Wednesday, May 11, 2011

McKinna on a mission in China

McKinna on the sidelines in one of his
first games in charge of Chengdu
When Kevin McCabe joined the Central Coast Mariners board in 2009, little did Lawrie McKinna know that it would eventually lead to him coaching in China.

At the time McKinna was head coach of A-League side Central Coast Mariners, and had been since the inception of the A-League in 2005, and McCabe owned Sheffield United in the UK and had stakes in Chengdu Blades in China Ferencvaros in Hungary.

Despite moving upstairs at the end of the 2009/10 A-League season to take on the position of Football Operations Manager, McKinna still maintained a burning desire to coach.

“There was no specific time that I thought I wanted to get back into coaching as my role at the Mariners was working well…(but)… you could say there was always a thought about getting back into coaching if the right opportunity came along,” explained McKinna.

That opportunity came along in the form of Chengdu Blades in the Chinese Super League.

McKinna explained to Asian Football Feast how that came about.

“I keep in touch with Sheffield through Scott McCabe, the son of the owner (Kevin McCabe), and I have said many times if anything came up in China I would be interested,” he said.

“I got a call from him around the beginning of March to say Sheffield had let go of 80% of their ownership of Chengdu and the new owners might want a Western Coach and would I be interested.

“I said yes.

“On the Tuesday (15th March) I got a call to say the Chengdu coach had left and they would be getting in touch with me through Kevin McCabe’s business associate in Hong Kong, Peter Ko, who looked after Chengdu when Sheffield owned them.

“We spoke about terms briefly, but had not agreed anything, and over the next day got it sorted and I was on the plane on the Friday 18th of March and that’s how quick it was.”

McKinna was literally thrown in the deep end.

When the previous coach left the position he took his entire coaching staff with him and there were issues within the club that needed to be sorted.

All of this just two weeks before the club’s first game of the CSL season.

“Our preparation was terrible,” McKinna remarked.

“(I had) basically had 2 weeks to get the team together…our first pre season game was our first league game in Shandong , that’s how bad thing were.”
Lawrie enjoying a lighter moment
at training with his coachew
Despite that, Chengdu has made a respectable start to the CSL season, with three draws and a win from six games, far more than most experts were predicting at the start of the season.

The club’s aim for the year is simple – don’t get relegated, with the players and staff set to be rewarded with big bonuses if they can achieve that feat.

Despite being the new kid on the block, Chinese football isn’t new to McKinna as he explains.

“I have been coming to China since my days at Parramatta Power as an assistant and have always enjoyed the different culture,” he said.

“I had always fancied China for some reason.”

Not only that, but he had some experience, albeit brief, with Chengdu two years ago during Central Coast’s AFC Champions League campaign.

“I had been to Chengdu two years ago when we (Central Coast) were in the ACL and we played Tianjin.

“I came to visit the club then,” he said.

So how does McKinna rate the Chinese game, which is often regarded as the ugly cousin of the three major East Asian leagues?

“The standard is good, although I think the refs are a bit soft and the Chinese players go down too easy as we have seen in the ACL over the last few years,” a forthright McKinna said.

It is a criticism often levelled at the Chinese game and one that will need addressing in order for the CSL to gain more credibility.

Lawrie on one of his first days on the job in Chengdu

The job does have a downside though, and that is being so far away from his family who remain back in Australia.

“When you are working all day you could be anywhere in the world and you would not know the difference, but not having my wife and boys and grandkids about at the moment makes it pretty lonely,” he lamented.

The family, you suspect, also includes the Mariners and their fans, with McKinna taking the opportunity to pass on a message to those in Gosford.

“I also wanted to thank the CCM fans for all there support over the 6 years, we had a great time and built the club from nothing so when I get home I would like the opportunity to thank everyone as because it all happened so quickly I never got the chance to say goodbye,” he said.

Just when he returns home though remains to be seen. If he can bring stability and a level of success to Chengdu then McKinna might be calling China home for a few more years yet.


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