Steve Darby is no stranger to Asian football, and last week the Englishman began his latest challenge as the new technical director of the Laos Football Federation.
The Englishman, who most recently served as assistant coach at Mumbai City FC, will now be looking to help steer the Southeast Asian nation through the next cycle of international competitions.
“I had completed a great contract in the Indian Super league with Mumbai City, working with players such as Nicolas Anelka and Andre Moritz as well as quality Indian internationals,” Darby told Football Channel Asia when asked about the transition. “But it’s a four-month season, which means an eight-month wait until the next season.
“The realities are that you miss the day-to-day football contact; [Laos coach] Dave Booth contacted me to see if I was interested in a technical director role, and that set the wheels in motion to meeting with the Laos President and General Secretary.
“We discussed what Laos wanted as I feel it is culturally naive for a foreigner to walk in a country and make unrealistic demands and assumptions.”
Darby’s previous relationship with Booth, who took his post last August, was a factor in the decision.
“I have known Dave since 1998 when he coached Brunei and I coached Johor FA in the M-League,” Darby said. “I think he is an excellent coach and he knows that I won’t be behind his back with a large knife, as often happens with the technical director and coaching role.
The 60-year-old former goalkeeper is familiar with the role of technical director, having served in a similar capacity for both Australia and Thailand.
“My aim is quite simply to bring as much improvement to as many coaches and players as I can, which means making as many education courses and resources as possible available.
“I know the realities of the job; you have to learn to work within varying budgets and cultural and football expectations.”
Darby is realistic in his expectations for the second round of joint qualifying, where Laos will face Asian Cup runners-up South Korea along with Kuwait, Lebanon, and Myanmar.
“Our biggest challenge will be South Korea, followed by Kuwait and Lebanon,” he said. “All three are strong nations with massive wealth behind them.
“We have to be serious and remember that Laos only has six million people, and the other nations have fully professional leagues. A national team is in reality as only as good as the National league allows.
“I don’t think I’ll be taking Russian lessons for 2018, but we must make every game competitive and honourable for the fans. Every game will make the players tougher and give them personal challenges.”
While Laos have a difficult path ahead of them in order to reach the World Cup or even the 2019 Asian Cup, Darby is more optimistic about his Under-23 team’s chances in the fast-approaching SEA Games in Singapore.
“Over the last 10 years, Laos have made massive improvements in youth and women’s football,” Darby said. “They’ve benefited greatly from AFC and FIFA projects and utilised FIFA funding superbly.
“Reaching the semi finals in the SEA Games will be tough, but not impossible. Dave has the team well-organized and motivated; they really want to do well.
“Having been in Southeast Asia since 1998, the gap between nations is much smaller. The bigger teams’ massive populations will always lead to differences, but I do believe in the cliche that in this region, there are no longer any easy games in international football.”