Management, coaching, and strategy: Aston Villa’s former favourites staying in the game

Mile Jedinak is the latest of several former Aston Villa players to earn a contract at the club to work in another capacity at Bodymoor Heath, with coaching and management particularly of interest to many recently retired players.

Villa’s Under-23 side which consists of some of England’s most exciting talents including Louie Barry, Carney Chukwuemeka and Kaine Kesler are all currently under the stewardship of Mark Delaney and George Boateng.

The former Villa pair racked up over 300 appearances for the club and played alongside each other over four Premier League seasons under John Gregory and then Graham Taylor – they both know what it takes to carve out successful playing careers at the club.

After a year spent with the club’s Under-18s, Boateng joined Delaney as Professional Development Coach at the start of this campaign.

“The role is fantastic,” Boateng told VillaTV. “For me, I’m now making a step-up to working with players who are close to the first team, closer than the Under-18s.

“We are at the top end of the Academy, where players have to make the transition from being a youth player to a senior player. I want to help get them a career in the game.”

Boateng believes this gives the pair an advantage when it comes to producing players who can make an impact for the first team.

He said: “Mark is a tremendous guy who works extremely hard and deservedly leads the Under-23s. Mark and I go way back, and we’re aligned in the coaching and what our philosophy is.

“We both know the requirements and what the boys have to do each and every day to try and get into the first team here. There are things you need to know as a coach but there are also things you know from a playing point of view that you have to try and get across to the boys.

“If you’ve played at that level, it makes it easier to understand what the requirements are. The second phase is can you get that message across to the players.”

Boateng spent a year at Blackburn Rovers, coaching the Under-13s through to the Under-18s and is intent on becoming a manager after he builds up years of experience.

He said: “I made a decision a couple of years ago and knew if I wanted to be a good manager or coach then I needed to learn my trade.

“It’s the same as when you’re playing – you can’t just begin playing in the first team. You have to learn all aspects of the game.”

George Boateng - Aston Villa coach

Back to Bodymoor Heath and when Villa’s resident Aussie, Jedinak called it a day on his playing career just under a year ago, it didn’t take him long for him to lace his boots back up and get back on the training pitch.

Villa would have been delighted that their former captain accepted a new role behind the scenes. Jedinak, 36, will work alongside Villa’s new head of emerging talents and loans, Adam Henshall, after he was head-hunted from his successful stint at Doncaster Rovers in League One.

A spokesman for Aston Villa told Birmingham Live: “Aston Villa have appointed Adam Henshall as the club’s new Head of Emerging Talents & Loans and Mile Jedinak as our new Loan Player Development Coach.

“Adam joins us from Doncaster Rovers and Mile is a well known face at Bodymoor Heath having helped the club win promotion to the Premier League two years ago.”

Jedinak, who made 80 appearances for the club between 2016 and 2019, will work alongside Henshall by monitoring players out on loan. He will also continue his role coaching at the club’s academy.

Aston Villa’s iconic Scandinavian partnership not finished yet

While Delaney and Boateng continue to develop their own working relationship after years of playing at Villa Park, a pair of Villa fan favourites from the same part of the world might well meet up again after years of fighting the same battles, guarding the Holte End goalposts every other Saturday.

Aston Villa’s rampant lion has a history of sitting on the proud chests of some iconic centre-backs down the years, from Paul McGrath to John Terry, Martin Laursen and Olof Mellberg – no-nonsense defenders have been a staple part of many a top side at Villa Park in years gone by.

Now with aspirations of passing on some key advice to current players, Laursen and Mellberg might find themselves in a familiar company in the not too distant future. The former – a Danish international and former AC Milan star – had joined Villa with some risk attached to his signature given that he had often suffered injury problems during his career.

Laursen’s injury woes did continue with Villa, but his performances made him a fan favourite and was even made club captain in 2008, replacing Gareth Barry.

His career sadly ended in 2009, as the centre-back retired following major injury issues, with his playing days ending at the age of just 31. Some may wonder what could have been with Laursen, as he was so committed and talented, but his body ultimately betrayed him in the end, robbing Villa of a top defender for many years to come.

Olof Mellberg has dabled in management

Looking towards the future, Laursen has admitted that teaming up with Mellberg to take charge of Villa in the future would be ‘something nice’, and added that maybe it will happen in the future.

