VANCOUVER — As part of his long and winding and thoroughly global trail of professional development, Vancouver Whitecaps assistant coach Martyn Pert is said to have spent time with two of America’s iconic sports franchises, the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Lakers.
His special interest in the processes of how other teams and athletes evolve and prepare has made him a life-long student of elite sport, though research into his time with the Yanks and Lakers reveals something strange.
It didn’t happen.
Still, the fallacy, reported in British newspapers, has continued to follow the peripatetic Englishman from Norwich in his world travels over the past decade.
Look up Pert’s bio on the Major League Soccer website and the reference to his work with the Yanks and Lakers is still there, becoming part of league folklore.
“I don’t know where that came from,” he explained, following a Whitecaps training session Tuesday at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium. “In 2004, I flew into Montreal and travelled from there to Rio de Janeiro. I stopped off at different places. I went to learn, to study different teams, how they coached, their methodology for fitness and training, how they set up practices, how they set a culture. I’m constantly trying to learn. But the Yankees and Lakers? It never happened.”
Still, his odyssey to further educate his passion has allowed Pert to glimpse the inner workings of organizations as diverse as Google, the Mercedes-Benz Formula One team, the U.S. Olympic training centre in Lake Placid, the British Olympic cycling team, the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team and the NBA’s Miami Heat.
Pert has an MSc in Sports Science, but it’s not just his intelligence, which is plentiful, that sets him apart. It’s his curiosity, which is more rare.
“You try and learn from every facet of the world,” he explained. “A coach has to be curious. If you have a curious mind, you try and look for new ideas.”
Though English by birth and upbringing, Pert talks to the Whitecaps’ Spanish speaking players in their native language, sweets talks in Portuguese (his wife, Bela, is Brazilian) and can get by in Arabic (he spent time with the national team of Bahrain).
“The modern English manager just wants to manage in England,” explained the Whitecaps’ Welsh-born manager Carl Robinson. “It’s unusual when you find someone who wants to go out of their comfort zone. A big reason we hired him is his technical awareness, his view of the game, which is fantastic. He’s also worked in the Premier League (most recently with Cardiff City). Malky Mackay (Cardiff’s manager) was high on Martyn. That’s a big part of it. We also knew we were going to recruit South American players and his ability to communicate in their language was also another massive plus for me.”
In today's European and North American soccer societies, dressing rooms are more multicultural than ever. But the language barrier is a good argument why the flow of talent and expertise has been mainly one way. English managers in South America, for instance, are almost unheard-of.
Pert, firmly committed to becoming that rara avis, studied Spanish precisely became he was determined to become a coaching success in South America.
Indeed, last year, he almost made it. Pert was hired, then fired as head coach of El Nacional, Ecuador’s most prominent club, before he even had a chance to settle in. Three weeks after his appointment, a hedge fund company took control of the 13-time Ecuadorian champions and decided it wanted to hire a Spaniard to coach instead. Pert was let go.
“They got rid of me before I’d even had a chance to properly meet the players,” he explained. “That story has been well-documented.”
However, if his thirst is to coach South Americans, he’s certainly getting a taste of it in Vancouver. The first-year Latin American quartet of Pedro Morales, Sebastian Fernandez, Matias Laba and, to a lesser extent, Nicolas Mezquida, has provided an exhilarating and, at times, mesmerizing aspect to the Whitecaps’ attack. Twice, in a pair of home games for the undefeated (2-0-2) MLS team, Fernandez and Morales have been named Man of the Match.
“I’ve been very impressed,” Pert said. “They’ve added flair. They’ve been brilliant. But I’ve also been impressed with their attitude to training. Matty, Seba, Nico, Pedro -- honestly, I’ve never seen a group who work as hard and loves playing football so much.”
Morales, a Chilean midfielder who broached levels of extraordinary in last Saturday’s 2-1 win over Houston at BC Place, said he has found the environment provided by Whitecaps to be “a breath of fresh air” for his career.
“Everything is calm, everything is taken care of, everybody, from my colleagues to the medical staff, has been very good,” he explained. “It allows me to just go out and play football.”
Just as crucially, Pert is around to provide coaching direction and translation services, both for Hispanic Whitecaps and the uni-lingual English-speaking reporters who cover the team.
How is his Spanish, by the way?
“Buen, buen, buen (fine, fine, fine),” Morales responded.
“He said my Spanish is incredible,’” Pert quipped.
Incredible or in-cred-eeb-lay, its phonetic Spanish equivalent, Whitecaps fans hope the season is shaping up to be just that.
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