Allen Bula interview: Thoughts on Matic, Lynx FC and Gibraltar football
With Nemanja Matic in the news after signing for Manchester United, his former coach Allen Bula kindly took the time to talk to us about his memories of the Serbia star, as well as thoughts on his current club Lynx FC and Gibraltar football.
Bula is perhaps the most experienced coach to have hailed from British overseas territory Gibraltar, having gained his UEFA Pro Licence, worked abroad and even managed his national team during their breakthrough years as a new UEFA nation.
It was his time in Slovakia with MFK Kosice (now FC VSS Kosice) from 2006-10 where then-academy manager Bula came across a teenage Matic, and he would later be key to the £40,000,000 midfielder’s remarkable rise in the game.
Their paths have gone separate ways since, with both going on to greater things in their own right, but Bula still has fond memories of the Serb.
From being a player and manager during Gibraltar football’s dark ages before they gained UEFA (in 2013) and then FIFA (2016) membership, to leading out his nation against the likes of world champions Germany and making a good account of themselves, Bula’s story is certainly inspiring and fascinating.
The 52-year-old’s record in charge of GFA is still unmatched by his successors, as he oversaw their first and only win to date, plus two draws – one of which was in their very first official fixture against Slovakia. Bula even convinced his nephew and former Man Utd defender Danny Higginbotham to play a couple of games under him!
After his spell ended in 2015, Bula decided to finish his coaching badges in England, alongside the likes of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Phil Neville, and soon landed the role of director of football back in his homeland with Lynx FC.
Now in charge of the top flight team, and back where he belongs in the hotseat, he’s preparing for the 2017/18 campaign where he aims to build on his club’s sixth-place finish in the Gibraltar Premier Division last term.
So, find out his thoughts on all the above and more in our exclusive Allen Bula interview…
Starting with the topic of Matic, describe the role you played in discovering and nurturing his talent when he signed for Kosice in 2007?
Firstly, I’m extremely happy for Nemanja. Kosice was looking for young talents at the time that I was academy manager, and with low budgets we looked at lower leagues in Eastern Europe.
Our aim was to find undiscovered raw diamonds. We found two players in Serbia – one of which was Nemanja, who was playing for a 4th division club in Serbia (Kolubara).
He came for trials to MFK Kosice and, after seeing him, I recommended that the club owners give him a long-term contact, with the condition that as soon as I felt that our club could not develop a gifted player like Nemanja any further, I would do everything in my power to take him to one of the top leagues in Europe.
For me, the best league that suited the way Nemanja played was the English Premiership.
What made Matic stand out above the rest of the group you worked with, in terms of ability and character? And what was he like personality-wise?
For me it was three things. His long passes with pin-point precision, the way he controlled the ball, and the way he protected the ball when in possession.
It was clear to me that Nemanja had a great gift with raw talent, which is what we were looking for at the time. It was like he had some kind of magnets on his feet!
This made him stand out from the rest and I knew at that time that Nemanja could become one of the world’s top players with the right development. He was very humble, very polite and did everything that was asked of him.
He only had one problem… he did not believe in himself and I made it my goal to boost his confidence.
Did you even have the belief that Matic would go onto play for top clubs like Chelsea and Man Utd? Just how proud are you of him?
Yes I always had the belief that he would play in the English Premiership. My comments on the talent this player had are well recorded on world media from the time that no one knew who he was.
I took him to Middlesbrough FC for trials, where he was unsuccessful. A few days after he came back to MFK, he was feeling down. I told him not to worry, that he had the talent and that one day he would play for an English Premiership club.
I’ll never forget Nemanja’s humble reply, saying: “Allen, I don’t think I am good enough for England clubs”. So you can imagine how proud I am of him now.
Have you kept in touch with Matic? And have you thought about asking him to come over and inspire your team and others in Gibraltar?
After MFK sold him to Chelsea, I haven’t had any contact with Nemanja.
It would be an honour to have him come over to Gibraltar, but I have never asked him as of yet.
It would be an inspiration for Gibraltar’s young players to meet him, and knowing that by working so hard, believing in themselves and trusting others, they could also achieve their goals.
Are there young players you have seen in Gibraltar that have the potential to be at Matic’s level, or at least play in the English Premier League and other top European divisions? Liam Walker of course has made an immediate impression after signing for Notts County.
Liam Walker is a great player. In the six years I had him in the national team, he showed professionalism, commitment and great qualities. It was an honour to work with such a great player.
Gibraltar has always produced players such as Liam, and a few that have shown great potential and talent like Matic and others that could have played in top English or European divisions.
