Aaron D’Antino is fast gaining a reputation as one of the best young Australian coaches in world football.
For the time being though, he is based in England working as an assistant coach at Arsenal Women's FC, the most successful female club in English football.
The 31-year-old is working under another highly regarded Australian in Joe Montemurro. Together the Australian duo won the 2018/19 FA WSL crown, Arsenal’s 15th league title.
From his base in London, D’Antino explains how much football was engrained in everyday life in the U.K.
“The cultural influence football has on everyday life is unmatched,” explained D’Antino. “It’s everywhere you turn in England, you’re exposed to it everywhere you go.
“The immersion of the game in daily life here - both women’s and men’s football - has been highly enjoyable.”
D’Antino is grateful for the opportunity of a lifetime that came his way last year when securing the coveted job at one of the world’s most famous football clubs.
“Primarily the opportunity to work with world class footballers and management at an incredible training facility has been the most enjoyable,” he said.
“Joe (Montemurro) and the club have recruited incredible people and created a very rewarding environment. Driving through the gates at Arsenal is a daily reminder of how privileged I am.”
Prior to his dash over to England, D’Antino learned his craft at A-League club Melbourne Victory where he was Head of Performance Analysis for four years.
He played a key role in two A-League Championships.
He first started coaching at the age of 27 at FV State League One club Altona City and was coaching at Geelong SC in 2018.
He was being groomed to become the head coach in the Lion’s inaugural NPL season this year, but the call to head over to North London changed everything.
D’Antino, wife Nicole and son Eligh made the trip overseas. The family has grown now with the recent arrival of baby Reuben.
When asked about the challenges faced by coaches in the current football climate, D’Antino emphasised the importance of communicating clearly and tailoring messages based on each individual's needs. He admits he has learned a lot in his 18 months at Meadow Park.
“With the relocation abroad I transitioned professionally from analyst to coach so there’s been various aspects that have contributed to my learning,” he explained.
“The value of simplified communication.
"Translating key information in a manner that’s both clear for different players to digest, and then constructively impacts their immediate performance, is a critical skill required at the elite level.
“How important individualising player interaction for learning is, as well as respecting that each player absorbs information differently.
"An example would be sitting down with particular players to preview a new drill we’re incorporating into that session, or showing particular individuals clips highlighting reasons why we’re working on a certain phase of play.
"Taking into consideration how individuals learn most effectively and then personalising my workflow to suit has been an important learning experience.”
The busy schedule in English football is in stark contrast to Australia, where the W-League season only goes for 14 rounds. In England there is a league, two cups and European intercontinental football.
D’Antino was quick to point out that creating a fun and positive environment was important, to stop boredom and to maintain enthusiasm amongst the playing group during such a busy calendar.
“Due to the busy schedule and various non-WSL tournaments the team plays in, remaining creative with the workflow and session design is important for player engagement and education,” he said.
“An example would be sporadically incorporating set pieces into traditional positional drills, creating a level of chaotic learning during a structured session.
“It seems simple, but being time-efficient both on and off the park (particularly during congested periods) is invaluable, and requires detailed planning.”
D’Antino fascinatingly addresses the differences in coaching methods in England compared to Australia.
The curriculum and system employed by coaches in Australia has come under much scrutiny in recent times especially in the female game.
The Young Matildas have failed to qualify for the Youth World Cup seven times in a row. The W-League is seen as not being able to produce players that can compete on the world stage.
D’Antino admits there are differences between coaching styles in Australia compared to England but insisted that he feels he has become a more holistic coach after being exposed to both systems.
“Interestingly, I’ve relocated to the other side of the world but work for an Australian coach.
For me, a noticeable difference is how a traditional week is periodised in England, from both a technical/tactical and physical view, compared to Australia.
“The key difference in periodisation is largely due to midweek games as we in the UK don’t have the luxury of a 6-7 day turn-around to prepare for the next opponent.
Subsequently, drill design and periodisation to efficiently maximise time both on and off the park is a noticeable difference.
“As part of completing my UEFA badges I’ve fortunately been exposed to England’s coaching curriculum and the differences between country designs.
“Here in England the curriculum is less process-driven and there’s a level of understanding that students already hold a mid-level coaching/football education.
So methods are more about challenging one’s existing coaching practices.
“In contrast, when I was completing my badges in Australia the curriculum was significantly more process-driven, designed around educating and delivering a particular type of coaching process.
"These differences have been beneficial however - the Australian education strongly compliments my methods applied here in England.”
D’Antino wasn’t entirely sure what Australian football needs to do to make our future stars of the game better and able to compete on the world stage.
However, he did observe that a cultural shift could be the key, or simply a re-engineering of what has happened in the past.
“I feel that culturally, Australia’s sporting landscape is highly varied," he said.
"But in many countries abroad children are born with a football at their feet and spend an invaluable amount of time playing on the street.
“I feel the challenges are complex but do simmer down to the structures that guide and support our youth development.
"For me, they need to be training and competing against the best, in the most challenging environment, repeatedly.
"What format that looks like I’m unsure, but we have to reflect upon and refine what seems to have worked well for Australian youth football in the past.”
For now D’Antino is enjoying life in North London and with his Arsenal team currently sitting on top of the ladder it has been an enjoyable Christmas break.
However, with Manchester City and Sam Kerr’s Chelsea breathing down their neck, he will be back in the dugout honing his craft soon enough, and hopefully Australian football benefits from this one day.