Dan White had no say in the matter.
“‘If you’re going to support a club, it’s got to be Liverpool’ – that was drummed into me by my dad and brother,” White, the club’s head of International Academies and Soccer Schools, tells Liverpoolfc.com.
“It was my grandad’s choice and that’s been followed through the family. My brother’s kids, my sister’s kids, my child – they just have to be Liverpool fans.
“It’s just the way it is in our family, even though there’s no geographic connection to the city.”
Honiton, a small town in east Devon, is nearly 250 miles away from Anfield. But the distance between White’s birthplace and L4 proved to be no barrier to his passion for the Reds.
“We probably saw more away games at places like Southampton but, whenever it was possible, we’d come up here,” he says.
A 1-1 draw with Queens Park Rangers in September 1984 marked White’s first visit to Anfield at the age of four. As a child, he idolised John Barnes and dreamed of forging a career as a professional footballer.
“At 16 I left school and played for Bristol Rovers for a couple of years. As I grew up that was always the ambition, to be a football player, as is the case with a lot of kids,” he notes.
“When that route came to a close I went into coaching initially. I got my coaching qualifications and then through education and doing degrees, ended up moving into the business side of football. One way or another, I’ve always been involved in the game.
“Going into coaching is a big part of why I’m doing what I do now, but anything to keep me involved in football was really my priority.”
Almost 20 years on from his first experience of Anfield, White spent 12 months living in Liverpool while completing an MBA in ‘Football Industries’ – a period that would change his career plans and, ultimately, his life.
“I was 23. I’d done my sports science degree and saw this course in Liverpool. It appealed because it was sports, it was an MBA and also, specifically, because it was in Liverpool,” he recalls.
“That meant I moved here, lived here for a year, got to know the city better and fell in love with the place, really.
“That was probably the first time I thought that one way or another, I’d like to work for Liverpool Football Club in some capacity. I didn’t quite know how at that point, but that was the thing that really sparked my interest in terms of trying to get involved with the club.”
The International Academy’s programmes see thousands of players across 15 countries schooled in playing ‘The Liverpool Way’ every year, with White heading up a core team of five staff based in Liverpool and up to 100 coaches in Merseyside and around the world.
He explains: “We have a base of coaches here in Liverpool, so at any one time we’ll have 80 to 100 coaches who are locally recruited, trained, developed and then assigned to international projects around the world.
“On our international full-time projects, one of the guys from that pool will be assigned as the ‘lead coach’ for those projects. We’ve got 10 coaches now based full-time overseas, who are overseeing what’s going on from a technical perspective.
“So we’ve got a small-ish team here, really, but the good thing about being part of Liverpool Football Club is we’re really like an extension of the Academy from a football perspective.
“We get a huge amount of support from the Academy technically, which is fantastic, and loads of different departments within the club will support our business unit and help us deliver programmes.
“We’re a specific business area, but we do work across lots of different areas of the club.”
After starting his career at Fulham, where he worked his way up to the position of head of marketing, White moved on to Umbro and then, in January 2013, to Liverpool.
“Since I arrived, we’ve expanded the Scandinavian/European programme to cover Finland, Austria and Switzerland,” he says.
“We’ve launched programmes in China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, we’ve done some programmes in South Africa, and we’ve grown our US operation from one state to nine. So we’ve been on quite an expansion plan.
“The plan initially when I came in was to review where we were, in terms of our footprint and strategy and the reason we’re doing what we’re doing and then set some targets over a three-year time period. Then we wanted to look at the countries around the world where we believe this programme would be successful.
“Then, slowly but surely, we wanted to put the right partnerships in place to build that network. We’ve rolled it out in a considered way.”
‘We’re giving something back to the millions of LFC fans around the world’
The scope and scale of the International Academy’s work is hugely impressive and, White feels, offers an important and tangible link to the club for supporters based in all corners of the world.
“We’re operational across five continents,” White continues.
“Every day of the year, pretty much, we’ve got Liverpool coaches delivering our programmes in those 15 countries.
“So from a club perspective, it’s doing a nice job of providing opportunities for kids around the world to have a meaningful relationship with the club in their own towns and cities, which I believe is a really powerful thing.
