Up and coming Australian coach Stephen Neligan will test his wares in Europe after being appointed as assistant women’s team coach at Danish club FC Nordsjaelland.
A former apprentice of Central Coast Mariners boss Alen Stajcic, Neligan has been building his coaching experience for many years at clubs and schools in NSW and Queensland.
For the past three years he ran the renowned First Phase Football academy in Sydney’s Hills district, working with the likes of Matildas Kyah Simon, Chloe Logarzo and Caitlin Foord, and A-League players such as Steven Lustica and Steven Ugarkovic.
But with the impact of the Coronavirus closing down the private training centre, Neligan is heading to Denmark to ply his trade overseas.
“I leave on the 1st of August, the season starts on the 8th,” he told The World Game.
“I’ve been over to Denmark a few times, so I was running a private coaching facility in Sydney and a lot of our players come from Denmark.
So I spent some time at the professional women’s clubs over there and I’ve obviously kept in contact with the people and they’ve seen the work I’ve been doing here in Sydney.
Covid killed the facility and with the government shutting us down, it’s been a tough time recently. So they touched base to see if I was available and it’s just worked out really well. It’s exciting.”
FC Nordsjaelland are based in the Danish town of Farum and finished third in the 2019-2020 Elitedivisionen season.
The Wild Tigers are coached by Brian Sorensen, who has won two Danish Cups and who led Fortuna Hjørring to league titles in 2014 and 2016.
“The coach that I’m going to be working with, Brian has coached a few of the Danish teams to the title in this league,” Neligan explained.
“He’s coached in the Champions League, so I’m very excited to go and link up with him. Also the philosophy of the club and the uniqueness that I think they’ve got, they’ve got a big emphasis on youth development.
It’s a really great project to be involved with and I’m really excited to be a part of it. The club’s men’s team are in the top division in Denmark. A couple of years ago they had the youngest average age across all of Europe.
They’re owned and affliliated with an academy in Africa called Right to Dream, so they work with them and a lot of the African boys come across to the club to join a professional environment, they’re given first-team football and then move on to bigger clubs."
"One of their boys just moved on to Ajax. The women’s team just got promoted the season before last. Their first season in the top division they finished third and almost won the Danish Cup, so it’s a very exciting time at the club.
The level’s very good there. There’s a lot of top players in the league.”
Neligan says his speciality is individual training with players, which he employed at First Phase Football, and he will be implementing a lot of that in Denmark.
“In the last couple of years I’ve worked with up to 100 professionals from the A-League and W-League, and then a lot of the internationals that came to the Sydney clubs in the A-League and W-League,” he said.
“I’ve been fortunate to get that kind of experience with these players, which has opened the door to go and take this opportunity. It’s a big list. It all started out with Steven Lustica when he was at Western Sydney Wanderers, he was the first one to reach out.
“I’ve always worked in women’s football, so I’ve worked with W-League players at a club level, but not so much on the private level. So we had a few in early doors but Steven Lustica was the first A-League boy to come in, then his cousin Steven Urgarkovic.
“From then the word gets out and the ball started rolling and we got to work with players like Caitlin Foord on a regular basis, did one session with Sam Kerr.”
Neligan grew up in Sydney and played in the Brisbane and Gold Coast Premier Leagues as a senior. But he turned to coaching at a young age and has not looked back.
“I played all my junior football here in NSW, then I moved to the Gold Coast around 21, 22 and then played in the Brisbane Premier League and the Gold Coast Premier League,” Neligan said.
“But I started coaching early, probably 26, 27 when I moved back to Sydney. I realised coaching was what I wanted to focus on and made that my priority. I started studying and getting my licenses, getting as much experience as I could.
“I started at Palm Beach, I coached there in the women’s team, that was my first senior women’s team. I worked with the Gold Coast young boys and girls representative teams.
“Then I worked at Football NSW with the technical director there, and I worked on Project 22. That was my first introduction to working with elite players, some of the players that came out of it were Daniel Arzani, Sam Silvera.
“Then I was also working with the youth team but coaching a senior team too. So I’d also be coaching two teams.
I was also coaching at schools, doing different things, I also took over the Hills Sports High School program after Alen Stajcic once he was appointed as the Matildas coach.
“I’d been there working with him and I was fortunate to have done that for the last six years. Staj took me away when I was young when I was player overseas, so I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to learn off these people.
“That obviously gives you the passion and the desire to do the best that you can.”
Neligan admits he is unsure what the future will hold. But the talented mentor has always had aspirations to be a full-time head coach in the women’s game.
“When I first set out the goal was to go into professional football, go into a club environment and be the head coach,” he said.
“Women’s football was what I wanted to get into. But then I went on and moved a bit away from that and for three years I built a passion for individual training, so to be able to see results a lot more quicker than what you can see in a team environment.
“But also the relationships that you build with that. For me, my passion is that technical work. I think it’s something that we as a country lack.
“All the pros that we have coming through seem to have varying deficiencies in their technique and these are players at the top level, some of the biggest names in the country.
So to be able to fix that and see those kinds of things at that level, there’s a big need for that.
It will depend what happens but that’s my passion and that’s one of the reasons I’ve been brought over to Denmark, to do that.”