Pascal Chimbonda: I’m coaching Skelmersdale for free as my job applications are ignored

Pascal Chimbonda, the manager of English non-League club Skelmersdale United
Pascal Chimbonda Skelmersdale United - Jon Super for the Telegraph

At a time when football seems to be ever more in thrall to cash, it is intriguing to discover how much Pascal Chimbonda is being paid in his new role as manager of non-League Skelmersdale United.

“Nothing,” he reveals. “I get nothing. People say, ah he is only there for the money. But there is no money. We have no budget.”

Which makes you wonder what a man who made 148 Premier League appearances, who has a World Cup runners-up medal stored in his mother’s house in Guadeloupe, and who has the unusual distinction in the modern game of having won a trophy while playing for Tottenham Hotspur, really is doing trying to organise a side that lie bottom of the ninth-tier North West Counties League Premier Division. The answer is simple.

“I want to coach, I like to coach,” he says.

He is at ‘Skem’, he adds, because, like many a black former player, he has found it impossible to land a more elevated managerial opportunity. The admission comes in the week Sol Campbell turned his back on management for that very reason.

“I don’t know why black players don’t get the chance. It is not that we don’t try,” Chimbonda says. “I have done all the courses, I have the qualifications. I have applied for lots of jobs. Academies, coaching, managing, everything. I send my CV and I don’t even get a reply. No interviews. Not one. ‘No experience’, they say. Right, so I need experience. This is what I am doing. I am not earning money, I am earning experience.”

Red carded in first game

And experience has already come at him, thick and fast.

“I got sent off in my first game,” he says. “My player is involved in some business on the pitch. I run on to separate him from the other player. And when I get back to the dugout the opposition manager is in my face. We have words. He grabs me, I pull away. The ref says I raise my arm. So it’s a red card. Not a good start. But we win. Maybe the players they notice my passion.”

Skelmersdale United in action
Life in the North West Counties League... - Gordon Johnson
Robbie Keane of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates with his team-mate Pascal Chimbonda after scoring in the Barclays Premiership match with Bolton Wanderers on February 25, 2007
... is very different to Chimbonda’s previous life as a Premier League player with Tottenham - Getty Images/Richard Heathcote

Chimbonda is talking to Telegraph Sport at his day job in the Platt Lane Sports Centre in Manchester. Here, in the place where City used to train before they were doused in oil money, for the past three years he has run the PC39 Academy, an operation named after his initials and the number he wore at his last Premier League club, Blackburn Rovers. Under his tutelage some 30 players, aged 18-23, who have been let go by leading clubs’ academies undergo intensive training every morning, before heading to the classroom to study for HND qualifications.

“This is for boys who have been rejected by the system,” he says. “I hate the idea that they fall out of love with the game. I want to give them a second chance. I want to help people who have been removed from the pathway discover that there is still a way into the game if you believe in yourself.”

And when it comes to self-belief, as a role model Chimbonda takes some beating. Born on the French island of Guadeloupe, he was football-mad as a teenager, telling his mum after watching the 1998 World Cup final that one day he would play for France. The trouble was, there was no professional structure on the island and the French game seemed uninterested in its territory’s potential. Until a scout from Le Havre arrived to conduct some trials.

“He said he is looking for one player, just one,” he recalls. “Two hundred turn up to the trial. We all know he takes just one. So I make sure it is me.”

And it was. Despite being still only 18, despite never having left his homeland, despite shivering in the northern French winter, he thrived in Le Havre. But soon he had his eyes on the Premier League, and, after an ill-starred stay in Bastia in Corsica where he was subjected to relentless racial abuse from the club’s own fans, in 2005 he was signed by Wigan Athletic.

“I couldn’t speak English, not one word,” he recalls.

Which wasn’t easy when his manager was Paul Jewell, a man whose Scouse accent is borderline impenetrable even to native speakers.

“But football is a language of its own. And the players they help me. Stéphane Henchoz, he speaks French. He translates for me. I could understand Paul Jewell by the end. Well, only when he is calm. When he is angry, no.”

‘Just to watch Zidane train was an honour’

While at Wigan, he was voted the best right-back in the Premier League in the PFA awards and was selected for the French World Cup squad in 2006. There he saw a sight that has never left him.

“[Zinedine] Zidane training,” he says, the awe still evident in his voice. “What he could do with a football. Just to watch him train is an honour.”

After the World Cup, he enjoyed another six years in the Premier League, before dropping through the divisions into the non-League, just to keep playing. That, too, was some experience.

“In non-League, when your opponent realises he is up against a pro, he lets you know,” he smiles. “I was kicked, man. Kicked off the park. But I love it. I play now in veteran’s games. When I can. But I have no time. Everything is about coaching. It is in my mind all the time.

“I have a son who is two years old. When I kick a ball with him, I am thinking like a coach. I am thinking yes, but maybe he should kick it with the other foot.”

All that obsession with the idea of coaching paid off when finally, after years of knock backs, he got his chance on the touchline.

“I know Gordon Johnson, the vice chairman at Skem,” he says. “And in the summer I say to him: I see you have a new coach, hang on, why not me? You know what I am doing with my academy, you know I can coach. He says, well let’s see what happens. And then they lose their first 15 games. So he calls me.”

Pascal Chimbonda at Skelmersdale United
Chimbonda is determined to stabilise Skelmersdale United and save them from relegation, but also has ambitions to manage at a higher level - Jon Super for the Telegraph

Thus it was, in October, that he took control of a club bottom of the division, whose home ground has been deemed unsafe, and who play in nearby Burscough in front of crowds averaging under 150. He immediately changed things, drafting eight of his academy students into the first-team squad.

“My lads’ skill is not the same as in the Premier League, I know that,” he says. “But all I ask of them is they give everything. In training, in the game, give me all you have. You cannot be Zidane, but give me everything and I will respect you.”

Though first he wants to stabilise things at Skem, demonstrate his competence by steering them away from relegation danger, he has no certainty about where this can lead.

“Maybe I can be managing in the National League in five years time,” he says of his ambition. “Why not?”

And if he does make it, rival managers will be more than aware of his presence. Chimbonda is a coach who appears not to have an off switch.

“I am noisy, I am on my feet the whole match,” he says. “At the final whistle I have no voice. All the time, I give instruction, shout at them where to go, where they should be.”

But did he listen to his coaches when he played? After all, as a full-back he must have been in the direct line of verbal fire. As with many a question put to Pascal Chimbonda, this is one greeted with a broad grin.

“Sometimes I listen. Maybe. Haha,” he smiles. “But when it is Paul Jewell I don’t understand anyway.”