Johnny McKinstry, a 28 year-old native of Lisburn in Co. Antrim has taken charge of the Sierre Leone national football team with the west Africans still having a chance of reaching a first ever World Cup finals in Brazil next summer.
McKinstry has coached around the world, including work in New York with MLS franchise New York Red Bulls. and elsewhere in Ghana, with academies and football coaching foundations.
McKinstry isn’t well known on the international football management circuit but acting Sierra Leone FA director of sports Alphan Coker said: “We decided to appoint McKinstry because he has a good CV and understands Sierra Leone football as he’s been in the country for a while now. We believe he’s a good choice.”
Although the Irishman is not an established coach, he has been working at the Craig Bellamy Foundation which runs a football academy in the country’s capital Freetown.
McKinstry who has replaced Swedish born Lars-Olof Mattsson explained: “I have been coaching in Sierra Leone for just over three years now, working as Academy Manager for the Craig Bellamy Foundation where I am responsible for the identification and development of the country’s best young players.
“Having followed the progress of the national team closely over the last three years, I was well placed to take the job on.”
McKinstry has never before played or coached at a fully professional level though Sierra Leone is still ahead of some great African soccer powers, the likes of Egypt, Morocco Togo, Angola, to name but a few and are very much one of the up-and-coming African sides.
He holds a UEFA ‘A’ Coaching Licence and has worked for the (Northern) Irish FA and Newcastle United FC. Mckinstry has brought in former Sierra Leonean internationals John Keister and goal keeper coach Tamba Moses to assist him.
Few people have confidence that the inexperienced McKinstry can pull off qualification and his appointment has been questioned in some quarters.
“I understand that criticism,” said McKinstry. “The one thing I will point to is the game of football is changing, the idea of a professional football coach who has spent an entire career developing as a coach is one that is coming more and more into play.
“You look at the Portuguese Premier League where at least four of the current managers are ones who have developed their entire career as coaches away from the playing side.
McKinstry’s charges chances of reaching the World Cup were however dealt a blow this weekend thanks to a last gasp equaliser by CAF Group C (second round) table toppers Tunisia. Leading 2-1 with the game deep in injury time at the end of the 90 minutes at Freetown’s National Stadium, the Leone Stars were pegged back thanks to a last gasp equaliser from Tunisian striker Youssef.
To maintain any realistic chance of qualifying for next month’s global extravaganza, the football mad nation with a population of six million people must beat tiny Cape Verde Islands next week.