The subject: Vancouver midfielder Nigel Reo-Coker once captained the England Under-21s and starred for Aston Villa and West Ham United. The 29-year-old moved to British Columbia a year ago to seek out a different challenge and transition away from English soccer.
Reo-Coker spoke to Inside MLS last month in Foxborough, Mass. about his new life in MLS and the road ahead for the Whitecaps.
How did you end up in Vancouver? What led you to this point?
“I just think, like in life sometimes, everything falls into place. At the time I was at in my career and where I’ve been, it just happened to fall into place. It’s been good so far."
What did you learn from your first year in MLS?
“It’s a lot more competitive of a league than people realize. It’s been very competitive. The margins of winning and losing a game are very, very small. It’s developing. It’s getting better and stronger every year. There are more and more top-quality players wanting to come over and looking to come over to make the league stronger than it already is.
It’s very athletic. It’s a very demanding league. But it’s one of the few leagues in the world that still has the potential to grow and become bigger and better.”
Why did you decide to stay after your first year? I assume you had options to return home or go somewhere else if you wanted.
“It’s a change for me in life. I had fun last year. It was fantastic to play and be part of the league. Now, obviously, our club, the direction we have in place and the new management we have in place and everything, it makes it even more exciting.
We’ve got Carl [Robinson], who has taken over this year. He’s a manager I’ve grown close with last year when he was the first-team coach. Now, as a manager, I truly believe in him and his philosophy in football and what he’s looking to do and achieve.
For me, he’s one of the best young managers in the league. I’m sure, given time, he’ll prove that and show that with the quality of football we’re playing. People are seeing what he’s done to us and the players he’s brought in. He’s someone – football-wise – people should look out for worldwide as a manager.”
What have you seen in terms of changes with the team and in terms of how you want to approach the game this year under Carl?
“It’s difficult to say because I was really, really close to him as the first-team coach. We had lots of conversations football-wise about what we believed and how the game has changed. We both played in the Premiership, we’ve played at the highest level.
We’ve seen how the game was a couple of years ago, how the Premiership is now and how modern football has changed. It’s more athletic, it’s more of a passing game now. The old style has gone out the window, where teams are very direct. Even the teams that are direct now have to pass the ball around. It’s about playing formations that are best suited to the players you have available to you to bring out the best in players.
It’s not just about the football side of things. It’s about day-to-day man management. The mentality of the players has changed a lot. And we both know that from when we were younger and from what we had to go through as players to now how youngsters are perceived. That’s modern-day football. A lot more man-to-man management is required to be a manager."
How does the desire to focus more on possession fit into MLS?
“It suits very well. If you look at some of the good teams in the league, they are very comfortable and they pass the ball well. There are a lot of teams [that can do it]. …
I think that’s what the league is trying to push a lot more now. A lot of the teams in the league are trying to be that footballing side. They’re trying to pass and move that ball and be consistent with it.”
How long does it take to develop that sort of football?
“It can take a while. It really depends. Everyone’s circumstances are different.”
And for the Whitecaps?
“For us, I don’t think it’ll take that long at all. If you look at our past few games [before the 0-0 draw with New England on March 22] – just before the season and when the season started – we’ve passed the ball better. Possession-wise, we’ve kept it better. We’re still learning. We’re a new team that’s only been together for maybe seven or eight weeks. We’ve got some players who have only been here for four or five weeks. It’s still going to take some time until we’re really glued and jelled together as a team.”