By Nathan John and Farman Siddiqui
Richard O’Kelly has been involved with professional football for over thirty years and has extensive experience both as a professional footballer and as a coach. He has managed some of the country’s top players at a variety of different clubs ranging from non-league Hereford United to Premier League club Aston Villa, where his most recent position was as Dean Smith’s assistant head coach.
The Birmingham born man gave an exclusive Q&A interview session to the UDA student-athletes where he answered questions on his experiences at coaching at the top level of the game. In accordance with UDA at UOG’s Training Programme, Richard offered his insight to the aspiring graduates about just what it takes to make it and what separates the top players from the others.
Given the close connection between Aston Villa Football Club and UDA at UOG, Richard was invited to give his expertise on elite level football, as part of the UDA Visiting Coach Programme, which acted as a fascinating eye-opener for the students to learn more and have the opportunity to ask questions of a professional coach.
“The biggest thing is the attitude” said Richard when asked his first question about what separates the top players from the rest. “It was nothing to do with ability, it was just attitude. They treat every training session, everything they do to the best of their ability. Their reaction to mistakes is also key as it happens to everyone. Turn up on time and make sure you respect your teammates and coaching staff.”
Richard has fond memories from his playing days, particularly his time in the third division. His advice for younger footballers in the same position is discipline. “It was difficult sometimes to get to training for me. But I always made it when I could.”
Aston Villa have had a roller-coaster of a time ever since gaining promotion in 2019. Richard credits Villa for their opportunity and when asked his favourite memory at the club, he replied “The 7th goal against Liverpool! But in all seriousness, it would have to be winning the Championship.” He was further asked who he saw as the best player he coached at the club and his reply was almost instant “Grealish.” Jack Grealish was signed by English champions Manchester City for a record British transfer fee. “If he was here right now, he would jump into the training pitch with all of you. He had much enthusiasm for the game. He’s also a really good person.”
The UDA Visiting Coach Programme focuses on tactical, physical, technical and psychological parts of the game, offering a multi-dimensional look at football.