New Waterford FC manager Marc Bircham says that he believes that the club are in a false position despite being rooted to the bottom of the League of Ireland Premier Division Table, and is confident that he can do enough to help keep the Blues in the league come the end of the campaign.
Speaking to local media in his first interview since being unveiled as Waterford FC manager earlier in the week, Bircham admitted that he does have a ‘big job’ on his hands, but he has seen enough in the attitude of the Waterford players to convince him they have enough to climb back up the league table.
The former Queens Park Rangers and Canada midfielder is currently quarantining and speaking to players on Zoom, while he has watched their games on WatchLOI. He says his principle will be to be honest in his assessment of his players, and it is more important to get the squad playing for the badge than it is to get them playing for Bircham himself.
“I would say that with training and with personal meetings – the biggest thing is to just be honest with the players. If you’re not honest with your players, it can come round and bite you in the arse. With my personality, I want enjoyment in training, but you also have to teach things from a tactical perspective. With enjoyment in training, working hard and honesty, I want to bring all the lads all together. It’s not about wanting to play for the manager, I’ve got to build camaraderie, get them playing for the badge and then get them playing for me.”
Bircham spared some kind words for the standard of football in the League of Ireland, somewhat distant from former manager John Sheridan’s infamous ‘pub league’ remarks, and says that the move to summer football has greatly benefited our national league. Bircham has been impressed with the attitude of the Waterford squad, and believes he can achieve something with the present group and some additional recruitment.
“From my time in England, I’ve always kept an eye on the League of Ireland. The league has always produced good players. It impresses me that teams are trying to play more football. Moving to the summer has helped that, as playing football in gale force winds on muddy pitches isn’t the most enticing thing. I’ve been impressed by the attitude and work rate of the Waterford players. It’s hard when you’re at the bottom of the league and losing games – it’s easy to throw the towel in. Sometimes the body language hasn’t been great, but the majority of players have kept going and the defeats aren’t through lack of effort. That’s something you can always work with. We need to tidy up on set plays but as a coach, I’m looking at a real honest set of lads that I can achieve something with.”
Despite all the drama coming out of the RSC and the 43-year-old being the fifth man to take charge in twelve months, he says he is relishing the challenge. Bircham made it clear that his focus will be purely upon results, and adapting to the strengths of the hand he has been dealt.
“It is a huge job, but anyone who knows me will say that it’s typical me. Don’t take the job, you’re bottom of the league so on – I’ve always been like that, if it says wet paint, I’ll still touch it. All I can do is throw myself fully at it. The only way is up. We’ve got to get things right in training and try build a culture. When people say philosophy of coaching – I don’t believe in that. You can have one when you’re Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola, your full backs aren’t working so you can spend £150m to replace them, that’s a philosophy. For the rest of us all normal people in football; the philosophy is simple – it’s about winning and trying to make the team the hardest it can be to beat and pick up the most points you can. I have an idea of how football should be played, but if it doesn’t fit in to what you have, you have to use the tools that you have to make the best out of it. That’s what I’ll be trying to do with the experience I’ve had, put that on the field and get the points.”
Quizzed on what enticed him to come to Waterford and leave his role as a Technical Director within the Bahamas FA, Bircham admitted he didn’t jump at the opportunity to move to the RSC without thought. The former Canada international says the Blues are in somewhat of a ‘false position’ and are better than the current league standings might suggest.
“Straight away, it wasn’t yeah I’m going to pack my bags, let’s go. It was taking a look at the team, where they are in the league and why they are in this position. For me, I believe I can turn their fortunes around with what I bring to the table. If I didn’t believe that, I wouldn’t be taking the job. I’m going to a team that’s bottom of the league and that’s always hard – but I believe with my personality and my positivity, that I can turn that around. I believe we are in a false position from where we should be and only time will tell. I’m not going to come in and promise this, that and the other and then six weeks down the line – I’m going to look like an idiot. I’ve said what I’m going to try and do and hopefully the players can take it on and produce on the field. The League of Ireland is a good league and I believe I can make an impact here.”
It was raised to Bircham that he is the fifth manager to take the helm since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the need for continuity and calm at the club was stressed. He joked that if he was coming for a holiday, he would have stayed in the Bahamas – and noted that the idea of changing manager ‘all the time’ is ‘never going to work’. There are no concerns about the Blues playing ‘pretty football’, he just wants to get off to the right start.
