Today, Northern Colorado Hailstorm FC introduced Éamon Zayed as the club's first ever head coach (ICYMI, here's a handy press release so that you can learn more about Éamon Zayed's hiring).
Fresh from wrapping up a decorated 20-year professional career that included Irish Player of the Year honors and league titles in Ireland and the USA, coach Zayed sat down with us over a pint of Guinness so that we could bring you this exclusive look at what you can expect from your head coach and club during their inaugural season in 2022.
Q: Where did you grow up, and how did you become involved with soccer?
A: I grew up in Dublin, Ireland. My mum was born and bred in Ireland, and my father was born in Tunisia. Soccer absolutely dominates in Ireland with England, the mecca of soccer, being so close. When you're growing up, you're playing soccer. Everyone plays soccer. Even if you aren't very good at it you play. As soon as I could kick a ball, I played.
Q: How do you think your background - playing in Ireland, England, Iran, Norway, Malaysia, and the US - will influence your coaching philosophy?
A: Wherever I go, I’m like a sponge. I just take it all in and take bits from everywhere. I learned a lot from playing all over the world. I like to take everything in, on and off the pitch.
I was always interested in coaching. I didn’t always know I was going to go down that path, but it was something I was always interested in. I got to play under every style of coach. It really interested me how different coaches worked. I don’t know many players or coaches who have that level of experience in terms of playing in Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and America.
I’ve had a really good 20 years of professional soccer; an unbelievable journey. I took the road less traveled for sure as a player, but that's expanded my mind so much and I’ve learned so much and I think that's what really led me to where I am right now.
That experience prepared me for this role, plus the business/finance background and the interest in the psychology part of the game and the involvement in the community, interacting with different fans and being involved with USL League One from day one with a start-up club - not only as a player, but also on the coaching side where I saw everything that went into trying to get Chattanooga off the ground.
This is the absolute perfect role. I 100% absolutely believe that this is the right role in the right city. I think it's the perfect-sized city and the surrounding areas to really jump in 100% to the deep end and really grow something that people can be proud of and be successful. It's a challenge that I am absolutely ready for.
I do believe, from what I’ve seen so far, that this is the perfect place to have something really special and exciting. I know the guys here are gonna build the best complex in USL League One and probably USL Championship, one that can compete against anything I’ve seen, and I’m talking about the top level in England. That’s what the plan is to build here, and I can’t wait for it. I’m excited for it as a coach to have a team here, and hopefully the people will be excited about it as well.
Q: How did the nickname “Mr. Hat Trick” come to be?
A: That originated when I went to Iran. I had signed a six-month contract initially, but after I had been training with the team for a month I hadn’t been used in any game. Their head coach had signed me without seeing me. I had finished my previous season as the top goal scorer playing in Ireland, and he’d signed me on the back of that. But it was only actually when I went over to Iran, he actually saw me physically.
At the end of the month, he said, "I’m not gonna use you, you're not for me." I was already struggling to adapt in my first month so I already felt kind of isolated, and then having the coach say, “Yeah we’re not going to use him," that wasn’t great to hear. But the president of the team at the time said to the coach, "Look, you're gonna give him at least one chance. I mean, we didn’t bring him all the way over here from Ireland to not give him one chance."
So, that one chance came in a local derby game, one of the biggest games in Asia as far as derbies go. It was played in front of 86,000 people and watched by millions. I just felt like I wanted to prove that I was good enough.
That game we were 2-0 down, and we were down to 10 men - we had a player sent off. I came on with 30 minutes to go, and in the last 10 minutes I managed to score three goals. I proved myself.
That was the first hat-trick I scored in Iran. A month later, we had our first Asian Champions League game and it was a massive game. It's the biggest cup competition in Asia. That game I scored one goal in the first half, and ten minutes into the second half I scored two more to score a hat-trick. That was playing in front of 96,000 people. That was insane. I got to soak that in, whereas the other game was so quick. You kind of pinch yourself, like, “Is this real?”
That was two hat-tricks in the space of a month. I think they nicknamed me "Mr. Hat Trick" after that. If some people weren't sure about that name, a couple of months later I scored another hat-trick in a game.
Maybe there was something there, because when I came over to the States to play for Indy Eleven, some of the local newspapers in Indiana picked it up and mentioned it in a couple of articles. When we won our first championship in Indianapolis, we were playing North Carolina and we had to win by three goals, something no-one believed we were gonna do. We ended up winning 4-1 and I scored a hat-trick in that game. I mean, I'm not gonna complain. It sounds great.
I think I scored the quickest hat-trick in Ireland at the time when I was playing, back when I was 19 or 20. I forgot about that, but it goes with the name.
Hopefully we’ll win a hat-trick of championships here with Hailstorm!
Q: What is your goal in Hailstorm FC’s inaugural season?
A: I want to hit the ground running, and my goal on the pitch has to be to make the playoffs and win it. I’m also realistic to know that if it doesn’t happen in year one it might be year two. But that's not my goal, so I’m not gonna pretend that's my goal. That’s on the pitch.
Off the pitch, I have other goals that are as important if not more so, because it's a brand new club. Growing the presence in the community and the fanbase, that has to be the number one goal. We are brand new and we need to get ourselves out there and give the community something to be proud of.
That’s what I really want. I want to give the community something to really get behind and something to be proud about. Being involved with teams, I’ve seen some do it really well. Indy Eleven does it really well. They give the community something to be proud about, win, lose, or draw. People love it and I want to give the community something like that and to grow that.
Q: What are you looking for in a Hailstorm FC player?
A: I want somebody who wants to come to Hailstorm FC and first and foremost wants to win. I want to have a winning culture. I was like that as a player, and now as a coach. It hurt me when we lost. I couldn't sleep, and I always asked myself what I did wrong and what I could do better.
I want players who want to play for Hailstorm and want to win, but who also have the ambition to kick on, whether that's to a top team in the Championship or have aspirations to play in MLS. Whether they do or not that's up to them. It's up to me to make them better, but I want players who want that and believe that's where they can get to. Usually, players who have that ambition usually just feel like they have something to prove. I don’t mind if certain players get knocked back. I got numerous knock backs. I want players who are resilient. I want players who have a point to prove and want to prove it with us, who have a strong work ethic and are open to getting better.
I also want people who want to come, and are eager and excited to come and play, but also have that connection with the city, community, and the fans. You have a responsibility as a professional player for everything you do on the pitch, and that's why you are a professional player. Off the pitch, I think that’s one of the things I got while I was traveling the world. I was blown away when I went to Iran and Malaysia and Indy by how excited the fans were. How they really looked up to the soccer players, and were excited to chat to players and just talk to them. Having that ability and that responsibility as a professional footballer, that made me feel good. Not every job has that ability to bring a smile to people’s faces. I want players who enjoy that. I want players who understand that that's their responsibility off the pitch. I want them to enjoy doing it.
Professional sports is nothing without the fans and the community. We’re going to be building a fan base. We’re going to do events leading up to the season. It's a great opportunity right now at the very beginning for people in the community and fans to put their own identity on it. That’s exactly what Hailstorm and Future Legends want them to do. To me it’s everything.