Mark Naylor Interview

Interview provide by Mark from West Brom match day program

Spending all but half of your life in service to one football club is some achievement but such is the lot of the ageless Mark Naylor – he’s 31 actually. A one time youth goalkeeper with the Albion, Mark swiftly moved into the world of coaching instead and is now a stalwart of the goalkeeping programme at The Hawthorns. Initially he worked with the younger age groups but as with everything in Albion’s academy, things have moved on apace in recent times, the advent of the EPPP merely accelerating things still further.

The EPPP has had a massive impact on everything we do, in particular the coaching hours that we deliver.  We’ve got the foundation phase and the youth development phase that Jack Stern has played a huge part in with continuing with the quality of goalkeeper we produce for the professional development phase. He is a forward thinking goalkeeping coach who has moved the department forward in the 4 years he has spent with us, unfortunately he has now gone to Canada working for Montreal impact and it has been a huge loss to us because the quality of his work. Jack is now forging a great career in the MLS and I can only see him moving into senior football over there.

“My work is more with the under 17s and under 21s, the professional development phase. It’s working with the goalkeepers and looking after them as they step up into the full-time side of things and taking on a new environment at the training ground”.

Producing first team goalkeepers is notoriously the most long-term element even of a youth development system, but the evidence is there that the Abion’s programme is a top class one.

“Over the time the Academy has been running we’ve had a number of England international goalkeepers, five in total. Luke Daniels was an early one, Ryan Allsop was the next, Shane Lewis followed him. Now we have Jack Rose and Alex Palmer who have been involved in the international set up, so in that sense, we’ve been successful. To have five goalkeepers coming through and playing for England, that’s testimony first of all to the boys themselves, but it also suggests that the coaching here is of a very good standard.

“It is always difficult for a young goalkeeper to follow through and got into the first team because there is only one place to aim for, so you brace yourself for losing ‘keepers to other clubs along the way where opportunities might exist for them. Shane Lewis moved on and is now second choice at Walsall, Ryan Allsop is involved in the first team at Bournemouth, so for us as coaches, while we want boys to go on and play for Albion, those two are still a success story. If a boy comes through the youth ranks and remains in professional league football, that’s a real positive.

“I feel that we have a group of goalkeepers through the club who definitely have the potential to go and be a part of our first team squad. Picking young goalkeepers who will go on and play first team football is notoriously difficult because a lot of factors are at play, including the players you’ve got in front of you given that you’re all after just one position. The stats show that the average age for a Premier League goalkeeper to make his debut is 24.

“We saw Luke make his Albion debut at Everton earlier in the season, he played some League Cup games against Newport and Arsenal as well, so that was encouraging for all of us. I’ve been here 15 years, Luke’s done ten at the club, so it was very nice to see him make his debut and be rewarded for something that he has worked very, very hard for. There have been times when it’s been frustrating for him, but that was a nice reward in the end.

“Jack Rose has had a very solid season for us in the under 21s. Last season, he had a few injuries and didn’t play as much football as he’d have liked, but he’s stayed free of them this season, played plenty of games and done very well for us.

“Playing a support role there has been Alex Palmer and he’s been rewarded with a professional contract this season, he comes in as a first year pro next season. He joined us a really raw 15 year old from Worcester City, hadn’t had any goalkeeping coaching as such, so managing to get him a contract has been a real plus. I think it shows that if you give somebody a structure to come and work within, given he quality of coaching that we have at the academy, the boys flourish under that. Under that, we’ve taken on Ethan Ross who came in at under 16 level initially, he’s started to play more under 18s games too.

“I think the loan market does have a part to play with goalkeepers – Luke had five or six loan spells and they all did him good in various ways. Given that Jack has had a solid under 21 season, I think we’d like to see him go out on loan next season and get him some “real” football as people call it, playing for points in a first team. Not only is that good for him, it would give Alex Palmer a chance to step up into our under 21s behind him, and so on down the ages.

“There’s great continuity within the academy now, so what Dean Kiely does at first team level with Ben, Boaz and Luke, we do something very similar, obviously diluted a bit, as you go down the years in the academy. For me, that is a real step forward because when they do get into that first team environment, they’re stepping into sessions that they already know, it’s not a huge culture shock, and that helps them settle in right from the off.

“My relationship with Dean Kiely is an excellent one, I think we work really well together. He takes a real interest in the academy ‘keepers, he’s always asking how they’re getting on. He comes to pretty much all the Under 21 games to observe Jack Rose in the main, Alex Palmer on occasion as well, and the boys appreciate that.

“I would also add that Ben and Boaz, Luke as well, are very helpful to the young goalkeepers. They’re great people to be around, they look after the younger lads really well, they give them pointers and advice, they’ll put an arm round the shoulder sometimes or give them a rocket when they need it, but there’s a great respect between all the goalkeepers here”.