“If I wanted a holiday – I’d of stayed in the Bahamas, it’s a bit of a better hotspot than Waterford. Philosophy is a load of crap, I’m a believer in culture. I want to encourage people and give people the confidence to play. Football is about two things that you’ve mentioned – continuity. Contuinity is hugely important in football. Sir Alex Ferguson was a few minutes from the sack when Mark Robins scored and he won the FA Cup. It’s the same with other clubs. If you keep changing the manager all the time – it’s never going to work. It’s important that we have continuity. Of course I’m going to say that, I’m the manager and I want to stay here a long time. Continuity is vital and I hope the owner is listening. The other important thing is results. Football is a results business and don’t let anyone tell you any different. We can bluff about long term projects but that’s rubbish. You need to win games and if you do that, you keep your job a bit longer. You can play the prettiest football in the world but if you’re bottom of the league, you’re bottom of the league. My mate Sean Dyche at Burnley plays to win and it’s not always pretty, they’re not Man City but does a job. What we need is results.”
Despite his belief that the club are in a false position, Bircham admitted that the primary goal for Waterford this reason is to maintain their Premier Division status. Should that be achieved, more ambitious plans may follow.
“My main focus is staying in the league. I can lie and say we’re going for the Champions League but saying that now, I’d look an idiot. We need to stay in the division, secure that as soon as possible and set another goal. We need to strengthen the squad and be in a better place at the end of the season than we thought we would be and then set another goal. First and foremost, we’ve got to get off the bottom of the table and fight to stay in the league.”
With senior goalkeeper Brian Murphy cast away to the shadows by former managerial team Kevin Sheedy and Mike Newell, Bircham confirmed that he has spoken to both Murphy and his namesake, striker Daryl Murphy. Bircham previously coached Brian Murphy in his time at Queens Park Rangers under Neil Warnock, and said that Murphy painted a positive picture of what needs to be set right in order for the team to make the right strides forward.
“Brian Murphy wasn’t in the team – yet he was so positive about the club and what needs to be done. It isn’t a massive overhaul. He told me what I thought was the case or what I thought needed to be changed to get us on the right path. When you do your homework, sometimes you can hear that the environment is toxic or that squads are full of bad attitudes and egos and there’s old pros that don’t want to work. It’s hard to turn that around. I see an attitude and a willingness within these players to turn that around. Even when they’re losing, they want to work hard and keep doing. They can be moulded into what we need. Adding 3-4 players to the squad will be vitally important and that’ll give us a great chance in doing what we want to do.”
Regarding the 3-4 players he wishes to recruit, the new Blues manager admitted that he has an idea of who he wants but he will also give time to what is already at his disposal to impress him. He wants his team to be reflective of his own ethics.
“I’ve got a rough idea of the players I want but with due diligence, I’ve got to assess the squad that I’ve already got. You don’t know what a player is like until you actually coach them and get into their mentality. I’d rather a less talented player with a fantastic attitude because you can achieve more with that. My team has got to represent me and what I am. I want them to have personality and be what I was like as a player and I just want to win – it’s the main thing. For me; it’s never about how well you play, it’s about the result. My morals and attitudes must be shown on the pitch and that’s all you can ask for as a coach that your players do what is asked of them.”
The top job at Waterford FC will be the first managerial role that the former Millwall, QPR and Yeovil Town player has held – having coached at QPR, Millwall, Chicago Fire, Arizona United and in the Bahamas. He says that previous offers did not sit right with him and he believes that there is a real potential for success at the RSC beyond the clubs current predicament.
“I’ve had managerial offers before which weren’t right with me. I worked with Neil Warnock and Ian Holloway so closely, it was more than being just an assistant. Ian gave me a lot of roles and responsibilities. I worked with QPR, they’re my club and it was more than just a coaching role to me. I have to have an offer where I believe that I can make a big change in a short space of time to get us back on track. Otherwise, I wouldn’t do it. I don’t want my first managerial job to be a failure, or I’ll never get back on the roundabout. I plan to use Mike Geoghegan as my assistant for a while. I have my own people too but I want to see what I have at my disposal here already – and up until the break, I’ll use what I’ve got here. I’ll be using the U19s in training too and that’ll help the continuity with the club.”
Bircham has been assured by owner Lee Power that he will have funds made available to him to strengthen the squad, and moved to distance himself from commenting on the failures of the Kevin Sheedy era. He says that there are definite areas which can be improved upon, but that it would be easy to critique the work of his predecessors from an outside perspective.
“I’ve had assurances from the owner. I don’t really want to talk about it but I have been promised there will be funds there to strengthen the squad and bring players in. That’s a big thing for me in taking the job – I want to have the funds to bring in the players that I want. I don’t believe I can do as well as I want to and keep the team in the league without strengthening the squad, so fingers crossed. I don’t want to comment on the other managers or coaches. It’s a hard job. It’s easy to say what was and wasn’t done. I think I can influence things on tactics in and out of possession, organise better at set pieces and it encourages me that I believe we have areas to work on.”
With the Waterford FC team stood down from their fixture with Sligo Rovers this weekend, it is likely that Bircham’s first crack of the whip will come at home to Derry City on Friday May 21st, before another home game against Finn Harps three days later. Getting off to the right start will be crucial, but the London born coach is confident that he is the man to salvage something from the wreckage at the RSC