Football is full of unique stories. Far from the flashes of the press and the lucrative contracts, there is a world where the sacrifice, tenacity and love for the game are the common currency. Here, you do not play for money. Here you play for glory.
Gibraltar’s entry to the concert of European football is a clear example of what has been said. After years of failed attempts, in 2013 The Rock was finally admitted as a full member of UEFA.
Despite the good debut against Slovakia, “the Glibets” soon realized that they are still, within the concert of European football, a young nation with much to learn.
The poor results obtained in the first games of the qualifying for the EURO 2016 led to the dismissal of manager Allen Bula, who was replaced, on an interim basis, by David Wilson.
The story of this Scottish, who served as an assistant during the passage of Bula as manager of the national team, is worth telling. With a stay in the youth divisions of Kilmarnock, Wilson went through various Scottish teams until, at 22-years-old, he entered the Royal Navy.
His professional life took a turn when, in 2008, Wilson’s Navy career took him to “The Rock” to serve as an Exercise Rehabilitation Officer.
During his stay in the “Peñón”, Wilson offered his services as a physical trainer at several local clubs. He was surprised when he received the call from Allen Bula who offered him to join his work group, not as a physical trainer, but as his “right hand” man.
After the departure of Bula, the federation asked Wilson to take over the team on an interim basis. His debut as manager came against Scotland on March 29. Sadly for the coach, the Scottish team showed no mercy and beat Gibraltar 6-1.
In an exclusive interview with Back Page Football, Wilson not only analyses the present and future of his team but also reveals some of his footballing philosophy.
Gibraltar is playing its first major tournament as a full member of UEFA. How do you rate your team’s performance so far? What is the most important at this moment, winning experiences or winning matches?
Performances have been above expectations of many people outside our close group of players and coaches. Yes we’ve had heavy defeats and lost games but we, at time, held out own for long periods against world-class teams.
Our failings come in the later stages of matches where our conditioning and professionalism due to fatigue is lacking. Winning matches is something for the future. Every game is a winning experience for a country and group of players in the pre-season of our footballing journey.
In your opinion, what are the strengths and weaknesses of Gibraltar? The fact that your players are, mostly, semi professional surely has some influence?
We are learning the game, and the players are sponges to information. This new level of professional approach is slowly growing on this group of players. It’s the future youth players coming through that will really benefit. Due to that, our strength is the players have no fear.
They want to impress and they have ability to do so. There is no home and away for my players because they enjoy playing to crowds, something we’ve never had on grand scales in Gibraltar.
What kind of football is played on The Rock? Is it a purely English style of play or is there any Spanish influence?
The style is very UK-based but with a heavy Iberian influence, hard high tempo football but with very small and balanced footballers.
Today the league of Gibraltar is semi professional. Is there a possibility that, in future, the Federation chooses to develop a purely professional competition? Undoubtedly this would help the development of the country at football level.
In fact, the league is professional and, due to our two places in the Champions League and Europa League, all teams are recruiting players and coaches to excel into one of the competitions because of the financial gains.
In the local league there are good foreign players, such as Argentine striker Cristian Toncheff (College Europe FC). Is it possible to nationalise them in order to bring more large hierarchy to the national squad?
Its politics and something I think nothing about. I like Cristian, he is a talented player and if he were available I’d analyse his style closer rather than admiring from a distance. If the rules changed of course I’d be compelled to look at every player possible.
You are the team’s interim manager. Do you have the illusion that the Federation appoint you definitively?
I have the support of the association in my employment in either the number one or number two position. If a new manager comes into the post he will need help and information on the players, our level of football, etc. It’s my job and passion to ensure the players are not sold short. Yes it’s only my opinion, but its an opinion from outside the “Rock” so it’s both subjective and objective.
What are your goals as manager of Gibraltar?
I have to improve our play in general. It’s ok defending for 90 mins but we have to show we can defend well but break forward with the talent we have on offer. The people of Gibraltar love their football and many of them know their stuff.
[The aim is] To allow the players the freedom to play and express themselves, letting the nation see positives in every game, even in defeat. My goals are to improve players but impress the nation too.
Who and in what way they have influenced you? Do you endorse any football philosophy in particular?
Tommy Burns, Jim Fleeting (my old manager at Kilmarnock), Jimmy Case and a man called Tony Mount, my manager at non-league Newport on the Isle of Wight. There are many but these four have similar morals in football that I have taken to be my own – passionate about what they do, knowledge of the players they have and simple understanding of the game.
Football is simple but made hard by over complicating coaches and managers. These guys taught me things like personal battles around the pitch, knowing just what you can get from a player who wants to play for you, and that’s me; I want to create players who want to play for me. Impress me with their actions and listen to instructions while knowing they have the will to express themselves.
The manager is the team leader off the pitch. Has your military career has helped you in any way to establish as leader of the group?
I’ve been very fortunate. I was a professional footballer before I decided on my military career, so I had a good grounding and was being properly taught about discipline and football. The military then gave me tools of confidence to take charge, listen and respect opinions.
I try to do all in equal amounts but its times I have to stamp down on opinions, put people back in their place and comfort some while shout at others. I feel I do all things well, while I know in football coaching terms I’m still learning my trade. I will always be learning my trade and that’s something that I hope makes me better than others, as I gain coaching experience I hope this makes me a great manager.
Finally, what is football for you?
Initially it was for watching and supporting, but now I’ve had the taste of football at international level. I want more. I want to learn more and listen and work with others. I think I have a talent for working with and understanding players, this may not make me the best manager in the world but it could make me a great and experienced asset to managers who need that support.
Having my children and family excited and enjoying the journey as much as me makes me very proud and humble in equal amounts. I’m a lucky guy doing my hobby professionally every day I am thankful for the opportunity given to me by this association.