“We’re one part of the club and taking it all around the world, giving kids the opportunity to learn to play ‘The Liverpool Way’.
“We’ve got millions of fans around the world and there’s only a tiny percentage of those fans, unfortunately, that are going to be able to come to a game at Anfield.
“But what we can do is take something back to them, which helps develop football in those countries and provides a platform for those kids to improve, develop their skills and build their love for football and Liverpool Football Club. That can only be a positive thing.”
Long-term, expansion in the Australian, US, south-east Asian and Chinese markets is on White’s agenda, but much of the 37-year-old’s immediate focus is on the International Academy’s current coaching programmes.
“We want to spend as much time as we can supporting what we already have,” he says.
“It’s about making sure the delivery is authentic, so the experience that the young kid gets in Japan, for example, is a genuine Liverpool experience. They’re being coached by a Liverpool coach, being talked to like a Liverpool player, getting a real Liverpool development opportunity.
“And also, we want consistency, so from market to market the kids are getting the same experience. That’s fairly simple for me to talk about, but the skill in my team is them being able to have an influence on our programmes so that, in practice, that’s being delivered on a daily basis.
“We don’t want to spread ourselves too thinly. If we do a good job in these markets, growth will come naturally. So the focus across my team is about delivering.
“In the US, roughly 6,000 kids a week, every week, are being coached by Liverpool coaches across nine states. That in itself is a huge project, so it’s about making sure we do that right and to a level where we’re making a positive contribution to football in that country and then the club as well. We’re almost guardians of that, really.”
The success of the International Academy is, White says, ‘first and foremost about providing in-country opportunities for players to be successful and have careers in the game in those countries’.
By that definition, the case of Lallianzuala Chhangte is perhaps the best example of the life-changing impact the work put in across the globe by White and his team can have.
Chhangte came into the International Academy’s programme in Pune, India, in the summer of 2014 – and, just 18 months later at the age of 19, became the senior India national side’s youngest ever goalscorer.
“He made staggeringly quick development progress from joining the Academy in India to playing and scoring for the national team,” White says.
“He’s an amazing kid and really humble – a great case study to show that if we do these projects the right way, success relative to the local country is going to be a natural product of that.
“There are five players who have played for the India U19 national team. That in itself for us is a huge level of success, and Jerry Mawihmingthanga has played for the U19 and U23 national teams. It’s a testament to all the hard work that has gone in there.
“Pune was a market-leading, groundbreaking initiative that provided opportunities for those young Indian players that they wouldn’t ordinarily have had.
“That’s set a number of those players up for what should be really good careers in the game in India. A number of them have been playing in the senior I-League this year, which again is great for us to have played a part in that. It’s an amazing shining light for the project.”
Chhangte and Mawihmingthanga were rewarded for their development with an invite to train with the Academy’s U18s team at Kirkby last year.
“That was an amazing experience for them,” White says.
“To get an idea of what it’s all about, in terms of the standard of the players here and the expectations, but then also the similarities in terms of what was being delivered to them back in India. It was almost a celebration of how far they’d come and how well they’d done.”
As our conversation at the club’s Chapel Street offices draws to a close, White is asked to sum up the International Academy’s principle aim. What is the department striving to achieve?
His reply is one full of belief, passion and pride.
“The ultimate goal of this department is to take the club to fans around the world – to provide authentic, genuine and real Liverpool coaching programmes in various countries, so kids can have a relationship with their club on a day-by-day, week-by-week basis in their countries,” White asserts.
“They can learn how to play ‘The Liverpool Way’, build an affinity to football as players and develop as people.
“As a club we can make a positive contribution to football development in those markets and if we’re successful with that, that will have a positive impact on the perception of Liverpool Football Club all around the world.
“It’s a club with such an amazing history of developing players and we can continue that across the world.”
‘Behind the Badge’ is a regular feature on Liverpoolfc.com which aims to tell the individual stories of the numerous men and women who work tirelessly away from the spotlight in an attempt to make Liverpool FC successful.
We speak to various members of staff across the first-team, Academy and Ladies set-ups who dedicate their lives to the club each and every day, covering a variety of different roles that make a vital contribution in preparing the Reds for action.