James Simmonds has worked with some of the very best burgeoning talents who are currently taking the Premier League and European stage by storm.
Having been a coach at Chelsea’s academy since 2011, Simmonds has helped develop and nurture countless players through the ranks at the Blues’ Cobham training base, from Declan Rice and Jamal Musiala to Mason Mount and Reece James.
But this summer, Simmonds, 33, switched from the world of academy football to join Mark Robinson’s Wimbledon backroom staff on secondment from the west Londoners.
He told the South London Press that he already feels “at home” at Plough Lane.
Simmonds said: “Walking into work every day, the place is buzzing. I put that down to the people that work there and the culture that Robbo has created.
“I go in every day looking forward to it – the atmosphere around the club is brilliant. The people have been very humble and very welcoming. I feel a part of it.”
Simmonds was recommended by Chelsea to Robinson when the Dons’ head coach gave a presentation to the European champions to explain why they should be sending their youngsters on loan to the club.
Simmonds explained: “I met up with Robbo before I went in, and he has a manner which is very calm and positive, so straight away, I had a great relationship with him.
“One thing I noticed is that the values of the club are scattered around the training ground. Robbo is so big on enforcing those values on and off the pitch and putting them into practice, from body language to saying good morning and washing up your own knife and fork – it’s so evident all the detail that Robbo puts into creating that.”
Simmonds learned from an illustrious list of coaches while he developed as a player.
At Chelsea, Simmonds, who was coached by now Leicester City manager Brendan Rodgers and Scotland manager Steve Clarke, went through youth team football alongside the likes of Scott Sinclair, Jack Cork and Ryan Bertrand.
During his formative playing days, the midfielder had been capped internationally right through from U16 to U21 level representing England at the U16,17 and 18 age groups, and also by the Republic of Ireland’s youth set-up at U16, U19 and U21 – observing the methods of Nigel Pearson and Paul Clement along the way.
Although his playing career at Chelsea would end without making a single first-team appearance, Simmonds says: “The culture there at Chelsea is massive. It’s not just about being a good footballer; it’s about being a good person. I like to think coming through that system has had a massive influence on the person I am today.
“When I was coming to the end of my Chelsea career, I was coming up to my 21st birthday, and I had been on trial at a couple of clubs, but I was getting the same feedback of: “We can see that you’re a good technical player, but we don’t think you are ready to compete physically.”
Simmonds adds: “In the lower leagues at the time, it was mostly 4-4-2, and in midfield, you needed to deal with a lot of second balls and aerial challenges and have the physical prowess to match that.”
The rejection from the clubs lower down the professional English leagues led Simmonds to the Glenn Hoddle Academy in Spain, where he furthered his coaching education under the ex-England manager and Wimbledon hero Dave Beasant.
Although Simmonds signed with Écija Balompié following his impressive stint at the academy, coaching was already becoming a focus.
Fuelled with the ideas, patterns of play and coaching techniques of some of the biggest names in the managerial industry, Simmonds took the plunge into academy coaching.
“I know I’m very fortunate to have played under different styles and man-management, and now being a coach, I try to delve and dig deep to remember “how did they treat me?” and “what did they do?” in specific scenarios.
“It does help that you have had those experiences instead of having that one coach all the way through. It enables you to take the good bits which you liked from different coaches. You try and take the best bits from everyone, and that helps you learn and improve.
“The ultimate goal as a coach in development is getting players into first-team football and seeing them make a career out of the game. As a coach, you get the most pride and joy from seeing players go on and be successful.”
Along with a handful of Wimbledon’s first-team squad, Simmonds is currently immersed in his first competitive season in the men’s game.
Speaking about the prospect of fighting for three points consistently, Simmonds says: “It does mean more. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t more pressure on it [than academy football]. We are all looking forward to it and relishing the challenge of battling for three points every week. This is people’s livelihoods. It’s people’s jobs on the line. It’s about making the fans’ week. It means a lot more than three points.
“When you see the stats, and how they did in the short spell that Robbo has had them, everyone is looking forward to seeing what this team can do. This group of players is exciting. They don’t want to be labelled as a young team; they want to be known for their exciting talent and work ethic.”
PICTURES: KEITH GILLARD
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