Experienced coach on board...FORMER Bristol Rovers manager, John Ward, has been appointed as the Club’s new Professional Development coach.
The 64-year-old brings a wealth of experience, having managed seven different clubs in a coaching career spanning over three decades.
Ward, who won promotions with Cheltenham and Bristol City, will work closely with first-team coach, Richard O’Kelly, and academy manager, Neil Woods, to develop young players for the senior side.
And after a year out of the game, Ward is delighted to be on board.
“It’s nice to get back on the grass, get my boots on and start working with players again,” said Ward.
“I’ve had a while out of it so I’m looking forward to it. I’ve always described myself as a coach who manages, rather than a manager who coaches.
“Working with teams and players individually – particularly with the young lads here now – in some ways, it’s me giving something back to the game after an enjoyable career.
“My role is to help these young players to get in around the first-team, and support them emotionally, physically and tactically.
“I can’t say I’ll get six players in the first-team and they’ll stay there because for players aged 18/19/20 that’s a tough ask.
“But it’s about developing a relationship with the players.
“It’s about trying to develop them mentally as well as physically, because physically they’re fine – they’re all good athletes.
“But mentally they’ve got a lot to deal with – making errors, dealing with good times as well as the difficult ones. So it’s about helping them on the path of life, as much as in football.”
Ward has been working with the Saddlers for the last three weeks, and is encouraged by what he has seen.
“There’s a lot of talent,” he said. “I think they’re very fortunate because at so-called bigger clubs, they wouldn’t be close to the first team.
“They’d be playing U21s football on parks pitches somewhere and not getting a feel of it.
“At this football club, there’s an opportunity to get into the first-team, and that’s something we’ll push at them – and certainly Dean (Smith) does that anyway.
“It’s my job to help them when they’re in, when they’re out and what to do, and how to deal with it.”
A forward during his playing days, Ward spent nine years with his hometown team, Lincoln City, between 1970 and 1979, scoring 91 goals in 240 league appearances.
He also played for Workington, Grimsby and Watford – the club with whom he started his coaching career as assistant-manager to Graham Taylor in 1982.
Ward followed Taylor to Aston Villa in 1987 and stayed for four years before leaving for York, where he was handed his first manager’s position.
He managed both Bristol clubs in the 1990s – guiding City to promotion from the Second Division as runners-up in 1997/98 – and also became assistant-boss at both Burnley and Wolves.
Ward won promotion with Cheltenham via the League Two play-offs in 2005/06, and later took the reins at Carlisle, Colchester and Bristol Rovers (again) – the last club he managed.
The vastly-experienced coach has taken charge of over 700 competitive matches.