Rossi Eames: Barnet head coach, ex-gymnast, youngest league boss


Rossi Eames is the 32-year-old former gymnast who became the youngest boss in the Football League when appointed as Barnet’s head coach in May. Adam Bate met up with Eames at the club’s training ground to hear the story so far and his plans for the future.

This is not Rossi Eames’ first stint as Barnet boss. There were two interim spells last season. „A massive learning curve,“ he admits. The first sparked a brief upturn in fortunes but ended with the appointment of Kevin Nugent. When Nugent was sacked in April, Eames returned to guide the Bees to their first back-to-back victories since his previous period in charge.

Following a final-day fixture at Crewe, the 32-year-old still had to wait to find out whether he had done enough to get the job this time around. So was he ready for the call? „I began preparing after the final whistle at Crewe,“ Eames tells Sky Sports. „I didn’t know I was going to get the job but I prepared anyway. I wanted to be ready for being number one.“
Later that month, the confirmation came and Eames duly became the youngest manager in the Football League. „We support his playing style and our team responds positively to his philosophy,“ explained chairman Tony Kleanthous. It was seen as a bold move by the club, but given Eames’ extraordinary work ethic it is apparent that this is not such a gamble.
Speaking at The Hive, Barnet’s impressive complex that houses their stadium and training facilities, the boss’ day is well underway. Up at 5am, he is routinely in work by 7.30am and remains a hands-on coach. „The bit I enjoy the most is being on the grass with my boots on and making sure we play well,“ says Eames. But he is now in a position to delegate too.

Alex Armstrong has come in as his assistant and takes the afternoon session. „We have talented staff here so it is about trusting them,“ adds Eames. „It allows me to stand back a bit.“ That is done by 2.30pm but before an evening of calls with head of recruitment Joe Monks, there is the small matter of „three or four hours“ of watching footage back.

„We film every single training session,“ he says. „There will be things I didn’t pick up at the time. Then I need to transfer that to the player. It is all about what is best for them. Do they want to watch it? Do I make them watch it if they don’t want to? The visual learners need it and it can be so beneficial because the camera doesn’t lie. Don’t believe me? Watch this.

„It is important that we embrace the technology side of the game because it is so interesting. Not just for me but for the players. They want to see when they have done something well and when they have done something wrong. It is not about forcing it down their throat but drip-feeding it in the right way.“
This is the advantage of Eames’ background. He arrived at Barnet as a video analyst in 2009. But when it comes to drive, this was forged not on the football field but in the gymnasium. A dedicated gymnast in his youth, it was this that taught him the discipline required to be a professional athlete. He knows what his young players must give up in order to succeed.

„It was a massive part of my life,“ he says. „It probably shaped who I am now, in terms of the work ethic. I have got a lot to thank my old Slovenian gymnastics coach for. He was the one who taught me how to be a professional, how to live a proper sportsman’s life rather than take it for granted and do what a lot of other 16 to 18-year-old kids would have done.

„I got to travel the world with it. I have probably visited every country in Europe, seen a lot of different cultures. I had a couple of years in Slovenia from the age of 16 working with a coach who couldn’t speak a word of English so I had to embrace the culture and learn on my feet. I was cooking, cleaning and doing laundry. It was tough. But the gym was my focus.“

Gymnastics, of course, is a young man’s game and it soon became clear that football would be his long-term future. Eames pursued his passion at Leeds Met University, where he studied coaching science and enjoyed placements at Bradford City and Leeds United. „I started off with football in the community in Leeds and it all took off from there,“ he says.
„I did bits with the ladies team there. Some went on to England such as Rachel Daly. I also did bits with the academy. It was a cluster of part-time jobs, such as working in a social inclusion role, which rolled together turned into a full-time job. It really helped me because you work with so many different characters and it stands you in good stead.

„We went to a social behaviour school. For them, sports is a fun tool to make them more sociable with people. I learnt a lot about how people improve. Even simple things like ‘well done’ and ‘good morning’ could be huge for them.“ It led to a job back down south as a video analyst also working with Barnet’s U13s. That was eight years ago now.

He dismisses the idea that he is Mr Barnet – „that’s the chairman“ – but Eames has certainly seen plenty of changes at the club in that time. „There was no stadium,“ he says. „It was just an empty shell. We had a little box room. Now we have the stadium and lots of different staff across various departments. It’s huge. You still sit back and think, what a change.

„The facilities are second to none so we are very lucky with what the chairman has built and is still building. He has huge ambitions for this football club.“ Even so, there have still been ups and downs. The relegation out of the Football League in 2013 that Eames calls „the worst moment I have experienced in football“ and the joy of returning in 2015.
Martin Allen was the manager who took Barnet back up and Eames speaks warmly of his old boss, recalling the way he drilled the players and planned for every in-game scenario. „I made sure I was a sponge with him,“ says Eames. „He has been fantastic for my career and we are still in contact.“ But now it is the younger man in the top job.

His long history at the club should make that transition easier. „I know the culture,“ he says. He also knows the players having had to build a youth team from a base of just six scholars in 2015. „There are three or four out there on that training pitch now,“ he says with pride. Winger Nana Kyei was even there for his first U13 training session all those years ago.

There are the senior players to deal with too, of course. „Players are no fools,“ says Eames. „They can suss you out straight away. So if it’s not right what you have prepared then they will know.“ He is fortunate to have a good group of experienced pros that includes Jamal Campbell-Ryce, Curtis Weston and, in particular, veteran defender Michael Nelson.

„We have a great club captain in Michael and if something happens in the changing room with one of the younger lads, he deals with it straight away,“ says Eames. „When you have good senior people around you it really does help.“ That Nelson is five years older than his head coach is a reminder of just how far Eames has come in a relatively short space of time.
„Everyone keeps saying to me that I am the youngest Football League coach but to me it is just a number,“ he says. „I am a very privileged person to be one of the 92 and I know there are millions of people in this country who would love to be in my seat. But I have not really thought about the age thing, it’s just about me doing my job as well as possible.

„I know that we are on the right track and we are in a good place. We have a great philosophy from the U9s upwards and we have the ambitions to match. I am embedding the principles, the culture of high standards and ensuring every detail is followed. The young players are stepping up and you will see more emerge this season.“

So is promotion to League One for the first time in more than 20 years a possibility? „We have had a meeting but I will keep that meeting within the four walls,“ he adds. „What I will say is that these players are hungrier than ever. We know the ambitions and where we can go. We will build on what we have done already and we will be working harder than ever.“Euro Soccer Bonus

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