It’s rare a manager can chalk up a success even in defeat. Or have influence over a club languishing near the bottom as well as one battling at the top.
Yet that’s the situation Stephen Glass finds himself in as Atlanta United 2 manager in the topsy-turvy world of leading a feeder – or “affiliate” – club in America’s second-tier USL. Here, short-term planning is a pipe dream, but building for the future is a necessity.
The former Aberdeen and Hibernian midfielder’s first season in management has been a bumpy ride since he stepped up from his role as Under-17s coach in January.
The transient nature of his squad – players drop down from, or move up to, Frank de Boer’s Atlanta United – contributed to a 14-match winless run. And while on-field results can be secondary to developing and rejuvenating talent for the current MLS champions, Glass’ competitive instinct remains as sharp as ever.
“We don’t know which players we are getting from day-to-day, never mind from week-to-week,” the 43-year-old Dundonian says.
“They are Frank’s players. He watches our games, asks my opinion on players he likes the look of. He tells you what players you’re getting for the weekend and what they need.
“In this league, the people like myself who coach these [affiliate] teams are probably in the toughest spot. You are trying to build a team to compete with clubs who are set up for the whole year.
“The people at [the top of] the club are very supportive. There were measures of success within the defeats. We’ve had several players go up to the first team and affect their games, and the first team is the priority.
“But you don’t ever go near a football pitch thinking it doesn’t matter if you win or lose. That’s in you. The greatest pressure comes from ourselves as staff.”
‘It’s one of the best tools I’ll get’
Glass fell into coaching more by accident than design in the twilight of his playing days at Carolina Railhawks. After a brief spell as assistant manager at Shamrock Rovers in Ireland, he returned to the States as coaching director of Carolina Rapids, a youth affiliate of MLS side Colorado Rapids, before the move to Atlanta last August.
He believes the ups and downs of a playing career that was dogged by injury but still took him to the English Premier League with Newcastle United and Watford is the perfect grounding for his managerial apprenticeship.
“Towards the end of my playing days in America, there was coaching for something to do in the evening,” Glass said. “I got into it that way. And then I started seeing it as a real choice for my future because I enjoyed it so much.
“I played for reserve teams at every club – coming back from injury, out of favour, getting old, being young. Those reasons are what make up our team, so I have an understanding of every individual.
“There’s developing players, there’s managing first-team guys, trying to make players better who maybe haven’t been looked at before. So there’s a lot of different aspects to the job and I think for my coaching career, it’s one of the best tools I’ll ever get.”
‘Mowbray opened my eyes to management’
Glass has worked under some big-name managers, including Willie Miller, Bobby Robson, Ruud Gullit and Gianluca Vialli. But he credits Tony Mowbray as his biggest coaching influence from their time together at Hibernian.
Glass was an elder statesman in an exciting young Easter Road side that finished third and fourth and reached successive Scottish Cup semi-finals in Mowbray’s two seasons at the helm.
“I really admired Tony because of the way he handled that young Hibs team,” Glass said. “He opened my eyes to what you can achieve with a group that maybe didn’t believe it could do what it did.
“I played under a lot of managers and you learn from the good and bad. The worst aspects were poor man-management and that’s the easiest bit to get wrong. I think there’s a way of talking to players. Sometimes you do raise your voice and get a bit angry – if you lose your nut, you lose your nut.
“But it has to be measured, there always has to be a message and reason to it. And you always have to be right. If you’re telling players things and they don’t believe you because it looks like an act, then you’ve lost it instantly.”
‘I still have friends at Hibs & Aberdeen’
As well as Hibs, Glass keeps a keen eye on events at Aberdeen, where he is still revered after rising to prominence as a precocious teenager with a magical left foot.
He made his debut as an 18-year-old in 1994 and within just over 12 months had scored in both legs of the relegation play-off against Dunfermline to keep Aberdeen in the top flight, then delivered a man-of-the match performance in the League Cup win over Dundee.
That earned him the bizarre prize of a Coca-Cola mountain bike from the tournament sponsors.
“I still have a lot of friends at Aberdeen and Hibs,” said Glass of two sides who meet on Saturday. “I look for their results and I watch their games still, too.
“That bike is part of the Aberdeen Trust, I donated it back at the cup final they won [against Inverness in 2014] so they could raise money for the youth academy. It had been in my father-in-law’s shed. A few people had a go on it, but it was kept in right good condition so it’s a historical piece for Aberdeen. I’m glad the club has got it back.”