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Exclusive: D.C. United assistant coach Frédéric Brillant on the transition to his new role, what he learned from Emmanuel Abreu and Patrick Vieira, and more

In an exclusive interview with Black and Red United, Frédéric Brillant shares insight from his 15-year professional playing career and what it takes to become a coach.

D.C. United, Sam Legg

As D.C. United digs into the second half of the MLS season hard work and grit will be more important than ever. Black and Red United recently spoke with assistant coach Frédéric Brillant, a player-turned-coach who knows what it takes to set the bar high and put in consistent, hard work to overcome the toughest challenges.

This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.

Black and Red United: Congratulations on the new position. That’s huge!

Frédéric Brillant: I’m very pleased because I’m staying in the family. And it’s also something that I wanted to do.

B&RU: We are excited to hear about your journey going from player to coach and the transition from Loudoun to D.C. United. Could you tell me a little bit about getting your coaching license? What was the process you had to go through?

FB: You know, coaching was something that I wanted to do at the end of my career. And to be honest, it’s been a few years now since I started learning and doing training sessions with kids, I started here with the academy. I started training the academy here with D.C. four years ago. So, I used to train Moses [Nyeman], for example. And you know, it was a process and I wanted to do my license. I started with the C two years ago and then the B. I finished the B with a reward so I was very pleased with that. And now, I started my journey as a coach. It’s very, very good for me and I’m very excited about my new life.

B&RU: Could you share with me a little bit for our readers so they understand the kind of time commitment it takes to go through the different licensing levels?

FB: I didn’t need to do the C license. Because of my career as a soccer player, I could go straight away to the B. But the C is something that I wanted to do because for me, the more you learn the better you are, you know? It was a very good choice for me, and the reason why I also finished the B with the rewards. Because I was already in the [licensing] process, I knew the way they worked and the US Soccer learning process, so it was great.

It was very demanding because it’s a few months, an intense few months, that you have to do training sessions, you have to do meetings with players you also have to do a lot of Zoom calls because you know, at that time COVID was there, but it was worse. So, it was very demanding, especially when you are a soccer player and also doing these kinds of things on the side. While it was very demanding, I really did enjoy doing it. I did it with passion and love, so it was easier.

B&RU: So, you were working on your license while you were still playing? Before you retired?

FB: Yes. I will say even before that, I took notes from the coaches that I had, from the training sessions that I had as well. I have a lot of books with notes, and a lot of clips on my computer. So, I can say it is something that I was very prepared for.

B&RU: I know you had mentioned you were thinking of going to D.C. United to coach, but you went to Loudoun instead. How was it working with Ryan Martin? What did you learn from him while you were there?

FB: It was a good experience. As you mentioned, I would say, at the end of last year, I had an injury to my ankles. The club [D.C. United] wanted me to stay in the organization. At that time, Hernàn and Nico wanted me to work with them and the staff to bring in my experience and my relationship with the players. But at that time, there was no space for me. They wanted to keep me, but there was no space. So, they offered me that spot with Loudoun, which in the beginning, I was, you know, like, not upset, not mad. But I needed time to think about it because it was something that I didn’t expect in the beginning. And it was great. To be honest, it was the best way to start my coaching career; I learned a lot. I had a lot of tasks and responsibilities with them. I had a very good relationship with Ryan. It gave me a lot of freedom, and it was a great experience. For me, it was the best way to start my coaching journey.

B&RU: That’s fantastic. What were some of the responsibilities you had while you were there?

FB: Training session planning, everything you can ask for from a coach. And you know, they don’t have a lot of resources over there, they don’t have a lot of tools. So, if you want to do it well, you have to work hard. When I was there, I didn’t have lots of time for my family, I didn’t have a lot of time for my wife or for myself, because I wanted to do well. And I wanted to do my best, you know, because they need it, that kind of attitude over there. So, I worked from six in the morning until the end of the day and sometimes during the night, watching games and analyzing games because, like I said, they don’t have a lot of resources. But for me, it was great because I was in every sector of coaching- game analysis, periodization, training sessions, meeting with players- almost everything. So, it was the best way to learn.

