Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Women's Soccer: O'Riordan Helps Chinese Team

Found this on NBC News; have edited it a bit and added extra info:

Ballyfermot man Don O'Riordan is not very hard to find. Show up at the Chinese Olympic women soccer team's training, and his pale skin and Western features make him easy to spot - and then his Irish accent just sharpens the contrast.

As initially startling as his presence may be, it helped China to a place in the quarter-finals, where they lost 1-2 to Japan.

Having retired as a player after 25 years in England and the United States, the 51-year-old Irishman is on Olympic duty with China, which has been his home for about four years.

"It's an opportunity I never expected," said O'Riordan, who's only been with the team for about a month. "It's an opportunity that doesn't come along too often. It's an honor to be asked."

O'Riordan is a technical adviser to the Chinese women's team, a sideline from his regular job as technical director for the Chengdu Blades of the Chinese Super League.

He landed in China as a member of English League Championship - or second division - team Sheffield United (a club he joined after three years as Sligo Rovers manager 2001-4; he was also associated with Galway United)). In 2006, club chairman Kevin McCabe bought the Chengdu Five Bulls, which adopted the English side's nickname, and with O'Riordan already in the country to help run a development academy associated with Sheffield United since 2004, asked him to help the team's latest acquisition a year later.

With O'Riordan responsible for soccer operations, Chengdu won promotion to the first division and its rapid improvement earned him wide recognition in Chinese soccer.

China's national soccer association sought his advice for the women's team and with the addition of another Westerner, fitness coach Mark Laws, have made some noticeable improvements in the squad.

As technical adviser, O'Riordan sits in the stands, watches the matches and discusses strategy and tactics with coach Shang Ruihua.

"Sitting on the bench, you don't see the space," he said. "It's an eye-in-the-sky thing. If need be, I call and make a suggestion."

Shang runs the session, but O'Riordan adds guidance and technical advice. A constant companion is team translator Patrick Li, a native Chinese who lived in England for a year. Communication isn't a problem, O'Riordan says, who knows a few Chinese "words and phrases."

O'Riordan, who signed with Derby County in 1972 at age 15 and whose career also included two years with the Tulsa Roughnecks of the old North American Soccer League, has been welcomed by Shang and his players.

"Coach Shang is one of the nicest men I've ever met," O'Riordan said. "Most Chinese don't want to 'lose face' by letting in a foreign coach. It's big of him to bring in a foreign coach, especially so late, and allow me to make changes."

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