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Dublin: 8 °C Sunday 5 April, 2020

'I knew that I couldn't be selfish anymore. It was time to put my family first'

Kevin Foley could have kept a handy number coaching in Wolves’ academy. Instead, the former Republic of Ireland international tells The42 why he has taken on a completely different challenge in America.

Kevin Foley has started afresh in Tampa.
Kevin Foley has started afresh in Tampa.
Image: Donall Farmer/INPHO

THE SEED WAS planted on a holiday to Disneyland.

A snapshot of a different kind of a life.

It wasn’t just the Magic Kingdom which left Kevin Foley and his young family enchanted. 

The Florida sun and a complete change of scenery had left its mark.

“It was last year and we just loved it,” Foley tells The42. “Everything about the holiday was fantastic and something stuck with us.”

Then nothing.

For the next 10 months the former Wolverhampton Wanderers player continued his regular coaching work at the club’s academy. “I was dipping my toes in with the kids but not really sure where I was going with it,” he adds.

And then the call. Everything changed.

Former Wolves teammate Neill Collins was on the other end of the line. “We had stayed in touch after playing so I knew he was in Florida. It was exciting,” Foley recalls.

The Scot, manager of USL Championship side Tampa Bay Rowdies, was straight out with the offer of becoming an assistant coach.

In the space of a week Foley flew out with his wife for discussions with Collins and the club’s chief executive. By the end of the visit they had picked out a new family home and schools for their three children.

Once the visa process was completed at the end of last year, they waved goodbye to life in England.

We just said ‘let’s go for it’ because it was the sort of opportunity that gives you a different kind of life. You can never be sure of anything in football, you never know if you are ready for any job but I knew that I couldn’t be selfish anymore.

“It was time to put my family first and do what was best for them. It is a good opportunity for my career but more important now is my family and their way of life,” Foley continues, detailing how he is putting in the hours at the club since arriving in January.

“In football, you never think you will be ready. I was enjoying it at Wolves, but then you get a chance for a first team environment. I spoke to my wife about it and our attitude was to grab it and embrace it.

“As long as you are open to new things and new ideas and are willing to work hard to do it right, I think you will be successful. The selfish thing for me to do would have been to just stay at Wolves and look at it like I could work my way up at a Premier League club.

“But anyone I spoke to at Wolves was like ‘wow, you gotta go for it’. Really, I’m looking at the bigger picture here. I’m not one of those thinking I’ve got to get from the bottom right to top as fast as I can.”

soccer-carling-cup-fourth-round-manchester-united-v-wolverhampton-wanderers-old-trafford Foley scores against Manchester United in the League Cup.

Foley lives in a welcoming community in a suburb of Tampa. His son has already joined a local soccer club, his 10-year-old daughter is building up relationships after saying goodbye to friends in the UK, while the 6.30am starts and 5pm finishes are a necessity as he aims to get up to speed in order to get settled as quickly as possible ahead of the start of the 2020 season away to New York Red Bulls II next month.

“I’ve had two days off since coming and it’s full on but I know that once things settle down we will have more time as a family to explore. If you’re going to do it, do it right, you can’t think you will just come out and have a little holiday.

“Wherever I am I will work hard and see where that gets me. I couldn’t have thought of a better place to come to in terms of coaching. It’s a professional environment, it’s serious work and we’re in America; a great place where my family is happy.

It doesn’t appear to be as cutthroat as say League One or League Two where you lose four or five games on the bounce and it’s like ‘yep, you’re done’. I’ll be working hard and hopefully we get that chance to develop.”

Foley, the former Republic of Ireland international, is not the only person with links to these shores at the club. Dublin Jordan Doherty has signed permanently after the midfielder spent time on loan from Sheffield United.

And while Foley’s focus is now on the future, his passion for Wolves means he cannot simply turn his back on the club completely. He and Collins helped them secure promotion to the Premier League under Mick McCarthy and then fought to keep them in the division.

It was a battle they ultimately lost when relegation was confirmed after three seasons in the top flight. The current crop – who celebrated promotion in 2018 – have no such worries of the drop and, backed by their Chinese owners and a tight relationship with agent Jorge Mendes, they are aiming for the Champions League spots.

glenn-whelan-and-kevin-foley Glenn Whelan (left) and Foley during Ireland duty. Source: Donall Farmer/INPHO

“It’s one thing to have millions behind you but it’s another thing to actually spend them wisely,” points out Foley, who will catch up on how his old club’s game with Norwich City this weekend after the Rowdies’ own behind-closed-doors pre-season friendly with South Georgia Tormenta.

“They are next level now. When we came up we knew we would be scrapping for it. Nothing changed by that third year. When you first go up and are playing in the Premier League you think ‘this is great, this is amazing’. But the tone quickly changes.

“Then it becomes about getting a win, getting a draw, doing whatever was needed to get the result. It is a grind but you still want to be a part of it, you still want to stay up because at the end you just want another year in the Premier League.

We had to change to keep doing that, we had no choice. We cam up from the Championship where we were dominating games and rolling teams over. Suddenly you are playing much better teams and you have to change, you can’t play the game the way you wanted.

“But that’s the job, you’re a footballer and you have to adjust and be professional. It’s just a shame we couldn’t kick on like the club are now. 

“You would be hard pressed to look at any of the players they have brought in and say ‘that’s a waste of money’. They have been very shrewd.”

At the heart of this revolution is manager Nuno Espirito-Santos, someone Foley didn’t work with personally but has seen up close how others follow his every words.

wolverhampton-wanderers-v-manchester-city-premier-league-molineux Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo. Source: PA

“Anyone I speak to in the team and staff say how he is such a good motivator. The confidence in himself and his players, the staff around him. To think that they are where they are in the Premier League while juggling the extra Europa League games, he is so important to what they want to do.

“They now seem like they are building towards the Champions League, that’s the ultimate goal and they are working their way to get there.”

Foley and his family have decided to take a different path – a journey that so often is more fulfilling and enjoyable then the destination.

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