DARIUS Vassell has ambitions to go into football management but, for now, those plans have been shelved as he looks to unearth the next Premiership star at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
The former England and Aston Villa striker has been lucky enough to receive advice from goalscoring legends, Les Ferdinand and Ian Wright during his stellar career and now he’s intent on ‘giving something back’ to the young stars of the future at the Molineux club.
The Brummie is a specialist coach for Wolves’ Academy teams and is currently involved with the club’s talented U14 outfit who have lit up this year’s O’Neill’s Foyle Cup tournament.
There’s been no shortage of goals from the young Wolves side having opened their tournament with a 5-0 win over Coleraine, a landslide 19-0 victory over Lifford Celtic and a 7-1 win over Trojans, as they tore apart their opposition, finishing top of Group D with maximum points.
And Vassell, who has his UEFA ‘A’ License badge, reckons participation in the local youth tournament will look well on the youngsters’ CVs as they look to carve out a career in the professional game.
“Definitely, it would be nice (to cut my teeth in management),” said Vassell. “It’s not a direct ambition of mine. This is my third year as a full-time coach at Wolves and I’m learning so much here.”
Vassell claims he gets as much joy out of coaching youngsters as he did during his 14 year professional career.
“They say once you finish playing football you’ll struggle to find anything to fill the gap but what I’m doing now gives me so much joy. I wouldn’t say more joy but just as much joy as I had when I was a professional footballer.
“I can’t imagine being anywhere else right now. For me, at this moment in time, it’s about trying to make these boys better players, have more confidence and belief in themselves.
“It would be really nice to see, at some point, one of them make it over the line and become a first team regular at Wolves or any other club. It would be great to experience that before I make a decision about my future.”
So how have the young Wolves ‘pups’ found their first experience of the Foyle Cup?
“Obviously they won’t be aware of the significance of the tournament they’re playing in at this moment in time but I’m sure they will progress and next season and the season after that they’ll be able to say, ‘Yes, I went to that tournament and represented Wolverhampton Wanderers’. It’s obviously great for their CV.”
The O’Neill’s Foyle Cup and tournaments of its ilk are about more than the football. It’s an opportunity for teams to travel, to bond and be introduced to different styles of football.
The Wolves team and coaches, who have been staying at the White Horse Hotel, spent this morning taking in the sights of the Maiden City before their final group game against local club, Trojans at Oakland Park.
And Vassell, who provides expert forwards advice, believes their week on Foyleside has been hugely productive in terms of their development.
“The lads settled in quite well to the tournament,” added the former England hitman. “We headed out to see the famous Walls and had a day trip before our match against Trojans. Rather than just come over here and play football matches and train, we get to see a bit of Ireland and understand a bit about it. It will just add to their development.
“We try to get them out to tournaments abroad, different places for those reasons.”
For anyone who has watched Wolves this week, it’s clear the youth coaches are intent on adopting the same philosophy as the club’s first team who took the Premiership by storm last season, finishing seventh under Nuno Espirito Santo.
And Vassell insists the underage teams have no choice but to attempt to play the same way.
“The first team are setting a good standard for us so we can only aspire to follow. We have no choice. We have a philosophy at Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club. We try to play practically the same way as the first team,” he explained. “We try and have a system of belief within the team about how we want to go about doing our job.”
Having netted 31 goals from their opening three games, as a striker’s coach, Vassell must be happy with how things have gone so far as they enter the knockout stages.
“You can imagine, as a striking coach, you’re always happy when they’re scoring goals but my workload is a bit more detailed than that. We work on the build-up play and various other elements of the game that are really important to strikers.”
There have been a few standouts in the Wolves team but Vassell is reluctant to single out any individual as the next Ruben Neves, Diego Jota or Matty Doherty.
“Yes, there’s a few (standouts). They all have their special individual qualities. I think the most important thing is they are learning how to integrate within the team and in a winning environment and atmosphere.
“They are capable of creating individual bits of brilliance or performances which can win football matches. It would be wrong for me to say one player’s name.
“There’s a couple of young players within the group so I’m sure that it will plug away at their nerves to be involved in the bigger games this weekend.
“We’re looking forward to being a part of that. More importantly, it’s about playing in a competitive football match. Hopefully we can push these guys on.
“It’s going to be difficult for them all but this is why we’re away at tournaments like this, to prepare these youngsters for an experience which is going to be difficult and allow them to deal with, not only success but failure as well.”
Vassell will be hoping to return to Wolves’ multi-million pound Compton Park training complex next week with a Foyle Cup trophy in their possession.
Regardless, it’s been a week which will live long in the memory for these aspiring young footballers.