“It would be something nice,” said Laursen. “Olof is having a good career at the moment. He’s done well as a manager at a club in Stockholm, now he’s in Helsingborg in Sweden. He’s very serious about his football so you never know maybe someday we’ll come,” he added.

So often his Scandinavian partner in crime, Mellberg captained Villa for five years before also retiring soon after his time at Villa Park, following a short spell back in his native Sweden with FC Copenhagen in 2014.

A multiple trophy winner, Mellberg won a league title in his native Sweden with AIK and two titles in Greece with Olympiacos. He also received league runner-up medals in Denmark with FC Copenhagen and in Italy with Juventus.

Mellberg was also an important member of the Sweden national side through the 2000s and represented them in the 2002 and 2006 FIFA World Cup Finals as well as the 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2012 UEFA European Championships. He ended his international career with 117 caps and scored eight goals.

After a brief break from the game following his retirement, Mellberg was appointed manager of Swedish third division side Brommapojkarna in November 2015 and was tasked with turning around the fortunes of the club who were a mainstay in the Swedish top divisions for many years before their relegation to the third division in 2015.

In his first season at the club, he made the first in-roads into getting to the top division by winning the third division title and subsequent promotion to the second division. He gained promotion for a second successive season in 2017 before leaving the club after choosing not to renew his contract.

Then after a short stint with Fremad Amager, Mellberg joined the Swedish top-flight side, Helsingborgs IF where he managed from September 2019 until New Year’s Eve 2020.

The Swedish defender remains an incredibly popular figure amongst Villa fans following his seven years service for the club, but for now, he’s also enjoying taking part in another sport altogether while his management services are put on hold, but no doubt not for long.

The 41-year-old recently competed in padel-SM in Linköping. Mellberg was one of several high profile former sportspeople to take part in the game, which is a form of the popular game paddle ball.

Mellberg is expected to return to coaching in the near future but, like many modern coaches, the Swede has been embracing different activities during his time off.

Stiliyan Petrov’s journey into coaching

‘Stan’ spent seven years at Villa Park and became a popular figure with the Villa fanbase through the years he wore the captains armband in some of Villa’s more memorable Premier league campaigns of late.

Petrov has now completed the UEFA Pro-Licence programme and is ready for a new chapter after becoming an icon on the pitch and an inspiration off it.

His playing career was cut short in 2013 after a battle with leukaemia and the Villa community came together to ‘Support Stan’. Plenty of Villa fans were in fact left devastated when Roberto Di Matteo denied him a place in Villa’s 2016-17 Championship squad after making a miraculous return, showing his dedication to the club he was desperate to give his all for.

Stiliyan Petrov is doing is coaching badges

There’s no doubt Petrov would be welcomed with open arms by every Villa fan with his story treasured in modern day Villa folk-law – but Villa officials have been reluctant to offer him the chance of developing as a coach at Bodymoor Heath.

The 41-year-old revealed earlier this year that he’d applied for coaching roles at Villa three times – but each application was rebuffed despite his lofty aspirations to become an elite coach.

Asked by the Herald whether he would take the reigns as a club’s manager, he said: “As somebody who played for Celtic, or any big club, if somebody came and said, ‘One day would you like to manage them?’ of course.

“It is one of the best things that you can do. It shows you how good you are as a manager, what you have achieved and you have been appreciated to do the right job.”

Petrov’s move to Villa Park from Celtic Park in 2006 was one brokered by Martin O’Neill as the former Villa boss made the Bulgarian his first signing at the club almost 15 years ago.

Petrov admitted that his management style would be influenced by O’Neill’s philosophies.

“Martin O’Neill was the one that I have really learned a lot from,” he said.

“How to keep things simple, how to manage people, how to communicate with people, with what is important in football.”

“Gordon Strachan is another, a man who had it down to the last detail. When you balance these two things together and get the most out of it, maybe you’re going to come up with something unique that you can use to advance your career – or my career. ”

Petrov, hoping to get into management soon, added, “Anything you don’t believe will happen, but you have to believe that you are going to find a job somehow, you have to continue to follow it and aim to reach it.”

The passport to elite management and coaching is the Level 5 licence that all Premier League managers are required to have obtained earlier in their development as a coach.

