Former Wolves skipper Karl Henry bringing playing determination to grassroots coaching
Wolves rounded off the Premier League season in front of a crowd of 60,095 at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
It’s a stadium at which Karl Henry has played on several occasions during a career which brought him 127 Premier League appearances and 574 in total.
But, as for the Wolves Championship-winning skipper’s last game of this season? In his new-found vocation as a coach?
Well, that was Boldmere St Michael’s Under 11s against Redditch. A couple of weeks ago. Boldmere won. So, Henry was happy.
For a while anyway, because his attention quickly turned to next season. That’s how Henry works.
His Boldmere team, going into Under 12s football, will once again be playing in the Midland Junior Premier League (MJPL) on a Saturday, and, for the first time, in a proper league system in the Central Warwickshire League on a Sunday.
It is now ten years since Henry played his last game for Wolves, the team he was immensely proud to both represent and captain having been born in the city and brought up in Ashmore Park. It is four-and-a-half since he officially retired, his final appearance coming for Bradford against Walsall. And it’s three since he embarked on a coaching journey which has been meticulously mapped out to include several years in grass roots alongside completing his badges, then, ideally, moving into an Academy at Under-18 or Under-21 level before, eventually, finally, managing at first team level.
It’s bold and it’s ambitious. But anyone who knows Karl Henry will know it is far from unachievable. His attitude towards planning, towards work, and towards winning, gives him every chance of success.
Alongside managing his own team, he is also more involved within the Boldmere junior set-up as a whole, has helped the club build a partnership with Wolves Academy, and also runs the Karl Henry Academy, a coaching programme which is attracting top young talent from across the Midlands.
Having already passed his UEFA B licence, Henry expects to complete the A licence over the next two years, whilst continuing to work to sell the business he has built up since he was a player – a luxury lifestyle online platform which has over 1,200 players on its database – after which he will be able to fully concentrate on his coaching career.
“I’m enjoying it so far and it’s all going really well,” the now 40-year-old says of his foray into the world of junior coaching.
“I have gone into this with a professional mindset, just the same as when I was playing.
“The sessions I deliver while coaching have come from those I learned as a player, so not even Academy sessions, first team sessions.
“Obviously they have to be adjusted to suit younger players but that is the way I approach it.
“Anyone who knows me knows how competitive I am and how passionate I am with what I am involved in and get my teeth into, and this is no different.
“I want to develop and produce players, ultimately I’d love to see a lot of them get signed by academies at clubs, but my overriding objective is to improve players as much as I can.
“I am really enjoying it and getting a buzz out of it, far more than I ever thought I would, both with my competitiveness and the style of football I am trying to get the team to play.
“I am devoting a lot of time to the coaching but I am still very hands-on with my business, which is why I am looking to sell it at which point I will be ready to try and go full-time into coaching or management.
“Up until then, I will continue with my badges, and fit in as much coaching experience as I can so I am in the best possible position to look for an opportunity to take the next step.”
As revealed in the Express & Star when Henry first set out on this coaching journey three years ago, his over-riding belief is that the game should be played the way Pep Guardiola aims to play it with Manchester City.
More recently, the new managerial kid on the Premier League block, Brighton’s Roberto De Zerbi, is another with whom the former Wolves stalwart sees similarities in styles.
All things are relative, and that may be extremely aspirational given Henry is working with a group of Under-12s, but even the most cursory of glances at his team or Academy’s Instagram account gives a glimpse of what he is trying to achieve.
Plenty of controlling games by dominating possession, plenty of defensive shape, plenty of high pressing and plenty of slick attacking patterns of play when the opportunity arises.
“I have always loved Pep Guardiola, I loved him as a player – a defensive midfielder who was a ball player – but also as a manager,” he begins.
“I have also been influenced by so many I worked with myself, such as Glenn Hoddle and Steve McClaren with their coaching, Mick McCarthy and Tony Pulis with their approach to management.
“My ambition as I progress is to try and play the kind of football that all the top teams are playing, and the way Brighton play under De Zerbi is a style that really interests me.
“The way they press, the way they draw teams in, the way the whole club is with their recruitment, Brighton are a phenomenal example of a club which has a defined strategy and then sticks to it.
“I remember getting in trouble at Wolves for an interview after the double relegation when I said the club needed to decide on a playing philosophy and stick to it, rather than keep switching between managers with different styles of play.
“I think more recently, although Wolves have had different managers, there is more emphasis on playing out from the back and what that does is bring continuity and consistency with players.
“It’s the way I want my teams to play and it’s something we do with my Academy, on Friday evenings, which has attracted players - including Academy players - from across the Midlands.
“I know a lot of Academy players will also go and have one-to-one coaching, and that technical side is really important, but in the time I have it’s all about teaching possession-based football, how to receive the ball under pressure, the tactical side, how to pass with both feet.
“The sessions have been really popular so the players must feel they are getting some benefit which, from my point of view, is really good to see.”