Since his departure the day before training camp in February, I have wanted to catch up with former Sacramento Republic FC manager Paul Buckle to get his side of the departure from the club. I think mostly because he left so suddenly and I felt there was just a lack of closure.
Whether you loved or loathed Paul Buckle as manager, one thing that is undeniable is that he did move the club forward. And I get that some don’t see it that way.
No matter where you fall in the debate, below is my conversation. I hope you enjoy the read.
It’s good to catch up with you Paul. How have you been?
Really well thank you. I’ve been able to spend some family time William, for the first time probably in 10 years of being a head coach. You know, it’s so time consuming [being a coach]. I don’t think you quite realize how time-consuming it is until you have a break, and it was a much-needed break to be honest.
[I’ve] been spending the last three weeks with Rebecca, now that she’s finished with the Premier League, and of course, we have our little boy Teddy too, so yeah…it’s been great. My oldest son is back from college, so I’ve got lots of things going on at home. We’ve spent some great time together. We’ve done some traveling and plan to do some more traveling.
Plus, I’ve obviously been keeping up-to-speed with what’s going on in the soccer world, both in the UK and here. I’ve done lots of radio for a top radio station in the UK because all the playoffs and stuff going on. So, yeah, I’ve been keeping my eye in, but also have had a really good rest.
Are you able to walk me through your departure as manager of the Republic?
It was very, very amicable. It was always going to be the case for me. I chose to come to the Republic and carry on the culture, carry on where Preki left off. And I was always going to put it down when I felt the time was right. So that was always an agreement I had with ownership...with Kevin. So that was fully respected.
I had a fabulous time, and there’s not that many times as a head coach where you can choose when you want to go out, and I felt I had taken the club forward. I was very pleased with the work we’d done off the field, I was very pleased with selling players and also bringing academy players through.
We missed out on a championship, but we had a very good record as a staff, and so I felt the time was right. I was very much part of the decision to bring Simon [Elliott] into the club, and I think this is always a good thing for a football club, especially a beautiful club like Sacramento. I spent some really good time with Todd Dunivant, who has done an incredible job with recruitment. Basically, I had my stamp on that squad, and Todd had a really good process of putting players in front of me, and allowing me to choose the right players for the club. So we worked really well together. I’m very pleased I was able to leave it in really good hands.
I wrote a piece following your departure as manager that tried to make the point that you were under-appreciated during your time. As you can imagine, there were some that agreed with me, but many more that didn’t. How would you sum up your time as manager?
I think you need to look at your record. For any head coach, you look at your record. So apart from not winning a championship, taking it over from Preki was never going to be easy for anybody. I was disappointed in missing out in the playoffs…losing those playoff games, but I understand. I’ve been a head coach for a long time, and you can’t always win championships.
My record in both the UK and in America…I’m very pleased with. I think looking back on it…we beat an MLS club in the Open Cup, we won a regular season title, and I brought players through. So look, everybody has their opinion, and on every single coach that goes to a club…and you’re never going to please everyone in my profession.
The one thing you can’t deny is that we were always super competitive and won a lot of games. I had a great time…the fans are fantastic. For it to my first job in a foreign country, I’ve got to be pleased with the job we did.
Despite everything, it appears you had and still have a good a relationship with the players. Do you keep in touch with some of the guys?
Oh, 100 percent. There’s a lot more to it than just winning games. I get very close with the players, close to the staff. They’re my people. I’m only as good as those people, and I’ve been very fortunate in my managerial career so far with the success that I’ve had…it’s [a credit] to the staff around me.
I’m a great believer in creating a culture, and Sacramento suited me. Before I came to the Republic, I had other options, but it suited me. I owe a lot to Warren Smith, Graham Smith…and all the staff that was in place. I never changed one member of staff at the club when I came, and I think that’s a testament to what was built.
We built a brilliant club and it was my job to keep that culture going and I did that. I’m in touch with all of the guys…for the guys that left, because of course in my job you turn players over, the majority of the time the players left for the better.
If you look at players like Emrah [Klimenta], who I’ve been in touch with…I’m very proud of players like him and Mike da Fonte who went out to MLS…we had Cameron Iwasa [who also went to MLS]…I was delighted to play a part in getting Cameron back to the Club. That was big, because that was a disappointment when he left and big void to fill.
