Footballers' Lives with Paul Munster: I was told I was too small for football but I've won as a player and now a manager
In the latest of our popular series, ex-Linfield ace Paul Munster discusses starring all over the world, making the move to the dugout, and what his future could hold.
Q. What are your early football memories?
A. I can remember playing a lot of football as a kid. I was selected to play for the Belfast Primary Schools' team, pipping about 180 kids to the No.9 shirt. I enjoyed a few trips to England and Scotland and played with and against old team-mates from Linfield and other Irish League teams. I still have a few photos of those times.
The Milk Cup was special too and it was great to test yourself against the best young players. I played for Celtic Boys and won many trophies. But I was very small and I was told that's why I never made it across the water. Now I'm a manager, I would never say that to any player because it's totally wrong. At the age of 16 I moved to Cliftonville Olympic, then got promoted to the reserves before the move to Canada.
Q. Your playing career started at Canadian side London City. How did that move come about and did you have any fears about leaving Northern Ireland?
A. I had just finished my three-year course in Leisure and Tourism and was thinking what was best for me. I loved to travel whether it was for a holiday or to play football. After college I went on a cross-community course for eight weeks in Canada, coaching kids. During a men's game I turned after heading the ball and suffered a cruciate ligament injury.
I came home and ended up out of football for more than a year. But I must have done alright at the coaching because I got offered a two-year working visa as technical director in Canada. I jumped at it because I couldn't play and I enjoyed the coaching, it took my mind off the injury.
I had no fear in leaving, this was a game changer for me, my parents knew I wanted to go and they have always supported me in any decisions I made then and now. I haven't looked back.
Q. It's fair to say you're well travelled with spells in Canada, Czech Republic, Sweden and Germany as well as back home with Linfield. How do you reflect on those experiences and would you encourage local players to travel and experience different football environments?
A. I don't feel like I'm well travelled. It's only a few countries and I have gone to each one with a plan to stay there but in life things change for the better. I receive many questions from players asking for advice about going to other countries.
There are many factors, sometimes you can get your bags and go, but you also need to do your research, and also if you're going alone you have to be 100% committed. But home will always be waiting for you no matter what. I have positive memories from the different countries. Canada is an amazing place to live while in the Czech Republic I really learned the benefits of speaking different languages.
Sweden is a special place as my girlfriend Desiree is from there. Germany was a short stint, the offer was good and when Linfield refused the transfer to Hellas Verona in Italy it was a big setback but they needed me to go for the league and Cup double.
Q. You won a league title and Irish Cup with Linfield. Have you great memories from your time there and are you still in touch with old colleagues?
A. I have very good memories and with social media it's good to stay in touch with the players. The league and Cup double was important and to win the fans' Player of the Year award as top scorer was special. Former team-mates are surprised at how tall I've become when they meet me now.
Q. What would you say was the best moment of your playing career?
A. There are so many. Right up there would be Canada, my team was second bottom but I managed to be top scorer, rookie of the year and most valuable player after almost two years away from football.
Each game I got stronger and stronger and the 25 goals in 19 games remains a record. Even more special was getting a three-week trial with Slavia Prague and when I signed a deal I played in front of a crowd of about 25,000 in a fantastic derby.
The game finished 1-1 with family cheering me on. I played with great players too in Sweden and with Linfield.
Q. How supportive has your family been?
A. They have always been willing to give me good advice though I'm quite good at making my own decisions. I just believe in giving something a go but my family will always have my back, they know how I am and when we speak it's always nice. I should call home more but they know how busy I am.
It's not difficult for me working away from home, the last five years I visited home only when I had to attend the coaching courses, now it's only every three years you need to return. My mum and dad, Sheila and Paul, have always been positive and calm. They know the type of character I am.
Q. As you retired from playing six years ago, did your passion for coaching develop quickly?
A. It's been a passion since I arrived in Canada. I always knew I wanted to be a successful coach. I've learned a lot from some top coaches in the Czech Republic and Sweden. Their technical and tactical knowledge is brilliant.
Q. Tell us about your managerial career so far and how much are you enjoying working as technical director for Indian I-League side Minerva Punjab?
A. It has taken off after starting in Sweden six years ago. I made a good impression and eventually went to my former club Orebro SK where I became Under-19 head coach and also assisted with the Under-21 games.
Winning the Sweden Cup was special - my first silverware as manager. I'm now technical director and head coach at Minerva Punjab FC, who are champions of the I-League.
We have won two trophies but the league victory was special because it was the first time a North Indian team had won the league since 1996. I've been fortunate to win things as a player but it's more special as a coach as I take great satisfaction when the players celebrate and it makes me hungry for more success. The players give their all and it's nice to see the rewards.
Q. Tell us about Desiree. Where did you meet, is she into football and are you together in India?
A. I met Desiree through a friend on a night out. I spoke English and she was having none of it, so I had to speak Swedish, but then eventually she believed me that I was not Swedish.
A few weeks later I saw her again in town and started talking to her, then we arranged to meet up. After that she was mine (laughs). I knew I wanted her, especially when she rejected me at the start! She had just moved to Orebro when I met her, she was living in her home town.
She is an outdoor girl, loves to walk and be by the water and travel. She's very calm and smart and amazing at making food. She's always on YouTube finding ways to make new food. She didn't know much about football until she met me, we don't speak much about it and I like that.
She watches games and finds it very nervy and fun at the same time. She is currently starting up her own personal blog. It took her a few months to come to India and it's her first time leaving Sweden, so it's been a big step.
Q. Have you ever experienced bereavement?
A. I can remember losing my granddad Paddy when I was nine or 10. I was very close to my granddad and still to this day think of him. I must mention Thistle, our West Highland Terrier. The family dog died a few years back and it actually hit me really hard.
Q. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? Is a coaching or management role in Northern Ireland a possibility?
A. I get asked this a lot. I hope to see myself in a top league in Europe, but with my experience it is impossible to know. If you told me a few years where I would be now I would have laughed. A Northern Ireland role would be interesting, let's see if I get the call in the future. It would have to be a first-team manager's job.
Date of birth: February 9, 1982
Place of birth: Belfast
Previous clubs: London City, Slavia Prague, Orebro SK, Bunkeflo IF, Hradec Kralove, Linfield, Anker Wismar
Managerial record: Assyriska BK, Orebro Syrianska, BK Forward, Orebro SK U-19s, Minerva Punjab