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The measure of Radhi Jaidi doesn’t start with his physical stature, even though at 6-foot-4, he has a commanding presence and looks every bit the “man mountain” that his former manager Sam Allardyce once called him.
His experience and foresight explain where he sits right now, as the head coach of Hartford Athletic before the club’s second USL Championship season.
Jaidi featured as a center back in two World Cups for Tunisia in 2002 and 2006. He also plied his trade at Esperance in Tunisia before moving to England to play for Allardyce at Bolton Wanderers. He later featured for Birmingham City, and, most prominently, Southampton, where he also started his coaching journey.
“I started thinking about being a coach, or maybe being somewhere else around football, three to four years before I hung up my boots,” Jaidi said.
The timeline coincides with Jaidi’s arrival at Southampton and his willingness to share his knowledge with a promising group of emerging players. Blossoming internationals such as Adam Lallana, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Morgan Schneiderlin were eager to learn, and Jaidi was happy to indulge them.
“They always gave me the opportunity to say to them, ‘OK, you need to work on this, and you need to do this,’ and those were little triggers for them to keep working on those things,” Jaidi said. “Nigel Adkins was the manager. He felt because even my feedback to him was pretty transparent and helped him, he asked if I thought of being around football players as a coach or someone like that.”
Adkins’ recognition sparked something for Jaidi.
“That’s when it struck me in my head, and I said, ‘OK, I’m going to go and start my coaching courses,’” Jaidi said. “And then from there, it built up and I started to build my process to be a coach.”
Jaidi started coaching Southampton’s U-23 side in 2017, which burnished his reputation for working with younger players and developing them for first-team roles. Now, it’s Jaidi’s turn to develop as a first-team coach.
Jaidi joined Hartford Athletic for its 2020 season as part of a potential growing partnership between his previous club and his new one. This is technically a 12-month appointment, though he doesn’t view the challenge of coaching in America’s second division or his chance at being a first-team manager through a short-term lens.
“It’s really important for me to try to implement what I’ve learned through the years,” Jaidi said.
Hartford struggled during its maiden USL Championship campaign in 2019, finishing 16th out of 17 teams in the Eastern Conference with an 8-21-5 record and a minus-31 goal differential under previous head coach Jimmy Nielsen. But 2020 is a chance to reset under Jaidi, who views Hartford as the next step in his coaching progression.
“I have the will to work with the first team, and my future objective is to be at a high level working in a first-team environment,” Jaidi said. “I think Hartford can fit perfectly into that objective in terms of the demands of the job are not just to win games but develop individuals.”
Hartford boasts several players with New England roots in its squad: Alfonso Vazquez (Windham, Conn.), Nicky Downs (Lakeville, Conn.), Mac Steeves and Harry Swartz (both from Needham, Mass.). Those players now have the chance to develop under Jaidi, who said he’s been influenced by almost every coach he has ever had.
The list includes Allardyce, Adkins and Roger Lemerre, the French coach who led Jaidi and Tunisia to the 2004 African Cup of Nations title. Lemerre also managed Tunisia at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, where Jaidi scored the equalizing goal in a 2-2 draw with Saudi Arabia.
“I think the first feeling about playing in the World Cup is to be proud of being part of that selection of players who represent the country,” said Jaidi, who made 105 appearances for Tunisia. “The meaning of the World Cup for me is beyond selection or pride, it’s a matter of my whole life.”
Jaidi said the fact that he scored a World Cup goal is something that he appreciates more with passing time.
“At that time, I didn’t realize the importance of it,” Jaidi said. “I now go back to that memory and it’s amazing to me to be on the goal sheet, scoring the goal. That was one of the triggers that helped me to love football more and stay in football as much as possible and try to be a role model for young players who are striving for their place and future.”
Jaidi wants to shape Athletic’s long-term foundation through a winning culture and player development, which he would view as his legacy.
“A legacy will stay forever,” Jaidi said.