Mandated by UEFA, the official governing body of European football, the UEFA Pro is the highest coaching certification available and follows the completion of UEFA ‘A’ and ‘B’ licences. The Premier League only signed up to UEFA’s coaching rules in 2003 and so English football has been playing catch up ever since.

A UEFA Pro Licence is now required for anyone who wishes to manage a football club in the top tier of any European nation’s league system on a permanent basis, and also in the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League.

While Petrov’s ambitions in the dugout knows no bounds, he won’t be taking Villa into Europe anytime soon despite the very detailed and comprehensive requisite skills that Petrov would’ve gained on the UEFA Pro course.

The skills that are taught on the programme are as follows:

  • Critical self-reflective skills to identify strengths and areas for development.
  • Effective decision making strategies and processes for working in high performing environments.
  • Effective problem-solving methods to thrive in pressurised situations.
  • Leadership skills to provide clear, strategic direction to the people and departments within the football club.
  • Management skills for effective working with multi-disciplinary teams over the short to longer term.
  • World-leading insights into the technical and tactical insights & team strategy.

The Bulgarian has also acquired a Masters in Sports Management after learning alongside Gaizka Mendieta and ex-Liverpool player, Luis Garcia before announcing he’d passed the next stage of his development in coaching.

Having already faced three rejections from academy managers at Bodymoor Heath, Petrov is well equipped to apply for yet another role within Villa’s academy if he so pleases.

Petrov also admitted that he was recently turned down in becoming Villa’s Under-18s manager after former youth-team boss Richard Beale left to assist Jimmy Shan at non-league Solihull Moors at the start of March.

‘Der Hammer’ succeeding in sporting director role in Germany

With many ex-pros keen to get back into the game through coaching and management, many transferable skills from a footballer’s playing days are key to forging a career outside or indeed within the game still.

While the leadership qualities of Laursen, Mellberg and Petrov should suit the trio well in the future, Thomas Hitzlsperger has embarked on a career away from coaching, but as a sporting director – a relatively modern role in football, but one Villa know is all too important in the modern-day.

While Johan Lange has been credited for revolutionising and modernising the club’s practices in the transfer market and in terms of scouting and recruitment at youth and senior levels, it’s Hitzlsperger’s role to do just the same at Bundesliga club, VfB Stuttgart.

Hitzlsperger, 36, began his career at Villa Park after joining Bayern Munich’s youth system in 2000 and went on to play more than 100 times in claret and blue. Former Villa favourite Hitzlsperger was appointed as sporting director of the German outfit, Stuttgart in February 2019.

Thomas Hitzlsperger - Sporting director

After being promoted back to the Bundesliga following a turbulent few seasons of relegations and respective promotions from the 2. Bundesliga, Stuttgart are on track to finish comfortably in mid-table after their first full league season with Hitzlsperger heading the club as a sporting director.

Hitzlsperger had been working as Stuttgart’s academy director before taking over from Michael Reschke as the club’s sporting director.

Hitzlsperger’s most successful spell as a player came with Stuttgart after playing for the club for five years, winning the Bundesliga in that time and becoming a regular in the German national team.

In 2014, after the end of his playing career, Hitzlsperger admitted that he is a homosexual, and shared his opinion about the changes in the attitude towards homosexuality in football to the BBC.

“The last seven years have been a fantastic journey. The fact that I have become the sporting director of one of the biggest clubs in Germany is a sign of progress. 10 years ago, this was impossible – even five years ago.

“After coming out 7 years ago, my life changed for the better. Recently, someone insulted me on social networks on the grounds of homophobia, but this no longer hurts me. I’m confident enough that I don’t have to worry about it anymore.

“But for those people who haven’t made a public confession, who haven’t told their friends and families, it’s really painful. There are a lot of people in football stadiums who disagree with discrimination, but you need someone to stand up in front of you and say [homophobic]: “We don’t accept that.”

“I feel that the fans have become more open to this, but we can not eradicate homophobia, and we need brave people who would stand up and speak out” said the German.”

As the club continues its assault on the Premier League’s upper reaches, behind the scenes Villa know they must start acting like the big club that they are – by appointing the right people in the right positions, Villa are now doing just that.


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