Three continents, nine countries. James Goyder meets David Booth, a true footballing nomad.
David Booth’s managerial career has taken him one of the most obscure and diverse itineraries of anyone involved in the modern game. The Barnsley born manager has had spells in charge of three different national teams and has managed in three different continents and nine different countries.
His first appointment was at Grimsby Town, a team he also made 200 appearances for as a full back. This was followed by a managerial spell at Darlington but Booth’s story does not start to get really interesting until, out of work after leaving Darlington, he received a phone call from a footballing legend,
“I originally went to Ghana to work for Bobby Charlton for six weeks to keep a team in the first division. I did that and stayed four years. Since then I moved from country to country for more than 20 years,” he said.
In 1990 Booth was appointed by relegation threatened Ghanaian team Obuasi on Charlton’s recommendation. The move was a success with the team eventually winning the Championship under his guidance and it is here he began to forge a reputation for being comfortable working in absolutely any footballing environment.
The next two decades would take Booth from Brunei, where he coached the national team, back to Ghana with Asante Kotoko, then to Myanmar to take charge of their national team, to Mahindra United in India, Khatoco Khánh Hoà in Vietnam, BEC Tero Sasana in Thailand, Club Valencia in the Maldives, back to India to take charge of first Mumbai FC and then Mahindra United again and finally a third spell in charge of a national team, this time in Laos.
Booth did a very credible job at Laos and only a late equalizer denied him a historic win over neighbouring Thailand at the recent Suzuki Cup. In Asian football even success cannot guarantee managerial stability though and his rein was brought to a premature end due to reasons entirely beyond his control,
“The main challenge at Laos was having to work with a new president who had his own agenda. Laos is not a wealthy football federation but we were moving forward until he stepped in. The president decided to bring his own man in and chopped one year off my contract after I had begun working. I did not agree with his way of doing things so it was better for me to leave,” he said.
While working in the sunshine might sound appealing this is far from the first time Booth has had to deal with this type of issue during his career in Asia,
“At BEC Tero we could have won the league except for interference from inside the club at a crucial stage of the season and that is why I left. At Club Valencia the players went on strike because the club did not release payments and I was left waiting for them at training in the pouring rain,” he said.
Booth second spell in charge of Mahindra United in India was also terminated abruptly with the team on the verge of winning the league,
“The Mahindra Company decided to stop competitive football in order to concentrate on grass roots. Unfortunately we had just moved to the top of the I-League table (India’s top division) when they released this news. The players all started joining new clubs, a lot of hard work for nothing,” he said.
Despite these numerous setbacks Booth has lost none of his enthusiasm for Asian football. He is about to make the short journey across the border from Laos to the north east of Thailand to take over as manager of Sisaket and is looking forward to his second spell in charge of a Thai team,
“I think several of the Thai teams are moving forward very well and I like to think Sisaket has the ambition to do the same. My early impression is that the Sisaket owners want to have a team that everyone is proud of but there will be difficult times ahead. It is a good challenge for us to try to reach the standard of the strong clubs,” he said.
Sisaket only retained their status in the Thai Premier League by winning a relegation play off and Booth’s task will be to consolidate the team’s position in the top tier of Thai football,
“I think Thai football has improved since I was last managing here. Finance plays a big part in football and this is one aspect where Thai football is stronger which means better players and more professionalism. We are trying to get a strong squad together at Sisaket as we do not want to be in this position again. We have a budget for this, not like Manchester City, but hopefully enough to secure sound players,” he said.
Sisaket is a remote rural region but Booth says he has no qualms about moving there and is hoping to settle long term in Thailand,
“My work takes up most of the day so I will probably not get around Sisaket much, there is no time for sightseeing as we need to build a strong club. I think I have burnt my bridges for working back in England and my family and house is in Thailand so I will end up staying here,” he said.
Be it keeping an African club in the top division, taking a developing nation to an international competition or saving a second division English club from relegation Booth is the man for just about any managerial job.
Sisaket is the latest stop on his incredible footballing journey but such has been the nomadic nature of Booth’s managerial career you suspect it might not be the last.
This article would not have been possible without the help of the people at Thai Fussball, an excellent website for Thai football. You can follow James on Twitter @jamesgoyder.