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Remaining steadfast in the face of adversity Passing on positive values - Christopher O’Brien
Remaining steadfast in the face of adversity Passing on positive values - Christopher O’Brien
Christopher O’Brien
Christopher O’Brien
JC Youth Football Development Head Coach of Manchester United Soccer School (MUSS)

In England, every football-loving youth dreams of playing pro ball. Thirty years ago, there was a young man who grew up in Manchester and joined the professional league. However, he then fell ill and the club did not renew his contract, so he returned to a normal working life. Having experienced great ups and downs, he now never looks back but takes whatever comes in stride.

Understanding that opportunity knocks for those who are prepared, he did not dwell on the football days but looked straight ahead, equipping himself to become a true “Red Devil” and re-ascending the peak of his career. Three years ago, he brought his philosophy with him to Hong Kong. He is 46-year-old Christopher O’Brien (OB), Head Coach of Manchester United Soccer School (MUSS).

Treasuring every single day

After landing a professional contract with the Bolton Wanderers F.C. at 18 years of age, OB was diagnosed with glandular fever later. He had rashes, was often fatigued, and manifested flu-like symptoms, including fever and headache that made daily life a struggle – not to mention playing football. He returned to the field after just half a year of rest, but his physical strength did not return, and due to other injuries, the club did not offer him another contract. For a young man in the prime of life, it should have come as a huge setback; but forever the optimist, OB quickly came to terms with it and found an ordinary job. “When the heavens close one door, another opens for you” was his motto, and he continued to walk his own path, though he never did give up on football.

While working part-time as a postman, OB began playing on a semi-pro football team. This gave him ample opportunity to run and work on his physique. Later, he transferred to an administrative post, where he learned about administration and management, and honed his organisational skills. OB was then hired as a lecturer at a post-secondary school. To better his position, he continued to build up his qualifications in education and obtained a number of coaching certificates, which laid the foundation for future success.

With a nudge of fate, his hard work finally paid off and he joined the Red Devils as a coach with his favourite team, Manchester United (Man Utd). Five years ago, the India branch of MUSS – founded to propagate the football vision of the team – had a vacancy, and with his training experience and his many professional qualifications, OB was optimally positioned for the job. “Helping youths believe in themselves is a challenging task. What I do is encourage them and help them unleash their potential.” Three years ago, OB was transferred to Hong Kong where he furthered his mission.

A chance to spread his educational ideals

From the very beginning, OB believed himself to be a Man Utd ambassador rather than a coach, which is why he does not hold himself in a position of superiority and remains open to learning opportunities. “At MUSS, I come across people from different cultures, backgrounds and experiences. I have learnt more these five years than I had in all 40 years I spent in England.” As he confers knowledge, he also soaks up new ideas and views – this lifelong learning process is OB’s philosophy of life.

With the prevalence of the internet, youths have become less skilled in interacting with people, while rote learning has made them fearful of asking questions. In 2013, MUSS and the Club worked together to launch the JC Youth Football Leadership Scheme and the JC School Football Development Scheme. OB hoped not only to offer professional training but also, by leveraging his years of experience, to encourage youths to express themselves. His goal was for them to build confidence through the scheme’s interactive activities, and also to gain eye-opening experiences in an exchange trip to Manchester.

As an educator who practices what he preaches, OB believes that “students may forget what was taught in class – but not what was felt”. Each gesture can have a profound effect, which is why every time OB greets a student, he gives him/her a firm handshake, praises him/her and pats him/her on the shoulder. He hopes he can convey his passion in life to each and every student with these gestures. He believes good education lies in treating everyone equally and with equal sincerity.

In the three years OB has spent in Hong Kong, he has helped a number of football schemes take shape and blossom into one big family. He has a clear understanding of how important personal connections are to team sports, which is why over the next four years he will continue to make people the focus of his work, hoping that this “family” does not just grow in numbers, but will turn out more elite members who understand the importance of teamwork, and who will work to foster a sense of belonging to this “home”.

“Working hard, working together, and always believing in yourself.” This is the message OB hopes to spread, and he looks to do so with a positive mindset.

Jockey Club Youth Football Development Programme
Website: //campaign.hkjc.com/ch/yfd/index.aspx

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