After helping take the Indian national team to new heights, Australian coach Danny Deigan is out to improve New Zealand football.
Deigan, who has worked with the Western Sydney Wanderers and Central Coast Mariners in the past, joined New Zealand Football early last year.
The Sydneysider serves as the country’s head of sports science and strength & conditioning, and works with the All Whites, the Football Ferns and the Kiwi youth national teams.
In 2019, Deigan helped the Kiwi Under-23s qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, and went to the FIFA Under-20 World Cup in Poland where the Junior All Whites reached the knockout stage.
“I was brought over to work with the All Whites and the Under-23s mainly, but to oversee the whole of strength and conditioning through men, women and youth,” Deigan told The World Game.
“So that was quite an exciting prospect for me, to be able to work with other staff and to be able to develop best practice across all those population groups.
"The other great thing here is NZ get represented in a lot of youth World Cups as well.
“Obviously getting representation through Oceania still, they’re quite well represented on the youth stage. The chance to get involved in a World Cup and an Olympics was a big incentive to come across as well.
“Qualifying for the Olympics was unreal. Our Under-23s went undefeated last year and our team won a Pacific Games gold medal as well going into those Olympic qualifiers.
“We actually drew 1-1 twice with Australia in Sydney, which is quite outstanding results from a NZ Under-23 team.”
In August 2019, Danny Hay took over as head coach of the All Whites. The Kiwi national team have not played a match since November last year, and recently had two friendlies cancelled because of COVID-19.
“We had our games with Belgium and England cancelled as we weren’t going to be able to get everyone over there,” Deigan explained.
“Our World Cup qualifiers start in March in Oceania. There’s no kind of schedule or anything at the moment, they’re a bit last minute dot-com over here.
“I haven’t worked a lot directly with Danny. I spent a lot of time working with Des Buckingham last year, and I must say he’s really developed the way I coach and me as a person.
“That’s been very good for me and working with him with the Under-23s and the Under-20s, we went to the Under-20s World Cup, it really opened my eyes to a new cultural way to work with players. What he did was very impressive and quite different to what I’ve had before.”
Before moving to New Zealand, Deigan spent nearly four years with the Indian national team.
In that period the Blue Tigers qualified for the 2019 Asian Cup and were crowned South Asian champions in 2016, Tri-Nations champions in 2017 and Intercontinental Cup Champions in 2018 as they shot up the FIFA world rankings.
“It was unreal. I was actually supposed to go and work with Rwanda in an international tournament, and that was back in 2014,” he admitted.
“But when I saw the opportunity to work with Stephen Constantine as a coach, I thought I have to go and learn from this guy. He’s worked with six national teams and I knew he was someone who could help me develop as a coach and as a person.
“He’s had an enormous impact on my development. Although Rwanda fell through, luckily Stephen moved back to India and I was able to go there.
“That was really a ground-breaking experience and the things we did there were really amazing. We took India from a ranking of 173 to 96 in four years.
“We won three international trophies in the region and qualified for the Asian Cup, and we had great results there where we were very close to going through to the knockout stage. We unfortunately got undone by a penalty in the last few minutes.”
Deigan holds a Bachelor’s degree in Exercise Science from the Australian Catholic University and a Master’s from Edith Cowan University.
The sports science guru started his sporting career working with National Basketball League club Sydney Kings, before developing a passion for football after cutting his teeth with the NSW Institute of Sport in 2008.
“My background was in Aussie Rules football. I got involved in the football program at the NSW Institute of Sport when Jean-Paul de Marigny was coach,” Deigan said.
“It was at a point when no one else wanted to work in the football program, so it was a great opportunity for me.
"The more time you spend around football, and coaches and the game, it starts to become quite a strength when you are with a sport full-time and in that many environments.”
Deigan went on to spend a year with the Central Coast Mariners’ academy, before a two-year spell with Western Sydney Wanderers.
He was at the fledgling Wanderers at the time of the club’s birth in 2012 and was involved with their youth and W-League teams, as well as Tony Popovic’s first-team.
It was an important learning environment for Deigan.
“Adam Waterson led the program at Western Sydney,” he said.
“I came in and was working with the W-League, but also worked across the A-League and youth teams with him. It was another great experience because it was a brand new club back then.
“To see the culture they instilled, Popa and Adam, and the way they went about things really aligned well with the way I felt about football and S&C. It was a great experience.
“I went through a couple of seasons with them when they very successful, having come from working under a stand at Blacktown.”