The arrival of the EPPP has brought plenty of challenges with it, not least that of time management as Mark knows only too well. Nonetheless, he approves of the advances that the EPPP is trying to introduce.

“The nature of the job has changed over the years, especially with the EPPP coming in. Nowadays, everything you do, all the sessions, they need to be logged, very much as you do in the education system. I’ve always planned sessions out since I was 16 or 17, but until recently, nothing ever went on computer, so you weren’t really accountable. But with the PMA, everything has to be logged so that it can be traced and that has added to the workload, but I do think it benefits the goalkeepers.

“We’ve also been able to expand the reach so that sports science has come into it a lot more, the goalkeepers have individual programmes and that has to be incorporated into sessions too. On top of that, we do game reports now, I go out and scout goalkeepers, I go and watch our young goalkeepers in action all over the place to report back on them. As a result of all this, the players get so much more feedback now, they get video analysis as well, there are a lot of resources for them. In the long term, what the FA and the Premier League are looking for with the EPPP will be very beneficial for the game”.

Goalkeepers tend to improve with age and can play well into their thirties but the downside of that is that they generally need to wait longer for chances which are fewer and further between given their peers last longer too.

“It is very much a long term process and the biggest thing you have to do at times is manage their expectations. Modern kids, modern footballers, they want it all now, but you have to sell it to the lads that it will take time. It is a fantastic structure here and hopefully that will help them get there, but they have to buy into it too. We’ve got a sports psychologist here, Tom Bates, and he’s done some good work with the goalkeepers on setting objectives over the short, medium and long term, but it is all about managing expectations.

“A strong mentality is absolutely crucial for a goalkeeper. I went on a psychology course recently at St George’s Pak and we were talking about how a goalkeeper’s psychology is different to other players. If technical, tactical, physical and psychological are the basic elements of your game, what are the relevant percentages? For me, for goalkeepers, if you are going to play in front of 25,000 people at The Hawthorns, for me it’s 75% psychology. You can be the best technician in the world but if you can’t handle being in the spotlight in front of those people, you’re never going to play.

“As a kid, I reached being a youth team player here, but that became my Achilles heel, I couldn’t play in front of crowds, I find it difficult, I became too nervous, I couldn’t go and play in front of 25,000. But if you put me in front of 25,000 coaches now and asked me to coach a session, no problem. I think it’s about where you are comfortable. Psychology is massive, so having Tom on board is great but I also think that for specific issuers around goalkeeping, Dean is the one the boys can go to because he’s been there, done it, played in the Premier League, gone to World Cups, all of that. So I think we have it right here, we can give them all the technical elements but if they want to draw on that life experience, that example of being a professional, there’s nobody better than Dean.

“For the players, I do think the under 21 programme has been a positive thing. The fact that they play most games in stadiums, it gets them used to that environment. But if you go on loan and play first team football, there’s a greater sense of realism about the games. If you’re in the under 21s, if you have a bad day, it’s still under the radar a bit, it is still development football, where if you’re in League Two and do it, you could be hurting your club’s chance of staying up or going up. Mentally, that is an important adjustment and a really important one. I think when you are in that situation, you learn a lot more about yourself, so that has to be part of the programme.

“You have to manage them individually then, try to manage game time, use the loan market and so on. You need to be creative sometimes and you do have to let good goalkeepers go as well simply because the timing isn’t right for them. All we can do is create a pathway through for them, so as much as they’ll look up and think that Ben might be here for another six or seven years, you have to say to them, where will you be in two years, in three years, in five years? If there’s a view that they can take through that, it’s easier to keep them focused and to keep hold of them.

“Of course, if your recruitment and your coaching is good, you can create a logjam of strong goalkeepers, and that’s a positive and a negative. In terms of the club, we’re now getting the rewards for our patience over the 15 years I’ve been running the department because we have a string of god goalkeepers now and, even if not all get through for us because of that logjam, they get snapped up elsewhere, and that shows that we have a good structure here. You can’t have a little go at it, it is a long term issue and, just as the players have to be patient, so do the coaches and the club, and we’re getting the fruits of it now. Of course, we’re not at the pinnacle, there are ways to get better and we are working towards them, but success does not come overnight, it’s hard work.

“Goalkeeping has changed from the days in the ‘70s when there was Banks and Bonetti followed by Shilton, Clemence, Corrigan, Parkes, Rimmer and so on. There are a lot of foreign goalkeepers in our game and they have had a great influence, especially Schmeichel who was my hero. They have changed our style of goalkeeping, more unorthodox and we encourage our players to bring that in, it doesn’t always have to be English textbook goalkeeping, sometimes you have to do the unusual. But we don’t have the depth because clubs rarely trust young goalkeepers and if they have a gap, instead of looking at a youngster, they tend to buy. There are a number of good young goalkeepers coming through, but they need their opportunity. With all young players, but especially goalkeepers, that can be the hardest part”.