Pa-Modou Kah was offically announced as Pacific FC’s second-ever head coach on Tuesday, as he looks to advance the ‘Play Your Kids’ movement one step further on the Island. Here is what he had to say on his first day on the job.
After a 3 month search, Pacific FC have found the new face of their youth movement.
With rumours swirling around his potential hiring for a couple of weeks now, the Island-based Canadian Premier League club finally made things official on Tuesday, hiring former defender Pa-Modou Kah as their latest coach. After making history as the first team to fire their head coach, as they had relieved their former boss, Michael Silberbauer, back in October, they made Kah the 2nd coach in their short history this week.
Kah is familiar with this side of Canada, having played for the Vancouver Whitecaps from 2015-2016, before retiring here in 2017. From there, he got his feet wet in management, working as an assistant coach for the Whitecaps II team, before jumping into a role with the first team. He then left for Cincinnati in 2018, joining the then-USL team to help them scout ahead of their inaugural MLS season this year, where he was an assistant coach for the first-year franchise, joining former Whitecaps FC II head coach Alan Koch, who was at the helm of Cincy to start 2019.
It didn’t go so well for Koch in MLS, as he lasted only a dozen of games before getting the sack, paving the way for assistant Yoann Damet to be the interim coach for a couple of months, until they finally hired their man in August, the experienced Dutchman Ron Jans. Throughout the year, however, Kah remained a constant in the Orange and Blue, plugging away amidst all of the turmoil.
An experienced soccer mind, having played for nearly 2 decades, it only seemed a matter of time before Kah would get the chance to helm his own club, so it’s no surprise to see Pacific jump at the chance to acquire his services. During his time in Vancouver, he was a mentor for several younger players, including fellow Gambian Kekuta Manneh, and is spoken highly of on these shores, so him starting his head coaching career here seems a natural fit.
A important hiring, for many reasons
While he is making a big step in his personal career here, he is also making a big step for diversity in Canada, as he becomes the first black coach in the short history of the CPL. In MLS, for example, there have only been around a handful of black head coaches in their 25-year history as a league, so to see Kah get a chance so early is positive for the CPL.
It’s not the first time Kah has made history in that regard, as he became the first black player to play for Norway, the country which he represented internationally, making a dozen appearances for the Nordic country. In a country that didn’t have very many immigrants when he was growing up, he understands how important it was for him to make that step then, and he knows how important it is to make this step now, as he paves the way for black people looking to work jobs that they might have not gotten the chance to work earlier.
“It (Norway) was an interesting group in a way, there were not many immigrants at that time, so it was obviously always (tough), you face adversity, because you have to do more,” Kah told Victoria media on Tuesday. “If you want to get a chance, you have to do more. You have to work twice as hard, because that is normal, anywhere you go, for me I’ve always seen it as normal, ‘alright so you have to go prove yourself’, which is the normal thing.”
“I don’t want anything given to me, I want to prove what I can do, so then people can see ‘alright, he’s done it’, so for me, going through, it was not an easy life, as I like to tell everybody, but I fought myself through with backing from my family, with friends, so to stand and become the first black footballer to represent Norway, (which is) something I was proud of.”
For someone who holds his West African roots very close to him, it’s surprising to see that he cut his teeth internationally with the Nordic country, but it was for exposure reasons, not personal ones, that he said he chose Norway. Having grown up for a big chunk of his life in Norway, he felt close to the country, and was eligible to play, so he figured why not, making his debut in 2001 at the age of 21.
It paid off for him, allowing him to play for Valerenga in Norway, before moving to AIK in Sweden, Roda in the Netherlands, and then over to Qatar for a couple of years before moving to MLS with the Portland Timbers in 2013, where he played for 2 seasons before joining the Whitecaps in 2015.
He does hold a lot of pride for his native country, The Gambia, saying that he will always be proud to be born there, so you do figure he would have loved to represent them one day, something he said he would have done if he were born a little later than he was.
“Growing up in The Gambia, the possibilities were not the same as in Norway, so I had to make the choice of representing The Gambia, or representing Norway,” Kah said. “And for my future footballing career, because that it what I was basing it upon, and for me I think the best decision was to play for Norway”.
“For one, it was to gain exposure, and the exposure of being seen in Norway was more than to be seen in the Gambia, so if we were living in a time where social media like right now, and then because I’m Gambian by heart, so I would have played for Gambia, because then you know that your exposure now it’s worldwide, but at the time it was limited, and it was limited to Europe, so for me to be seen, I needed to play for Norway. And I did, and it kind of helped me, I played in Holland, I played in the Middle East.”
Roots go deep
With the Norwegians being rather proficient in winter sports, it has meant that their football team isn’t usually as strong as it could be, given that many of their top athletes choose to compete in skiing, speed skating and other sports of the like. For Kah, who was coming from a soccer-starved country, it was a big surprise to endure at first, but he knew that he would always commit himself to the sport, even in chilly Norway.
It was something his father supported, giving him every opportunity to play, but he did always stress one thing to his son: be smart and get an education. Kah did just that, and you can tell it has helped him, as he is very well-thought-out, living up to his reputation as a thinker of the game.
“At the time, when I was playing, there was no social media, nothing. There was media, but not the way that media is used now, some growing up in Norway, which is quite similar to Canada, 4 million people, living there,” Kah said. “Playing football, that’s what I wanted to do, because I don’t think you could see me ski, or ice skate or something like that, that’s not made for me.
