Sierra Leone have appointed a little-known Northern Irishman with no senior coaching experience as international team manager. Johnny McKinstry has been installed as caretaker coach of the African nation replacing Sweden’s Lars Olof Mattsson who resigned a few weeks ago. Lisburn native McKinstry’s only prior coaching experience came at youth level.
He began coaching at the age of 16 with the Irish FA’s summer schools and went on to work with the youth set-ups at the New York Red Bulls and Newcastle United among others. He was voted UK Grassroots Coach of the Year during his time in England.
Having graduated from university in 2007, McKinstry only achieved the UEFA ‘A’ Coaching Licence with the Irish FA in 2009.
Acting director of sports in Sierra Leone, Alphan Coker told the BBC: “We decided to appoint McKinstry because he has a good CV and understands Sierra Leone football as he’s been in the country for a while now.”
Previous coach Lars Olof Mattsson quit in March after two years in charge launching a stinging attack on his employers:
“All the problems we had before our latest game against Tunisia helped me to make up my mind. No preparations with friendly games, no contract with the FA. All the changes in the squad, weeks ahead of the Tunisia clash, made it an easy decision.
“No National Coach in the world would accept to be treated like this.”
Under the Swede, Sierra Leone went from 129th to 63rd in the FIFA rankings and came close to qualifying for the last two editions of the Africa Cup of Nations finals.
Sierra Leone are currently second in their World Cup qualifying group, five points behind Tunisia with three games to go. In March, Chelsea’s 20-year-old youngster Aziz Deen-Conteh declared for his country of birth having previously represented England from U16 – U20 levels.
McKinstry will be assisted by former Sierra Leonean international John Keister and goalkeeping coach Tamba Moses.
The Northern Irishman’s appointment has been met with shock in some quarters and he faces major hurdles, not least his own lack of experience. In 2011 the then Sport Minister dissolved the country`s Football Association with political in-fighting to the fore.
Just this week, former chairman of the Sierra Leone Premier League Board, Victor Lewis, declared that football in the country is in a state of collapse.
“As a result of personal and the selfish attitudes of certain stakeholders, if the current trend is not nipped in the bud, it will take a miracle to resurrect this beautiful game.”
Former international and Inter Milan striker Mohamed Kallon also expressed his surprise at the appointment of McKinstry.
He told BBC Sport: “If we are not looking for a home-based or local coach, then we should have gone for a Class A coach who has working experience with national teams or clubs in Europe.
“But I will not rule [McKinstry] out, because I don’t know him and I have never seen him coaching. We just have to wish him the best of luck.”