Wednesday 1 February 2023 Dublin: 9°C
PA Archive/PA Images Clive Woodward was speaking at the One Zero conference.
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'Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, they're no different from Brian O’Driscoll'
Former England rugby coach Clive Woodward says top athletes are always obsessive regardless of the sport they compete in.

FORMER ENGLAND COACH Clive Woodward says top athletes have an obsessive quality that separates them from most people.

Woodward coached England to a famous World Cup triumph in 2003, while also having a stint in charge of the British and Irish Lions.

After leaving rugby, he took up a Director of Football post at Southampton before becoming the Director of Sport for Britain’s Olympians.

“I’ve never done a single rugby coaching badge,” he said, speaking at the One Zero Conference in Dublin on Friday. “I’m a fully qualified Uefa coach.

“The reason football’s the biggest game in the world is because it’s a simple game. Everyone’s got opinions on it. That’s the beauty of football and I watch it, and that’s why I love it.”

Woodward, a highly successful rugby coach, controversially left the game in order to take up a post with Southampton FC.

And while this move raised eyebrows, Woodward insists that it was only the media rather than those inside the game who balked at the switch.

It wasn’t from the players, the players were great. My coaching was restricted to the academy.

“I loved doing sessions. My background is a teacher. I did my degree in sports science. The only reason I didn’t go into teaching is because I’m an amateur.

Rupert Lowe wanted me at Southampton. I was saying to him I could never coach Southampton because it’s too high up.”

Woodward subsequently got job offers to coach both High Wycombe and MK Dons, but turned down both in order to become Director of Sport for Team GB following London’s successful Olympic bid.

Moreover, the 60-year-old has no regrets about his time in football despite its perceived failure.

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“It was the complete opposite (of media perception on his time in football). What I saw was no different (in football and rugby).

“Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, they’re no different from Brian O’Driscoll, Jonny Wilkinson, they’re the same animal. They have this real obsession with being the best. Footballers were no different.

My Olympic job put me into all 26 sports. I’m behind the scenes in cycling, swimming and athletics. You’re just sitting with all these people, it’s just fantastic, they have the same DNA, they want to be champions. You just have to have that obsession genially.
It’s a great job for me.

Woodward’s time at Southampton coincided with the early days of future Real Madrid player Gareth Bale. Was it clear he’d become a superstar?

“No it wasn’t. At 16 he was playing left full-back.

“My son Joe was at the Chelsea academy. Joe would come down and train with Southampton and Gareth Bale really looked after Joe, he was fantastic.

He wasn’t the superstar player on that academy team. (Theo) Walcott was definitely the player where everyone was going ‘wow, look at this kid’.

“Every player in that academy team went on to play in the Premier League. It was this amazing academy side. And yet they didn’t win the academy league — they lost in the final to Liverpool.

“Bale was an amazing athlete. If he was playing rugby, he could be playing centre or flanker. He’s also a charming, brilliant guy.”

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