From North Coast Football to guiding an emerging nation on the world scene, Gary Phillips is on one heck of a journey.
Gary is currently technical director of Nepal football, and coach of their women’s team – and if it’s not the toughest gig on the planet, it’s in the conversation.
Nepal plays the Socceroos at 2 am NSW time on Saturday morning in a World Cup Qualifier in Kuwait.
A chronic lack of resources and infrastructure in mountainous Nepal are one thing – COVID has been quite the other.
A lockdown in Nepal in early May compelled Gary to up-sticks and return to his Sandy Beach home while he still could.
“They had a lockdown last year and it went for seven months,” the onetime NCF technical director explained.
So the challenge of his national role for Nepal has been even the greater, as he tries to guide from afar.
This weekend he’ll take special interest as Nepal and the Socceroos battle in a World Cup qualifier in Kuwait – as he’s also served as a mentor for the men’s team.
Pulling the strings remotely from the North Coast hasn’t been ideal, but it’s a test born of necessity.
“I’ve been running courses online, and doing a lot of Zoom,” he said.
The bigger picture though is trying to guide a South-East Asian nation that has nowhere near the facilities and programs of even the NSW North Coast.
“You do feel sorry for the people. There is a lot of poverty and pollution. Just trying to survive is tough enough,” Gary said.
“The national league goes for just six weeks. All the (top) players are semi-professional. There’s no club structure – just teams. And there’s no clear pathway to the top. It makes it very difficult to align things.
“And there’s just the one ground. The kids are training on dirt. It’s tough to make an impact.”
For all that, Gary said the raw materials are present.
“Football is the No.1 sport, and a lot of it is Futsal because of the lack of land,” he said.
“Their technical skills are quite amazing, particularly through Futsal, though they can get lost on a big field.
“They’re wonderful people and it’s a wonderful nation – you can’t do anything but want to help.
“And they want to get better, but they need to be shown how.”
In Gary Phillips – who served as NCF technical director a few years back – Nepal has a wonderfully credentialled pair of hands at the helm.
His weighty CV includes guiding national sides in Tonga and PNG women through to the Newcastle Jets in the W League.
“I’ve worked in eight different countries in a thousand different roles,” he said.
In Nepal, Gary’s bitten off a lot to chew – but by all accounts he’s up for the eating and the ask of growing the game and seeing their teams win through to major competitions.