Taking Flight: Riedoh Berdien, SA’s sought-after specialist coach

Apart from working with Banyana, Riedoh Berdien also works with several African teams. Picture: Sydney Mahlangu / BackpagePix
Apart from working with Banyana, Riedoh Berdien also works with several African teams. Picture: Sydney Mahlangu / BackpagePix

He is one of South Africa’s most highly qualified specialist coaches, yet not much is known about Riedoh Berdien. Daniel Mothowagae speaks with the Capetonian whose expertise has been sought-after for years in six countries on three continents.

You have worked with several PSL clubs before, yet not much is known about you. Take us through your journey.

I have been in the football conditioning industry for more than 12 years. It all started at the Bloemfontein Celtic Academy under then youth head coach David Modise before I progressed to the senior team.

A major transformation in my career happened when a dynamic international sport company, Simsport International, directed by my footballing mentor Rasthoem Simons [a Fifa-accredited agent], started bringing international sporting projects to South Africa.

In 2006, I found myself at the famous Bolton Wanderers Academy in the UK, headed by Dave Bailey and Sam Allardyce. On my return home, I joined Free State Stars, which was then coached by Steve Komphela and Themba Sithole. After being away from Cape Town for so long, I was approached by Chippa Mpengesi when he started Chippa United, which was then campaigning in the second division [the Vodacom League in 2010].

From there on, the national teams started to show interest in my services. In 2012, I was approached by the Botswana senior men’s national team head coach Stanley Tshosane to assist them during their Afcon campaign.

Who do you work for now?

Currently, I am the strength and conditioning coach for Banyana Banyana under Desiree Ellis, as well as for the Gambian senior men’s national team coached by Tom Saintfiet.

I have worked with a number of national teams in their continental campaigns – Bangladesh in the Asian Cup; Trinidad and Tobago in the Concacaf, Gold Cup and World Cup; as well as Afcon campaigns with Togo, Gambia and Banyana.

What do you like about your job and would you say it is the best in sports?

I think football is the best job in sports. Everybody has an opinion, which is great. But the good thing about my job is helping footballers to achieve their maximum [potential] and trying to make a difference in their careers. Yes, you get to travel [a lot], meet new people and experience new football cultures, which adds to the sporting pressure, which I also enjoy.

There were rumours that coach Micho Sredojevic wanted you at Zamalek in Egypt? What happened?

Yes that’s true. Coach Micho contacted me asking if I would be interested in joining him.

Zamalek are a big club, but, honestly, it’s not a stable club or a stable country. So, at this point in my career, family stability is extremely important.

How many countries have you worked in so far and what did you learn from each?

I’m lucky and blessed enough to have worked in six countries on three different continents. I have gathered experience on the implementation of different conditioning coaching techniques and methodologies. I have also picked up a bit of French while working in the northern parts of Africa. But, as you know, football has only one language.

Despite being attached to the Gambian national men’s team, you still find time to honour Banyana call-ups. How do you manage this?

As they say, i-job i-job [a job is a job]. Assisting my country is a great honour and, luckily, the women’s Fifa break does not clash with the men’s international break. Yes, shuttling between countries does take its toll on you, but football has always been my life so one has to go with it. I am blessed to have a great management team in Simsport International, which manages my situation perfectly.

Full name: Riedoh Berdien
Date of birth: July 3 1982
Place of birth: Cape Town
Marital status: Married with three children and another one on the way

  • Fifa Women’s World Cup campaign with Banyana Banyana this year
  • Nedbank Cup winner’s medal with Free State Stars last year, as well as CAF Confederation Cup qualification
  • Qualified for Afcon 2017 with the Togo national men’s senior football team
  • Three Cosafa Women’s Championships winners’ medals with Banyana

Your CV also shows that you are a personal trainer for some top African athletes ...

I guess I must be doing something right. In Togo, a lot of their top players understood this football conditioning methodology [early in their careers].

So I was approached by Emmanuel Adebayor, Jacques-Alaixys Romao and Mathieu Dossevi, who were all playing for big European clubs such as Real Madrid, Olympique Marseille and Olympiacos. I still assist them as their online personal conditioning coach.

What do you make of the rise in the number of woman conditioning coaches in the PSL and a few in the first division?

I think this is an important and a great development. As we know, women are not really recognised enough in football. And, from a conditioning point of view, most woman trainers work in gyms [or health clubs].

I remember Elsa Storm was the only woman trainer during the old days [at Kaizer Chiefs and later at Mpumalanga Black Aces]. So it’s good to see more pushing through.

My message for aspiring football-specific conditioning coaches is that, firstly, it’s really important to understand the game. Secondly, be educated [Berdien studied exercise science at the University of Cape Town and has numerous other qualifications] by attaining your certification or degree. It’s been a long yet gratifying journey for me.

I started playing football in the domestic second and third divisions while studying. After university, I attained my coaching badges.

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