Paul Munster on managing Pacific island of Vanuatu
By Paul Gilmour
Last Updated: 24/03/19 1:19pm
From wandering sacred cows in India to the tranquillity of a tropical paradise in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. One Belfast-born coach is stepping out of his comfort zone to embark on a new management career.
Paul Munster, having completed his pro licence with Harry Kewell and Benni McCarthy, has just been appointed the national team manager of Vanuatu, a team placed 163 in the FIFA rankings.
He arrives on the islands after winning two trophies with Minerva Punjab of the I-League, a job he was offered following an interview over Skype. His new surroundings could not be more different from the hustle and bustle of India.
"I knew Vanuatu was beyond Asia but I Googled it to find out more," Munster told Sky Sports News.
"There is no traffic and no mayhem, just palm trees, forests and fields. It's been voted the friendliest country two years running.
"India was chaos with the traffic and cows walking around freely as they are sacred. I loved my time there. If you can live in India you can live anywhere!"
In addition to the senior side, Munster is responsible for the U23 and U20 teams as he looks ahead to qualifying for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
"All players will get a chance if they impress. I've noticed the intensity is higher when they see you watching the games."
Australia are the biggest scalp in Oceania football along with New Zealand and Fiji but it's not stopping Munster from setting ambitious targets.
"I believe it's achievable to reach a major finals. Qatar is more difficult but in 2026 two will go through. Once you get that confidence flowing through a team anything is possible."
To reach Qatar, Vanuatu would need to navigate their way through two rounds of qualifying before beating a traditionally strong African side in a playoff.
"Look at Manchester United, look at Leicester winning the Premier League. Football is 11 v 11. On the field, I know what I want but it's off the pitch we need to get right."
Munster is not the first manager to cut tomato ketchup from his players' diets but with temperatures reaching almost 30 degrees celsius, it isn't the only thing off limits.
"No more ice cream," he says with a laugh. "It's popular because it can be very warm here. The chef is aware!
"I've also started double training sessions and gym time to help with the professional mindset and I speak to the groundsman to make sure the grass is cut right.
"Some of the lads are new to this programme but this is what's required to embrace the levels we're expecting. They have all taken the diet and training plan on board when they go back to their clubs."
The 37-year old featured as a striker for Slavia Prague, Orebro in Sweden and Northern Ireland's most successful club Linfield over a 10-year playing career. He has adapted to many cultures but it is closer to home he has set his sights on.
"I would love to experience football in England, as I never got the chance as a player, but hopefully in the future it comes up as a manager.
"As a player and manager, I have always managed to win leagues and cups. Now as national team manager it's the same mentality. Win games, tournaments, improve the players as individuals and as a team."
From a football perspective, Munster is already settling into his new role but even a seasoned traveller needs to acclimatise to new surroundings.
"The 11-hour swing in time difference takes some getting used to.
"I need to adapt to speaking to friends and family early in the morning or late at night. My brother was calling me at three or four in the morning and I wanted to kill him!"