However, my opinion is that you need to have the right development plan to nourish when good players show potential. Without this, it is difficult for such a small country to develop players to such a high standard.
What would your advice be to young talented Gibraltarians, if they have ambitions to ever get to Matic’s standards?
My advice would be to work hard, believe in yourself and never give up.
But also know that sacrifices need to be made; it is not an easy ride!
Moving on to talk a bit more about yourself, Lynx FC and Gibraltar. In your first campaign back in management since the Gibraltar job, how have pre-season preparations gone with Lynx?
Our season starts at the end of September, and I am looking forward to managing this team.
The pre-season will be starting in August and I have already recruited quite a few Gibraltarian players as well as some foreign players.
What aims do you have for Lynx in 2017/18 and beyond?
Our aim is to maintain our Premier Division status and try to get into the UEFA Champions League (qualifiers) within the next three years.
You are 52, so still young by managerial standards. What are your long term goals if you ever leave Lynx? Would you like to manage in England or another European nation one day. Or even the Gibraltar national team again?
Currently my priority is to try and get Lynx FC in the UEFA Champions League.
I would love to manage an English team one day, or even a European national team, you never know!
With regards to the Gibraltar national team, my door will always remain open to my country.
You are Gibraltar through and through, having being born and raised there, managed their youth teams, and then the senior team before and after they were awarded UEFA membership. Just how much has football in Gibraltar changed over the years? Could you have imagined it’d be where it is now, from when you were growing up?
Gibraltar’s football was changing at national level prior to UEFA. Post UEFA, football changed dramatically when clubs started changing from amateur to semi/full professional.
A big influx of foreign players have come into the league and the standard has risen. I never imagined Gibraltar’s football would be where it is now when I myself was a player.
My younger memories of football were always playing in local clubs and local leagues.
However, when I did move from MFK Kosice to Gibraltar, my aim was to help and prepare Gibraltar gain entry into UEFA, and mostly prepare the national team for what was about to hit us!
How far do you think Gibraltar as a footballing nation and their players can go?
The more international games are played, the more experience players gain.
It’s about competing and learning. Gibraltar has the desire and passion to go far, so only time will tell.
Is there anything else you would like to see change or improve to help further develop football in Gibraltar?
Yes, I think having an academy will help players develop their skills and achieve the ultimate goal, which is to play for the national team.
From your first official game in charge of Gibraltar (0-0 draw with Slovakia) until your last (spirited 4-0 loss to Germany), how fond are your memories of the national team’s first taste of UEFA football and what you achieved?
I have fond memories of all the matches we played, even the pre UEFA match against Faroe Islands when we beat them 3-0 and sent shock waves around Europe that we deserved to be in UEFA!
Slovakia came next, a team ranked 33 and we drew 0-0!
My last match with the national team was definitely the highlight of my career with the Gibraltar national team losing just 4-0 against the world champions, Germany, in Nuremberg. Having a packed stadium of 54,000 spectators and experience a standing ovation to the Gibraltar team after the final whistle was an experience I will never forget.
My biggest achievement was breaking the record of small nations by having one win and two draws in the first year of UEFA membership.
I also had to make sure my players believed that they deserved to be in UEFA, and that they could play at the highest possible level. I think I achieved this too after the match against Germany.
And finally, did your experience in charge of Gibraltar further develop you as a manager?
Yes it definitely developed me as a manager even further.
Although I had come from a professional club prior to taking on the Gibraltar national team, the experience I gained from turning amateur players’ discipline to train and play as professionals, was second to none.
More about Allen Bula
Place of birth: Gibraltar
Date of birth: 04/01/65 (aged 52)
Favourite club growing up: Arsenal
Footballing heroes: George Best, Bobby Charlton, Alan Ball
Managers look up to/take inspiration from: Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho
Best players you’ve worked with (other than Matic): Danny Higginbotham, Lee Casciaro, Juraj Hovancik, Dionatan Teixeira, Joseph Chipolina, Gerrit Stoeten-Perez, Robert Guilling to name but a few
Best players faced as a manager: Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Muller, Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos
Proudest moment in football: Hearing our national anthem for the first time as a UEFA member against Slovakia, and seeing one of Gibraltar’s greatest fans, Simy Herbert, and the rest of the Gibraltar’s fans dancing the conga during the match against Germany!
Gibraltarians to look out for in future: Kyron McGrail, TJ De Bar, Andrew Hernandez, Jaden Bula to name but a few
Hobbies/interests outside of football: Fishing and gardening
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