Mark Seagraves played for Liverpool, Norwich City, Manchester City, Bolton Wanderers and Swindon Town before moving to coaching and talent scouting in the English Premier League (EPL). In May 2013, he came to India as Technical Director with Arsenal Soccer Schools and India on Track. A year later he co-founded The Football Faktory, which through quality and professional coaching, strives to develop Indian youth in the ‘beautiful game’ at the grassroot level.
Currently based in Goa, he’s an expert on Sony TV’s Football Extraaa and Kickoff programmes, having covered the UEFA Champions League, Nations League, Europa League, Euro 2020, La Liga, Serie A, FA Cup, the FIFA men’s and women’s World Cups. In a freewheeling interview with Siasat.com, the soccer specialist speaks on the sport that’s fast gaining ground in India. Excerpts:
Siasat.com: England is the home of football. The EPL is by far the richest. How come the best coaches are not Englishmen, whether it’s Tuchel, Klopp, Mancini, Guardiola etc.. ? Even Sir Alex is Scottish !
Mark Seagraves: I think the reason is because there are a lot of foreign owners in the Premier League. With the money that is in the EPL they can attract the biggest and the best names from all over the world. We have had good managers in England too… Eddie Howe is a good young manager. We have had managers such as Terry Venables and Bobby Robson who have both coached Barcelona. So this has happened a lot over the years with not just foreign managers coming to England but also the other way around too.
SC: In Euro 2020, there were more goal-scorers from Serie A than the EPL, where the game is believed to be much faster ? How do you explain this ?
MS: If you look at the top ten scorers in the Euros the front-runners were Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus, 5) in first place and Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan, 4) in third place. After that we had Harry Kane (Tottenham, 4) and Raheem Sterling (Manchester City, 3) and Georginio Wijnaldum (Liverpool, 3). Then maybe it wasn’t all about the Serie A outdoing the Premier League.
If you look further down the list you have Xherdan Shaqiri (Liverpool, 3) and Alvaro Morata (Juventus, 3). England played in a more defensive way also and didn’t really play with a freedom which created chance after chance. The Italians had a more expansive way of playing. The Serie A also has some very good goal scorers in Ronaldo, Lukaku and Ciro Immobile who all showed us what they are capable of. Now, two of those players (Ronaldo, Lukaku), are back in the Premier League plying their trade.
SC: Is too much media attention killing the game in its homeland ? I often suspect there’s so much hype surrounding English football. Or is it the unquenchable public thirst for sports heroes ?
MS: The pressure is always on anybody representing their country but in England it becomes even more when we are in a major tournament. From a country that has not won anything for 55 years the pressure from the media and the public is ridiculous. Yes we want to create a hero and we want to win but the scrutiny and the pressure, be it written media, social media or Television on the players are not good.
“It’s coming home” is a very familiar chant we hear from all corners of England but in reality it never really has been home apart from the 1966 World Cup. The players and coaching staff of all previous National teams have had to endure the process.
SC: Is the EPL excessively dependent on overseas talent at the cost of developing domestic football ?
MS: I believe the need to succeed at all costs is the driving force behind many youngsters not being given the opportunity to develop and learn their craft organically. Yes the EPL is the biggest league with lots of money and brings in the biggest and the best names. With that comes the need to win trophies and win titles.. No time for managers to develop as they may not be in the job long enough to do that. So they go for the ready-made player. Having said all of that if you look at the English youngsters playing in the EPL I think the talent is huge.
SC: What would be your high and low points as a player, coach, scout and pundit ?
MS: My high points as a player were making my debut for the club I supported from a very early age—Liverpool, a team that was probably the best in Europe at that time. Also representing my country in the under 15, U-17 and U-18 year competitions and playing in a major final of the Coca Cola League Cup, ironically against Liverpool in 1995 were memorable. We lost that game 1-2. Low points were always injuries and defeats.
Coaching’s high points were in the EPL with clubs such as Wigan and Derby–to work with and mentor top class players. Leaving Derby County–having only got just 11 points–a record low for the EPL, was the nadir.
As a pundit, doing the 2018 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2020 (21), working with great people at Sony were unforgettable experiences. The UEFA Champions League (UCL) nights are great too. There have been no low points as the job I have is amazing. It’s a privilege to work with such talented people, ranging from the presenters, pundits, producers to directors.
SC: Your predictions about the number of goals in a game are much closer to the real numbers than the others ? How do you manage that ?
MS: I actually do a lot of research on the games that we cover and always try to get the result right first, then the scoreline. A lot of luck is involved too.
SC: What are your most memorable moments in and out of football ?
MS: The most memorable moment in football was when the then manager of Liverpool Kenny Dalglish told me that I was making my debut at the age of 18 years for my hometown club.
SC: If the damaged vertebra damaged your dreams as a player, have your subsequent careers made up for that loss ?
MS: I had many injuries in my time as a player and more than the vertebrae issue it was eventually my knees that finished my career. After that I went into coaching and managed to be successful as assistant manager of Blackpool FC, then first team coach of Wigan and Derby County, both in the EPL.
Also here in India I have my soccer schools and I’m now working for Sony TV. I love all things football. Playing was the best, then came coaching. Now punditry is still doing and talking about the thing I am passionate about and that is football.
SC: As a central defender, did you have a role model ? Italy’s Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi are considered among the greatest defenders of all time and they played clean too.
MS: My role model was a player called Alan Hansen, a very good central defender, very good on the ball and very quick. I also love players like Baresi and obviously Maldini who were true professionals. I think back in the day, us defenders were allowed a little leeway. When it came to tackling these guys all played with their heads. They got into the right positions at the right times. So they were never over extended.
SC: Comparing Latin American and European football, the former invariably scores over the latter in terms of individual brilliance of a Pele, Maradona or Messi
MS: I would argue that Europe has seen some amazing players too. Johann Cruyff, Maldini, Ronaldo, Paul Gascoigne, Marco Van Basten, Andrea Pirlo, Andries Iniesta, Xavi and George Best but yes Pele, Messi and Maradona are all world class players in their own right.