At the age of 18, Anthony Limbrick moved to the UK to chase his dream of playing professional football but, after breaking his leg playing non-league football, that dream was shattered. Now, 15 years later, the Australian manager is at the centre stage of Welsh football after taking The New Saints to the top of the league.
No other story in Australian football has quite the same charm as Anthony Limbrick’s journey to becoming a professional manager.
His story starts like plenty of others, a kid obsessed with football that had the dream of making it pro. He worked hard to save enough money to fund a trip abroad and at 18, Limbrick left his family and home behind to chase his footballing dreams in England.
After breaking his leg while playing non-league football shortly after his move to the UK, Limbrick quickly realized that he was not going to make it professionally as a player. Most players in his situation at that age would likely call it quits on their football aspirations and get a ‘real’ job, but Limbrick knew he wanted to stick with football and decided to dedicate himself to coaching.
Historically, most coaches are ex-players who have played at a decent level of football. On top of that, very few Australian coaches and players had found success abroad in England. This Aussie was not discouraged from the possibility of failure; his failure as a player gave him the hunger and determination to stay in the game and try to do something that had not been done before.
At 19, he began his coaching career with five and six-year-olds to build the experience. He worked for schools and after-school clubs in a variety of roles and he credits this experience for making him very flexible and adaptable as a coach.
Five years later, in 2007, he was appointed as a reserve team coach at non-league side Wingate-Finchley, the club that Limbrick was playing at before his injury.
At this point in his career, Limbrick had worked a wide variety of coaching and managing positions having coached youth football to senior men’s sides. Even though it was a lower skill level, it gave him the coaching experience that had lacked in previous years. After season upon season of hard work, long hours, and lower-paying jobs, he got his big break.
Limbrick landed a job at Southampton where he took over the Under-14s side whilst also working with Under-16s, Under-18s and Under-23s. The Saints may have only been in League One at the time, but the likes of Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers, and James Ward-Prowse were in their academy system during Limbrick’s spell at the club.
The young Australian got to work alongside a future Champions League finalist in Mauricio Pochettino and a future Barcelona manager in Ronald Koeman. Limbrick was intrigued at how distinct their styles and methods of coaching were but both played a similar style of high-pressing attacking football and strived for the same product out of their squad. He was able to get involved with the first team and take advice from the senior team’s manager Nigel Adkins, whom he still contacts regularly.
Limbrick’s time at St. Mary’s enabled him to study a variety of managerial styles and more importantly, have experience coaching at a higher and more competitive level of football. Once he had left Southampton in 2015, Limbrick experienced the uncertainty and frustration that accompany elite coaching.
He had applied for at least 30 jobs and was exposed to constant rejection for roles, something that most people do not see with coaches. It was a competitive market and he invested hours into the prep work that went into all of the job applications he applied for. He needed to know the ins and outs of each club’s squads, teams, and academies but all of that effort would go to waste if he was rejected.
Despite the ongoing failure in finding a new coaching role, Limbrick eventually joined West Ham United as an academy coach. His one-year spell with the Hammers gave him insight into another set of experienced academy coaches and a different academy system. West Ham was the next stepping stone in his career and offered him some crucial experience in adapting to a new squad.
Limbrick’s next step was to move into the senior space and his opportunity came earlier than expected when he was accepted to complete the UEFA Pro license. The course was Limbrick’s gateway to the professional game and provided him with the chance to work alongside the likes of Manchester United great Nemanja Vidic and current Brighton & Hove Albion coach Graham Potter.
In 2017, he finally got his first senior coaching role with Woking in the National League. He started the season strong and made a decent FA Cup run but the departures of many crucial players derailed the progress that Limbrick had made. He left his role in April to become an assistant manager at League Two side Grimsby Town.
The position was a good achievement for Limbrick, who credited his time in League Two as an opportunity to learn in a unique environment and be exposed to a wide variety of playing styles. He eventually became the side’s interim boss in November 2019 before accepting an offer to become the head coach for Welsh champions The New Saints.
Mike Harris, The New Saints chairman, spoke about his reason for hiring Limbrick:
Anthony’s attention to detail was an influencing factor in his appointment as the club embarks upon on new era, we welcome him to the club, leading the club’s target to achieve a place in the group stage of a Uefa club competition in the next two seasons.
The Saints are currently first in the Cymru Premier and remain undefeated after six matches. They lost in the second round of the Welsh League Cup but were marginally close to making the UEFA Conference League playoffs.
They reached the third qualifying round where they faced Czech side Viktoria Plzeň, a team who beat Roma in the Champions League group stage three seasons ago. Limbrick’s team won the first fixture at home 4-2 but they fell apart in the reverse fixture as they conceded two late goals to send the game to penalties. The Saints missed their first two shots and went on to lose 4-1 in the shoot-out.
Limbrick plays a 4-3-3 attacking formation that focuses on building from the back and getting the ball forward in a variety of ways. He emphasizes a fast-paced game and the importance of passing in the final third. Because of his high-pressing, his team tries to win the ball back quickly after being dispossessed to prevent being caught out of shape. His style of play and philosophy has been successful throughout his career so far but he will look to further develop and adapt his tactics as he continues along with his coaching career.
His team seems to have moved past their exit from Europe and will look to hold onto their four-point buffer at the top of their domestic table. Limbrick remains forced on guiding The New Saints to the top of Welsh football and helping the club qualify for the Conference League group stage, yet, the long-term future of the Aussie remains unknown.
He has expressed an interest in eventually returning to Australia to coach an A-League side but it seems as though his current future remains in Europe in trying to coach the best football squads that he can.
It is rare to see an Australian coaching or even playing at a European club. The most notable Aussie on the European coaching stage is Ange Postecoglou, but even he needed decades to get the opportunity to coach Celtic. Anthony Limbrick has succeeded where plenty of others have failed in such a short window of time. The future looks bright for Limbrick, one can hope he can continue his success in more competitive leagues.