Belfast Telegraph

He managed Sierra Leone, now our Johnny McKinstry could take helm in Rwanda

By Steven Beacom

He hasn't turned 30 yet, but Lisburn man Johnny McKinstry is fast becoming one of the beautiful game's hottest coaching properties.

Two years ago McKinstry created history and headlines when he was appointed manager of Sierra Leone, aged just 27, meaning he was the youngest international manager in the world.

And now having departed that post, and with the Ebola outbreak in the country, he has returned home to Northern Ireland to weigh up job offers from Asia, the Americas and Africa - where the Rwanda national side are keen to appoint him as their next boss.

It's a remarkable story and dream come true for the former Wallace High pupil, who laughs when he recalls a meeting with careers advisors as a teenager.

"I was 15 or 16 and we had a chat about what I was going to do with my life. I said to them 'I want to be a football coach' and they said 'Oh, you want to be a PE teacher' and I replied 'No, I want to be a professional football coach' and they told me it wasn't a realistic ambition," says Johnny.

"I believed it was something I could do. I've always loved football and even as a kid used to think about it from a coaching perspective. I was a modest footballer for Lisburn Youth, Hillsborough Boys and Dromore Juniors and knew a professional playing career wasn't viable, so I took up coaching seriously at around 17 or 18.

"I never wanted an office job. I wanted to be out on the pitch."

That's where McKinstry, now 29 and single, has been for the past decade. He was the academy director with the New York Red Bulls when he was appointed technical director of the Craig Bellamy academy in Sierra Leone, aged 24. In 2013 he became national team boss.

It was a huge task, in a country torn apart by a civil war in the 1990s, but McKinstry relished it, earning shock wins and taking the team to 50th spot in the Fifa rankings, their highest placing ever.

Then came an Ebola outbreak, leading to Johnny's side playing every game away and worry for his family more than 3,000 miles away.

He said: "When I first moved over everyone at home talked about the civil war, but that was over long before I arrived.

"In terms of Ebola, it was important that my family had as much information as possible.

"The interational view of Sierra Leone was that Ebola was everywhere but it wasn't like that. It is a contact disease, so if you looked after yourself and removed the contact, there wasn't an issue."

Playing away, Sierra Leone's results suffered as did the players, facing cruel chants of "Ebola, Ebola, Ebola" from opposition fans.

McKinstry was sacked last year and had to leave, but there was pride too in what he achieved. Soon he will have a new job and a new challenge. His ultimate ambition is to manage Northern Ireland. Don't rule it out.

Factfile

In 2013 Northern Ireland's Johnny McKinstry became the youngest international manager in the world, aged 27, taking charge of Sierra Leone.

The Lisburn native, coaching since his teenage years, guided the African nation to 50th in the Fifa rankings. He's now considered one of the brightest prospects on the coaching scene.

Belfast Telegraph

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