But no, I absolutely keep in touch with all of them and the staff. I haven’t been back to watch a Republic game yet, but I certainly will be with my family when the time is right. I still speak with Kevin and ownership.
For me, that’s the dream ticket. If you can come in and do well and go out on a high, I think that’s that golden ticket and really rare in soccer.
Have you kept up with the Republic this season, and if so, how would say the club is playing?
Well, yeah. I’ve definitely been keeping up. I watch all the games. I think they’re very solid. Starting with the goal keeper…he’s having a really good season isn’t he? Josh Cohen [is] so solid, and [the team is] solid.
The one thing when I was with the club is that we created a lot of chances. You can probably remember them all. We just found it hard at times to convert.
I think what Sacramento is doing at the moment is really being quite lethal in front of the goal. Cameron added to that. He’s always a threat. Even when you’re soaking up some pressure, Cameron is a threat. There’s quality with Villyan [Bijev] and they’ve been solid and dangerous on the break.
Maybe similar to what we were like the year before last where we won the title and were the best team. You can’t deny us that. We were definitely the best team in the league that season over the regular season...we just couldn’t pull it off in those one off matches, but I always knew that anyway.
They’ve been solid, I’ve liked them…I think they’re tough to play against, and I’m delighted. The culture of Sacramento is very different. There is continuity. They’re always up on the right end of the league, always competing, going to be competing again in the Open Cup. So, I’m so pleased that I got the opportunity to work for Sacramento with Warren and then with Kevin.
I got to say, Kevin was always first class with me…as was Warren Smith. As a head coach, that’s all you can ask for. They allowed me to manage, get my ideas across, and continue the culture of the club, which is about the fan base and winning.
You mentioned Cameron Iwasa…do you think this the best you’ve seen him play as a professional?
Well, yeah. He was lethal for me. He was fantastic for me. Sometimes it’s hard to remember back, but all I remember with Cameron is we were able to counter-attack a lot more with him. He’s dangerous. He plays so well and getting in between. You’ve seen a couple of the goals…the one the other day, where Rodriguez put that ball in behind…a quality ball, and Iwasa is on to it. The one thing you knew with him is he [could make] the reads.
He’d be the first to say the opportunity with MLS didn’t go as planned, and that can happen, but you can see why he’s on the edge of it can’t you? I would take a gamble on him if I was an MLS coach, because he knows how to play.
When he left, his game was complete. There’s always a danger coming back to play with your former club, but he’s fit in well. He’s a local lad, the fans love him, and it was right. I know Cameron, and really believe it was right to bring him back. He’s just carried on where he left, which is great.
What is next for you?
You know, I’m in a good position. I took my time before I took my first professional job here. It will be five years in July since Rebecca and I came to the states, so I am very pleased with what I did with the Republic and now I want to really choose carefully.
Options have come my way….I have opportunities right now in a few different roles. But ultimately, I’m going to wait and hopefully, I get that feeling that I had with the Republic where it felt right coming in. So I’m not rushing into anything, but at the same time, I feel like I’ve done enough…certainly at the USL level to wait awhile to choose the right option.
Hopefully your golf game is on point right now….
[Laughs]…tennis for me, but my wife got me to do hot yoga over the weekend, which nearly killed me. I’m trying to play some golf with my older son Johnny who is on a golf scholarship, but tennis is my game and my second sport.
We’re so blessed. When I came to the Republic, I’m experienced enough to know that you’re not going to last as a head coach forever right. So you have to look beyond. We love the city so much, we love the people, and we love the area…this is home. This home for us now, so that’s a really good feeling, because sometimes you can move with jobs, and then you’re like….the job is gone it’s not the same.
But no, I’m enjoying every moment here and am delighted the Republic are competing again and Simon and the guys are taking the club forward, which is what’s needed. I think that’s the job.
On behalf of Indomitable City Soccer, I would like to thank Paul for his willingness to chat with me. I thought for certain he would deny the interview request, because it’s certainly something he didn’t have to do, but it shows what class Paul is. The team and ICS wishes him the best. We’ll be sure to let fans know when and where he lands his next coaching gig.