B&RU: You really did everything just from point A to point Z. How was it then making the transition to D.C. United when you got your promotion? And especially the relationship you already had with so many of the players?

FB: To be honest, it was very easy. Because of what happened in the beginning, where I could have worked with D.C. but it didn’t work out at that time and I went to Loudoun, the players also knew the situation. So, when I came back [to D.C. United], it was almost normal, you know? So, it was pretty easy. Because I played with most of them, they know who I am. They know my behavior. They know my character. But now I’m a coach. I’m not a player anymore. And to talk again about Loudoun, it really helped me to get a different relationship with the D.C. players because they knew the job that I did with Loudoun, those few months. I did pretty well to be honest. So, they had a lot of respect for that, for the work I did with Loudoun. When I came in with D.C. I was not “the guy without experience,” because they knew the work I did.. So, it was pretty easy to be honest [to return to D.C.].

B&RU: It must be difficult to balance that relationship with the players you used to play next to and now you’re the coach.

FB: Yeah, but our job, as it is with every coach, is to help players. So, what is your philosophy to help players? For me, I already have a good relationship with them. The only thing that I need to do is to put a fence between them and me. So, we have a good relationship, but now, I’m a coach, and I’m not your teammate or your friend anymore. When we work, I am your coach. So, it just puts a fence up. We keep the relationship we had before. They know that I’m here to help them, but there is also a fence between them and me. I cannot tell them everything; I cannot tell them who’s gonna play, who won’t play…

B&RU: Absolutely. And it’s great that you had that time at Loudoun to kind of create a little bit of separation. Because you have such an incredible MLS career and you know the league so well, you know the players so well, have you been able to leverage that knowledge to help your players on the field?

FB: Yes, and to be honest, here, I will say it’s not because you play 15 years of professional soccer that you’re a good coach or a coach, you have to learn. There is a process. Something like the C license, for example, was very useful for me to do even though I played 15 years as a professional soccer player. You cannot know the job until you are in it, until you work on it. Now, I have more knowledge and I also have my experience as a player, but I have more knowledge as a coach. So, I use both paths to help players and try to push them in the right ways and try to help them to develop themselves and also to develop the team.

B&RU: What’s something that you wish you knew as a player that you didn’t learn until you started coaching?

FB: There are a lot of things. You know, as a player you play, you enjoy the game, but when you are a coach... you know as a player, you cannot see the role of the coach the same way. The role of the coach, it’s huge, you know, there are a lot of things around, there are a lot of tasks and responsibilities. But when you are not a coach, you cannot know the role and responsibilities. So, I wish I could have known before what the role of the coach was – “Why did they do that? And why they didn’t do that?”

B&RU: It’s one of those things you never know till you’re in it?

FB: (laughs) Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. You know, you’re familiar but just with the idea.

B&RU: Fred, which coach or coaches over your career had the biggest impact on you as a player and now as a coach? Whose ideology or philosophy do you take forward with you?

FB: I would say all of them. Some coaches, I took the good things, and also the bad things, from each of them. Because I know what they did well is something that I can do also with my team right now and when they did something bad, it’s something that I shouldn’t do with my team, you know? So, they all helped me in a different way. I also came from a different culture, a different philosophy, different club, different country. So, they all have differences. If I had to choose one coach who really helped me, to push me in that way... I will say Patrick Vieira, at that time, was a very good coach. I learned a lot with him. He had a lot of knowledge on the tactical side, everything on the field. I had another coach who just passed away, Emmanuel Abreu, a Portuguese guy that I had in France; he passed away a few weeks ago. And he was also the coach who gave me the desire to be a coach. The way he was with the players was amazing. He was very close to the players, and all the time you played, you played for you, but you played also for him. Every time we scored, we went to the bench to enjoy the time with him, because we played also for him. Everything he brought to the team, to the players, was unbelievable. So, if I can take a little bit from all the coaches that I had, at that time, during my career, a little bit of the good things from all of them, because they are all different, it’s the best way for me to be a good coach. And also remembering the bad things from them, will help me to avoid those kinds of mistakes.

