In the fall of 2011, I had the rare privilege of travelling to Shizuoka, Japan to visit Afshin at Shimizu S-Pulse. As a US Soccer Instructor and Coach, I was naturally excited by the chance to visit a top flight club in the J-League, but the amount of access and information Afshin shared with me on my visit was absolutely astounding.
Afshin gave me VIP access to the club and its facilities. He shared with me his vision and his long-term plans to modernize and professionalize the club. In his plans were many of the details that other clubs take for granted, but I learned that Afshin, like many of the top managers in Europe, spares no detail in his mission to bring true success to his club.Even more impressive to me, was how Afshin operated on the training ground in session. His training sessions were more impressive than many I had seen at top clubs in Europe. What impressed me, was that Afshin was actually teaching his players in training. Most top managers I have observed have a policy of supervising or facilitating a session, while leaving the details to assistant coaches or subordinates. Afshin, however, was in every part of the session, teaching his players what he wanted them to achieve, not just dictating to them.As a National Staff instructor for US Soccer, responsible in part for training the next generation of American soccer coaches, this was a real joy to watch. Afshin was a coaching model of what a top coach should be. Any coach can dictate, but few can really improve their players. We take for granted that even players at the top pro level, still need to be developed. This is an especially important issue for players in the MLS in the United States. Many young players make MLS squads, only to find it hard to break in to the first team. With little attention to their developmental needs at the senior level, many of these promising, young, home-grown players bounce from one MLS club to the next, without ever fully realizing their potential, and within a few years their playing careers are finished. Who knows what these players might have achieved with the right coaching-teaching environment?I have always known Afshin to be 110% pure football, but what I saw in Afshin in Shizuoka was that he is truly a ‘Modern Football Manager.’ He can manage and motivate a seasoned international veteran one minute, and the very next minute teach a newly promoted youth player what he wants him to do. He does it with respect, compassion, and a true faith in his players that is rare in the cut-throat world of top flight football.I was sorry to see Afshin part ways with Shimizu S-Pulse, maybe just a year shy of completing his vision for the club and its fans, but I am very eager to see where Afshin’s talents take him next. Top coaches always find top clubs, especially coaches with Afshin’s passion and pedigree, but I hope MLS may cast its gaze on Afshin and lures him to an American club. Afshin’s brand of ‘enlightened management’ coupled with his broad impressive international experience is exactly the kind of formula young MLS players need to grow and thrive. In a moment where we need more home-grown talents to come through and become world class players, we need coaches like Afshin Ghotbi in the MLS to help produce the generation of US players that will be needed to truly break through to the latter stages of a world cup finals.