“I have very high ambitions of where I want to go and I have the balls to travel – I am not afraid to take on challenges,” Paul Munster explains from his Jakarta home, the latest stop in a career that has brought as many passport stamps as trophies.
The Northern Irishman has been making up for lost time since a delayed start to a playing career, which took in Canada, the Czech Republic, Sweden and three successful years at home with Linfield.
It was coaching that gave him his chance as a striker in Ontario for London City aged 22 after recovering from a cruciate injury suffered as a teenager. Munster travelled to North America to work at the former Hartlepool goalkeeper Eddie Edgar’s academy, leading to him playing in the Canadian Professional Soccer League.
A goal ratio of better than one per game for London City attracted interest from Europe, leading to an unlikely move to Slavia Prague after he topped the scoring charts with 25. “I remember the last game; I was on 21 goals and I told the team I was going to get four and they did not believe me but that was the mentality that I have.
“I didn’t know about it but there was a scout watching me from Slavia – the coach knew about it. He was on the phone in the second half updating the head coach at Slavia saying: ‘This kid keeps scoring. It’s not one or two, it’s three or four.’ My team was second from bottom in the league; we only scored 35 goals”
A three-week trial in Prague led to a contract and a season with the Czech giants. Despite impressive performances in friendlies, Munster found it tough to make an impact in the first team. “We had a month where we had a break and the fans voted me player of the month and I was top scorer in a tournament, but I couldn’t get a start in the league – I was just put on as a sub.
“I thought I was good enough to start but looking back they had quality internationals like Pavel Kuka and Radek Bejbl. I was a young lad and didn’t care, I just wanted to play. The coach got sacked, which was a disaster, as he really believed in me. He said I was the best finisher at the club.”
Three titles while playing at Linfield was a high point but it failed to earn Munster his desired move to England. After a brief spell in Germany, Munster headed to Sweden to maintain fitness and was given the chance to kickstart a new career with Assyriska.
“Before I was playing for London City, I was coaching men. When the offer came at the age of 30 in Sweden, people told me I could play on for another five or six years but I was thinking ahead. I am always someone who is thinking about what is in my future and I always believed I would be a better coach than I was a player. So far it’s starting to happen. I had a 10-year plan to start with a team, get my qualifications and work my way up. Thank God, everything so far has gone right; I have the experience, the highest qualifications possible, I’ve been head coach, technical director and I am winning.”
Munster is still part of a WhatsApp group with those with whom he undertook his Pro Licence; Harry Kewell and Benni McCarthy are among the alumni he can call upon for advice and vice versa. Those two follow Munster’s journey with intrigue. After four roles in Sweden, the country he calls home and is now a citizen of, Munster headed to India where he helped Minerva Punjab to a league title to earn hero status.
A bigger challenge was ahead, as Munster became head coach of the Vanuatu national team and took charge of numerous age groups to aid a restructure. A meticulous planner, Munster did his research to produce a presentation for the country’s football federation, scouring the region for players in the diaspora.
“All their eyes were on me. They said: ‘Coach, whatever you want to do, just go in and fix it.’ They let me do what I wanted and everything went to plan. To this day Vanuatu have a footballing philosophy; my assistant coaches and football director are still there. They believed in what I was doing and they will keep doing it and if they have any questions they know they can ask me.”
The latest stop is Indonesia, as the top-flight side Bhayangkara came calling. There has been one loss in their past 15 matches. Conveniently nicknamed The Guardian, Bhayangkara are run by the country’s police force, not a bad ally to have on and off the pitch. “They look after me. I once had the lights off and they stopped me. They gave a little bit of advice and sent me on my way. They treat me very well, especially as we’re winning. They see me all the time when I am, so there is no issue. They are very respectable towards me as coach, so they will not come up to me, like they would a player.”
Although Bhayangkara’s ground holds only 3,000 fans, they are followed all around the country by members of the constabulary, leading to large away followings.
The country’s league was stopped after three games because of coronavirus, delaying Munster’s planned title charge, after he won the Siem Reap Super Asia Cup.
“What is the next step? I will be looking for something higher. People keep asking me: ‘When are you coming back?’ Hopefully someone is watching and they will see your work.”