Meet the youngest international manager in the world
By the age of 25, it’s normally time to settle down in a job, accept that Phil Collins does indeed have a few catchy numbers and limber up for a begrudging jog towards reproduction and sensible haircuts. Certainly, the fantasy of becoming a respected figure on the global footballing stage is over. You’ve accepted it. Not for Bristolian Paul Watson though. International football was top of his agenda.
Jaded by his day job and dreaming of an adventure, he and his best friend Matt Conrad had a peek at the cobwebbed cellar of football’s world rankings. Just above the name of Wigan Athletic he found a team described as ‘the weakest in the world’. They were a Polynesian island side called Pohnpei – aptly pronounced Pompei given the countless years the nation’s team had remained cemented in obscurity.
Indeed they retained the unenviable tag of having never won a match. They were the international equivalent of OTP’s adopted team last season, Madron FC. A 16-1 spanking to neighbouring island Guam 10 years earlier still lingered painfully in the memory of the 32,000 island inhabitants.
Unfortunately residency laws put paid to the British pals’ lofty ambition of playing for the miniscule minnows. But the dream wasn’t over.
A high-powered summit with the Pohnpei FA soon took place (a meeting with a former Ugandan newsreader called Charles in a curry-house in Picadilly Circus). It inexplicably turned out they weren’t being stitched up. The official told them that Pohnpei were without a coach and the lads were more than welcome to chance their arm. No salary, no contract but a handshake and a piping hot Rogan Josh.
Endless months of fundraising and several 8,000 plane trips later, Paul Watson became Pohpei manager in July 2009 at the tender age of 25. He made Andre Villas-Boas look as old as QPR’s Shaun Derry – a man who was recently carbon-dated as hailing from 3000BC.
The England role is often tagged as ‘the toughest job in football’. Well, Paul would probably beg to differ. He had to draw a team from a nation in which 91 per cent of the population is overweight and get them playing half-decent football in the third wettest place on the planet. What followed was 18 months of soaking wet trials and heart-defibrillating tribulations.
The remarkable adventure is documented with great detail, humour and cultural insight in Paul’s recently released book, Up Pohnpei.
You can buy the book here.
OTP would like to go on record as endorsing Paul Watson as our preferred choice for England manager. His potential is clear. Despite a shambolic set-up and ropey climate, he united an island who have been rebuffed by FIFA, struggle to play away and were told by the world that they are international no-hopers. It’s a like for like job. The campaign starts here.
Earlier in the week OTP’s aural alter ego, the OTP Podcast, interviewed Paul, who has returned to the UK for good. To find out what legacy he left behind in Pohnpei you can hear an edited version of the chat in Episode 24 – Chelsea Choke.
If you fancy hearing the full ‘uncut and too hot for a podcast audience’ version, you can listen via the player below. Apologies for the poor audio quality in places. We put this fully down to FIFA, whom we were giving a right good rollicking for not giving Pohnpei the recognition and funding they fully deserve.