There is an almost missionary zeal to Johnny McKinstry's devotion to his job in Sierra Lone...
...Although just recently sacked as head of the Sierra Leone national team last month, the 29-year-old football coach has run the Craig Bellamy Foundation for the last five years.
“The amount of talent out here is immense, and as the structures for football improve, you are going to see a lot more top African players on the world stage.”
...It says something about McKinstry that his proudest moment in the game was not his appointment to the Sierra Leone hot seat, nor guiding them to their highest ever FIFA world ranking position (50th) during his 18 months in charge, but rather seeing two of his protégés from the academy called up by their country. He said:
“Last year, Sierra Leone under-20s called up two or our academy boys. They were only 16 years of age at the time and one of them made his debut. “To see him pull on the Sierra Leone shirt was such a big moment for him and his family and his community – that’s probably been the proudest I’ve been in football.”
...McKinstry was just 27 when he was made the national team boss of Sierra Leone, yet his is no fly-by-night tale of opportunism. Granted, there’s been a little serendipity in his meteoric rise from youth team coach to the youngest international manager in the world, but McKinstry has largely been the architect of his own destiny.
“I went to university in England but I also knew breaking into football in the United Kingdom is very difficult, it’s a lot about who you know and the contacts you have so I knew I had to go and prove myself outside the United Kingdom and outside of Europe even. So I had always envisaged that this would take me around the world and so it has proved.
“But my ambition has always been to coach at the top level, whether that be at the World Cup or the Champions League or one of the top leagues in Europe. That’s the aim. I ’m in no massive rush but I’m looking forward to my next challenge, wherever that might be .”
...If one day, McKinstry reaches the very pinnacle of the game, few could begrudge him his day in the sun. If one day, he realises his dream of leading his team out into one of Europe’s most daunting amphitheatres to the strains of the Champions League anthem, no one could say he hasn’t earned it.
And set against the determination which has characterised his young life so far, it’s not as far-fetched as it may sound.