At 23, Keegan Walker can be considered young to be head coach George Dearnaley’s right hand man at the second division, Magic FC, but he is ready to put his new coaching skills to the test after earning his UEFA B coaching licence in Ireland, earlier this month.
Walker, who grew up in Johannesburg, decided to hang up his boots earlier than expected to kickstart his coaching career.
The nippy winger moved down to Cape Town with his family at the age of 14, and joined Table View FC. He quickly climbed the club ranks to play in the first team.
He spent a season with them in the third division before making his way to Pinelands-based, The Magic FC, where he played one season in the second division.
Walker said he approached Dearnaley about the possibilities of helping out in the engine room instead.
“I told him I would like to be on the sidelines to learn how things work in the coaching department.
“I said that I didn’t mind being a ball boy, to carry the water-bottles or even clean the kit, as long as I can learn from the coaches in charge,” said Walker.
After a season of picking up balls and cones while learning the ins-and-outs, things slowly started to take shape and before he knew it, Walker was asked to take charge of a training session.
“I remember that day very well. Head coach at the time, Gerald Stober, told the guys that I was going to take the training. He caught me off guard and I was very nervous.
“But, the nice thing was that I played with most of the players before, so it was a big shock for them as well. What was tough during those first sessions was to earn the respect of some of the big name players in the team.
“I was then made assistant coach and have led the team during some friendly games,” he said.
Walker said the distinction he received while doing a level-two course through the National Football Academy (NFA) is what got him fast tracked to getting his UEFA B coaching badge.
“A coach from Ireland flew down to assess us and I passed with distinction. He said my good marks meant I could skip the UEFA B Part One course and move straight to Part Two,” said Walker.
“I spent 12 days in Ireland doing my UEFA B course. I did three assessments and passed at the end. Towards the end of my trip I spent some time in the UK and went to the Chelsea and Arsenal training to see the type of things they are doing, and to get a taste on European football training methods.
“First I was at the Arsenal training session which was behind closed doors. I got to watch the first team train and got taken around the stadium.
“I was also at Chelsea. The first day was a tour of the grounds and facilities and I attended the first team training at Stamford Bridge the next day,” he said.
Walker said he now has his sights set on getting a UEFA A coaching licence which not many South African coaches have, and credits Cape Town City coach Ian Taylor for preparing him for his course.
He said while most coaches strive to become the number-one head coach, he dreams of becoming a strong number-two.
“I always wanted to become a very good number-two, because I feel that if you want to become a number-one then you would need to have that experience of playing at the highest level. Being an assistant comes with its challenges. I have to adjust my system and way of playing to that of the head coach. Fortunately for me, my style and way of thinking was similar coach Stober so there was never a clash,” said Walker.
“I think last season was a defining one for us at The Magic. We had a really good team and some great players. We finished ninth in the league and I think it put us on the map as a team to look out for.”
When Walker is not doing business with The Magic FC, then his coaching skills are being put to good use at the Real Madrid Foundation, in Hout Bay.
“I’m at the foundation twice a week. We provide training to children from the Hangberg and Imizamo Yethu community and pick them up from training and drop them afterwards.
“There’s three groups of players – under-7, under-9 and a combined under-11 and 13 group. We have three coaches working with each division and I manage the coaches,” he said.