Once United and City, now Tabor – Lyndon Tomlinson: “With one eye on the future, but for now, we’re mainly putting out fires”
Photo: NK Tabor Sežana
In England, he is known as a football expert who, among other things, discovered Jude Bellingham. The story, of course, is not that simple; you don’t discover such talent just like that. But the fact is that Lyndon Tomlinson was there. Just as he was with Manchester United and Manchester City. In his career, he has worked with numerous stars, learned from many coaching giants, and collaborated with many football professionals who probably never even thought about moving to Slovenia. But Lyndon Tomlinson is here now; in Slovenia. Surprising? Definitely. With a lot of doubts and skepticism? Without a hint of doubt. Slovenians are a naturally suspicious nation. Why on earth would someone from United and City come to the 2. SNL?! But Lyndon Tomlinson is here. He has become the sporting director of Tabor, currently at the very bottom of the second-division standings.
With the football professional from England, we naturally talked about why he really came to Sežana, and, of course, asked him the question that interests everyone: how does a manager with experience from United and City plan to rescue a club that many have already written off. Football Planet visited Lyndon Tomlinson this time.
You’ve probably heard this question many times recently, but still: how is it possible that someone who worked for Manchester City and Manchester United comes to the last-placed club in the second Slovenian football league?
I could undoubtedly tell a lot about the background story of how this came about. But for now, I want to emphasize that I am very happy to be here, excited about the challenge, and hopeful that my knowledge and experience from the past will benefit Tabor.
But still: how did your collaboration with Tabor come about? Who initiated the first contact, and did it take a lot of time for you to decide to take such a, let’s call it, bold step in your career?
A few years ago, when the American ownership group approached me with a detailed project plan, I was excited about their vision and commitment. It was something I had been looking for or at least thinking about for some time. After leaving Manchester United, I briefly worked in a football management agency and found that it wasn’t for me. I enjoy working in club football, but at the same time, I was often frustrated with bureaucracy, politics, and difficulties in making decisions or establishing better processes where things could happen and progress faster, meaning we often missed or let slip away many players. Many players I watched and who were inexpensive later played at very high levels and transferred for incredible amounts. Given that, it became clear to me that I wanted to be part of a group that wants to acquire a club (and further clubs in the future), where I could be responsible for making recruitment decisions and could be brave and creative without the usual limitations I faced in previous clubs. The ownership group considered many clubs from many countries, and in the end, we settled on Tabor, which met the requirements on many levels.
Also a question that has been regularly asked lately: what will happen if Tabor drops out of the 2. SNL? Will you leave Sežana? Is your project long-term?
I am here for the long term, there is no doubt about that. I spent five years at Manchester United, and the last two moves did not work out for me personally – so this must be a success on a personal and professional level. The good thing for me was that I always wanted to have control over recruitment and scouting, both in terms of budget and decisions. If we drop out, we will sit down again and decide on the best strategy to return to the second and then to the first league. This is a much more long-term vision. We want to create our DNA and identity, and over time, we will succeed. We want to look for talented young players, develop them, and sell them. This process does not happen quickly. In the past, I often used the word ‘project,’ but now I don’t want to look at Tabor as a project. It means much more to me than that. Even if we develop and sell some players, it won’t be a disaster if we are in the third division. The club has already been in the third division and returned to the first league, so we know it is possible. Here we have resources in players, and we will continue to recruit. In addition, we must trust the process; long-term success will inevitably come. I would rather not change the timeline of our plans, and I am confident that we will stay in the 2. SNL. But if we fall, we will regroup, focus, and move on. If we stay in the 2. SNL, our plan will continue smoothly: we will invest in infrastructure, vision, and players. We want to become a first-league club again. Our mentality in everything we do, how we behave, how we set standards for players should be almost immediately like that of a first-league club.
How will you save Tabor from relegation to a lower competition level? Let’s be honest; the situation is anything but rosy.
Above all, the team will be significantly strengthened compared to the situation in June. If we had the team we had from September already back then, we definitely wouldn’t be in the position we are currently in. We have already strengthened the team a bit; some new players will come, and there will be departures as well. It is clear that there will be a different team in the spring. We are aware of the situation we are in, and we also know that we need to make up for the deficit we accumulated in the fall. Names on paper do not guarantee success, of course, but we are working hard to make our work visible on the field. We have progressed in terms of playing but also in terms of equipment, nutrition, facilities, and so on. We are gradually introducing innovations and changes, but above all, we communicate all the time. We talk every day. We have 12 final matches ahead of us, and we will do our best to win as many points as possible.
