John Salako: I'd like to be inspiration to black players looking to coach
John Salako has spoken of his pride at landing his big coaching break at Crystal Palace.
The former Eagles winger – capped by England during a nine-year spell at Selhurst Park that made him a big fans’ favourite – has replaced Ben Garner as first-team coach.
Salako was brought into the fold in pre-season – initially when the squad started their prep work at St Georges Park at the start of July.
When boss Alan Pardew offered him a fulltime role it meant the end of the 46-year-old’s summarising work for Sky Sports.
Salako said: “It was 10 years ago that I retired and have been working for Sky – they’ve been fantastic. I’ve enjoyed doing that but the next best thing to playing is coaching or managing, working with the boys day in and day out.
“Although I didn’t want to let Sky down they were great about it.
“Alan said he might have an opportunity for a first-team coach when Ben left, initially on a part-time basis. Once Shola [Ameobi] decided to carry on playing then it became a trial week, which I jumped at.
“We had a good week at St George’s and then Alan said he’d like to consider me coming in fulltime and doing the role. I was very excited. Preseason went well – we had great trips to Berlin and South Africa.”
Salako started his coaching badges at the age of 24 – at a time when he was working his way back from two major knee injuries.
“I had a lot of time out and when I went to Reading later in my career with Pards I started doing some coaching with Brendan Rodgers,” he said. “I did some coaching at Charlton with their youth team on a couple of afternoons.
“I kept my hand in and it was something I always wanted to do. I offered my services at Reading when I was 35 but there wasn’t space for me there then.
“Nothing really came up over the years after that. There have been a couple of managerial jobs I’ve tentatively enquired about but nothing transpired. It was always something at the back of my mind that I wanted to do.
“That’s why I got involved with Palace’s academy. It was a chance to give a little bit back. It is such a brilliant fit. It’s a dream place to work – as a first-team coach at Crystal Palace and in the Premier League.”
There have been regular calls for more black coaches to be appointed in the English game.
And Salako admits he would be delighted if his appointment played a small part in changing the imbalance.
He said: “From my experience – and what I know – I’m not sure black players really look at it as a career path and put themselves out enough to gain knowledge and experience at lower levels and the academy to progress.
“There does seem to be a problem, maybe at boardroom and managerial level, that the relationship is not there to hire more black players.
“It needs to be addressed because it doesn’t equate to how many guys do go on.
“Maybe a lot are going into becoming agents, working in the media and doing other stuff. It needs to change and that means people coming through the system. The more that come into the bigger and better jobs the more it lifts the profile. If I can do that, then brilliant.
One area of expertise for Salako is what makes a top winger – as he was one himself.
He said: “I’ve always been a student of the game and understand it. I’m just trying to give that experience back to the players.
“I’m working with some of the young players in the development squad and also Yannick Bolasie, Bakary Sako, Wilfried Zaha, Sullay Kaikai and the forward guys – how to improve their positional sense, effect a game even more and to be better team players. I can relate with them because I played in that position at the top level. Progressing players, getting the best out of them, is key.
“But also hopefully just being enthusiastic and energetic around the training ground and on a matchday. I’d like to think I’m infectious. I love the club and I love the game.
“For a lot of young players they need to play with a smile on their face. They also need to realise the level that they are at and the opportunity they have – to really maximise their potential.”
From South London Press