B&RU: I’m really, sorry to hear he passed away. My condolences, that must have been very difficult.

FB: It’s very difficult because, you know, I just started my career as a coach. And I wanted him to see who I am as a coach. Because even when I was young, you know, I was the captain of my team. A lot of the time I tried to be the guy who talked in the locker room, tried to bring energy in the locker room, tried to push my teammates and tried to win games. And it was at that time, I remember, I was home and he said, “Fred, I hope you’re going to be a coach at the end of your career because you are a leader, you lead the team.” And now I’m coach, but he didn’t see the work. He did a see a little bit of the work that I did with Loudoun. I received a lot of calls from him. And he said, “Yeah, good job.” But now, I would like to show him what I can do. You know, and it’s the same with Christian Lattanzio, for example, the assistant coach* for Charlotte right now. He helped me a lot, you know, he was very close to me. We still have a good relationship. And all the time, he says, “Fred, if you need something, just let me know. I’m here for you.” And this kind of person pushed me in the right way. They know who I am. They know what I can do. And for them, I will do the job.

B&RU: That’s incredible. Is there any particular moment or experience you’ve had over the course of your career that really influenced you a lot and gave you some direction?

FB: Yeah, if you come back to my career as a soccer player, I came from a difficult situation. Nothing was peak in my life. No, nothing was peak in my life as a player. And I worked very hard to get what I have right now, what I had as a soccer player and what I have right now as a coach. I didn’t have a lot of quality. But I worked, worked, worked very hard to get something decent. I remember I talked a few weeks ago with my friends in France that I haven’t spoken to in a long time. At that time, I was the youngest in the group of friends and I was the worst player. And all the time they loved- you know, because I couldn’t get the ball and score or juggle with the ball - to yell at me. And you know I said, “those guys are laughing, but I’m going to show them that I’m going to be the best.” And we talked about it. They said, “Fred, you are right. You came, you were terrible. You couldn’t pass the ball, and nobody wanted you on the team. And you made your way in the end. You are a U.S. professional soccer player. Now you had your career and we had nothing.” We were a small group of 10 players. So yeah, like I said, I had nothing, but I worked to get something decent. No quality, or just a little bit, but the rest was the determination, the desire, the patience, and the work. And I’m going to try to do the same as a coach. Because without work, you have nothing.

B&RU: That’s incredible advice to get. None of those friends ever went professional? You’re the only one?

FB: I’m the only one.

B&RU: What is the most ambitious career goal that you have now?

FB: I had a very good professional career as a soccer player, a career that I didn’t expect. And I had a good finish to my story, I came here to play with New York City FC, with a lot of very good, famous players. I came here to D.C., to the capital, and played four very good years here. I had a very good career as a soccer player. Of course, you can do better, but you can do worse, so I’m very pleased with mine. As a coach, I already talked about that. It’s only the beginning but I want to be one of the best. And I put the bar high because if you don’t put a good challenge ahead, you’re gonna stagnate, you know? You won’t move up. My goal is to be one of the best and be a head coach somewhere with a good team. These are my goals. So now I’m very pleased to be here. I’m very thankful. I really appreciate the support of the club, the support of Chad, and the trust they have in me. And I’m going to do my best to help the club, to help the team, and to develop myself as a coach.

B&RU: I have no doubt in my mind, that you’re going to make a head coach. So, I can’t wait to see it. Thank you for taking the time to talk today. I appreciate it!

FB: Thank you very much. Thank you for your time.

* At the time of publication, Christian Lattanzio has been promoted to head coach of Charlotte FC.