece. There are four foreigners allowed in each Super League side now (five in the matchday squad), so that is having an influence, but it’s an exciting time for the country and I think it’s well worth seeing how people do things outside the UK. It’s a big world out there.”


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