“I have to look at other things, but the most important thing for my father was education, because there’s no such thing as a dumb footballer, but he also said: ‘Hey, your career can be cut short through injuries, to anything, so you need to have an education’, and that is also important for me. With these young kids I tell them: ‘education is important’ because after your career, you want to do something. You want to be something. You cannot just live off of ‘I’m a football player’, that is a short life, and after that it’s going to be 20 or 30 years to live your life on.”
Another thing he retained from his father was the importance of family, something he also stressed the significance of Tuesday. For someone who’s settled down, married and had 2 kids, he appreciates the value of having a good family around you, and it’s something he also preached as being something he always strives towards having.
So in that sense, Pacific was a near-perfect fit. Given that they play out of Vancouver Island, a communal piece of land from top-to-bottom, Pacific has quickly embraced themselves as part of the Island family, evidenced by their pushing of the #ForTheIsle movement. You add in the ever-growing familiarity within the organization, with management, coaches and players all embracing being part of the Pacific family last year, Kah was very excited when Pacific came calling.
“Family is everything, I’ve always said that family is everything, that’s why being part of this team (is awesome), you see Rob (Friend), Josh (Simpson), James (Merriman), everybody that’s in this, they’re part of a family,” Kah said. “And the Island I see it as a big family, to have the football of Pacific in there, that’s the family, so we want anybody, from Nanaimo to Sooke, anywhere you are, to come down and be a part of us, because that is what we are, a family, for me a family means everything, and it’s just not the players, it’s everybody.”
For anyone who knew Kah during his time with Vancouver, they all speak of the leadership shown by the centre back, who was one of the leaders on a younger team. He took a lot of players under his wing, mentoring younger teammates, showing many of them the ropes of being a professional.
That continued into his coaching, where he got to work with the likes of current Pacific regulars Terran Campbell and Kadin Chung, along with Whitecaps youngsters Theo Bair and Georges Mukumbilwa, amongst others, all during his time in Vancouver. There’s a reason why many refer to him as an Uncle, someone to turn to in times of trouble, as he left an impression in his couple of years on the West Coast.
It’s something he aims to continue doing as a head coach, as he understands that there is so much more to players than just playing, as they also try to navigate the challenges of a young life. Football is only 90 minutes, a small blip on a busy week schedule, so Kah knows that to unlock his players, he’ll have to get to know them personally, which for him, is something that has always seemed to come easily.
“For us to be great, especially the team, we need to bond, we need to understand each other,” Kah said. “That’s why I say understanding and knowing the person is bigger than just knowing the player, because the player is only a player for 90 minutes, 90 minutes, but then the rest is who are you, and if we can get to know the person, then we’ll get the best out of the players.”
Luckily for Kah, he has some familiar faces to help ease his transition into Pacific’s family. On the coaching side, there’s obviously Merriman, Friend and Simpson, while on the pitch he has the likes of Campbell, Chung, Noah Verhoeven and Victor Blasco to turn to, just to name a few names.
There’s one big name that stands out, however, and that is Marcel De Jong, who played at the Whitecaps from 2016 to 2019, but who’s played with and against Kah dating back a little longer than that.
“Oh I played with Marcel (in Holland),” Kah said with a laugh. “I remember our first game we played against Marcel was a test match, and then we played against him in the cup, and that was crazy, in 2004, if I’m not mistaken, so me and Marcel go way back, so it’s crazy, playing with him and now I’m his head coach.
“But he’s a great person, but he’s (also) a very underrated player, he’s a fantastic player, for me it’s a dream to have a guy like Marcel starting my professional head coaching career with, he’s someone who’s going to be a big player for me in the locker room, somebody that plays and people respect him, so that’s going to be huge. I’m looking for him to have a huge season, which I think he wants to have, because of the injuries, so that part will play a huge role for us.”
After a rough 2019 season for De Jong, as the 33-year-old left back missed out on all but 2 games with an Achilles injury, he’s looking to return to form in 2020. Under Kah, someone who he’s known for nearly 15 years, he’ll be relied on to be the veteran face on a young squad, with Pacific leading the way in the CPL’s youth movement.
As Pacific recovers from a less-than-ideal debut season results-wise, as the sometimes frosty Silberbauer didn’t quite appear to be the right fit for this young group, the winds of positivity are blowing on the island, even despite the recent snowstorms. Kah looks like the fresh player-friendly name these youngsters may need to take the next step, and given his long experience in this game, along with his overall personality, he can also help them grow as people, which will be especially important for the younger players.
Now for Kah and Pacific, with the contract officially signed, it’s now time to get to work. They have a squad to fill out, people to hire and scheduling quirks to work out. There appears to be a solid foundation in place, now it’s time to build around it, with Kah expected to play a big role in doing that on the pitch.
Along with the intangibles that he brings off of the pitch, this is a strong hire for Pacific. He knows the game, but can also interact well with the people around him, which can be an underrated skill for some managers.
So now, it’s time to get the elbows dirty. There’s still a few months to go until the season kicks off in late April, but players need to be brought in and brought back, and the technical staff has to iron out some details, all of which won’t be done immediately.
But with their main man in Kah now secured, they now can turn their attention to those details. As they look to continue building their ‘Trust the Kids’ movement, he’s excited to jump into this job, as Pacific aim to move forward into 2020 and beyond.
“It’s my first day at the job, but for us, we always have a plan,” Kah finished. “And we know that we will sit down, with my technical staff, and everyone involved on the soccer side, and make the plans that we need to make for the upcoming season, and looking at what the roster plans are, who we are going to keep, and who we aren’t going to keep.”
“It’s a full evaluation, it’s not done by a day, and the good thing is that we have time, we have months that we can sit down and dig deep into everything and see what worked, and see what didn’t, and see how we can build it forward.”
Cover Photo provided by Pacific FC