Can you tell us more about the company that joined Tabor as a business partner? What is your mission, vision, main desires, and goals?
I think an official statement about this should be coming soon. The documents are almost ready, and when everything is sealed, we will be able to talk more about it.
The transfer window is in full swing – can we expect many more changes?
Of course. But we have to be agile because we are almost at the limit regarding the number of non-European Union players. We have also faced competition for certain players from clubs like Gorica and Krka. There is still some time until the end of the transfer window, which allows for some surprises, as trading has already closed in many countries. At the end of the transfer window, we are looking at players who have something more, who are something special. We need players who can contribute to staying in the league. If we succeed, I am confident that we will compete for the top of the table with the current squad next season. At the same time, I must not forget to emphasize that we are also closely monitoring many young Slovenian players.
Are you satisfied with the working conditions you have in Sežana? The fact is that you are used to a much more organized football environment.
I would like to have some kind of a strategic department for recruiting reinforcements, like I had at Manchester United or Manchester City, and I hope that we will eventually establish a network of scouts, which would allow us to be at the forefront in this regard in Slovenia. Knowing our own market will be crucial and will give us the knowledge and tools to be smart in recruitment. We need to add new layers to Tabor. Money will not quickly solve the problem, but the right investments in people (staff and players) and infrastructure will facilitate our growth. If you look at the changes happening now at Manchester United with Radcliff and Ineos, I would have given everything for that when I was there – football success before finances. However, we know that this will not enable Tabor’s survival and prosperity. We need to balance the books, be sustainably oriented, work harder and smarter. We want to provide a good product on the field and outside it, which our fans can be proud of, be prudent in recruitment and development, and player sales. This will not happen overnight, but we are striving for it. Every day, we raise the standards, and step by step, we will progress.
Do the experiences you gained from working for such prestigious clubs like United and City help you a lot in your work in Slovenia? Or is it such a different environment that it doesn’t count for much?
In the long term, it will be very helpful. With one eye, we look to the future, where we want to go and what we want to achieve. But right now, if I’m honest, we are putting out some fires. In the short term, this can help us in recruiting some players who had great potential and want to return to the level they played at. I can tell you that we have some incredible talents from the 2007, 2008, and 2009 age groups who will be part of the FMCF group and Tabor members. We will have a fantastic structure and strategy, and over time, the conditions that match it. But now the reality is in front of us – 12 games to stay in the league. This is a new challenge for me, and I know that in five years, we will be in a completely different position. But first, we have to overcome some short-term obstacles.
What are your first impressions after coming to Slovenia? We’re asking about the quality of football, although it’s true that for now, you can mostly comment based on your club. Did you expect more? Or were you surprised by the level of quality?
The first impression is that the clubs at the top of the Prva Liga Telemach – Celje, Maribor, and Olimpija – are doing things well. But they also have competitive budgets compared to us. We are just at the beginning, and things will grow organically. Yes, there are days when I look and realize that there is still a lot of work ahead of us, both on the field and off it. Just our position in the league is the first thing people look at, so we knew we had to improve, and we must continue to strive for daily improvements. But for the same reason, every day, I observe players with our first team, such as Vrabec, Vuleta, Benali, Kalšek, and Pavlović, and I am happy that we have some young potential players at a high level, and I hope a bright future awaits us.
Without offense, before coming to Tabor, did you actually know anything about Slovenian football?
I knew something about Maribor because in 2011, when I was working at Birmingham City, we played against them in the Europa League and won both matches. At that time, we still dropped out, but it was good because we saw that some good young players from the academy were starting to establish themselves. But if I’m honest: if it wasn’t for Benjamin Šeško, I’m not sure that I would have ever visited Slovenia before coming to Sežana or that I would have known much about it. I watched him play in Domžale, and I also watched him in other places. I always felt good in this country, and considering Šeško’s rise and Slovenia’s qualification for Euro 2024, I think this was the right moment for my arrival here.
At the end, a bit for fun, a bit seriously: who will win the match between Slovenia and England at Euro 2024?
Of course, England will win! But if Slovenia, together with us, advances from the group, and if Benjamin Šeško scores some goals along the way, I am sure we will all be satisfied.
This text was automatically translated using AI.