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How Charlie Trout went from being a postman in Nottingham to managing Puerto Rico’s national team

Jack Kenmare

| Last updated 

How Charlie Trout went from being a postman in Nottingham to managing Puerto Rico’s national team

Every now and then, a certain American pronunciation slips through the net when Charlie Trout speaks.

For the most part, his broad East Midlands accent dominates the conversation as we chat over a Zoom call from Chicago, but after more than a decade in the States, his subtle use of the word 'soccer' feels almost illegal. "My mates from England always pick up on the way I talk nowadays," he tells SPORTbible. "It's been a while."

Born in the suburbs of Nottingham, Charlie is thousands of miles from home. He grew up on the famous Clifton Estate – an area once declared the largest council estate in Europe – with his father, a builder, and mother, who worked as a waitress.

"You would finish school, throw your bag in the house and play 50-a-side football," he says. "That was the life back then."


As he reminisces about a childhood that featured two years playing for Leeds United, who scouted Charlie playing for his local school, memories of feeling overwhelmed by the process – even though it was "only" youth football – are starting to flood back.

"My first game was against Manchester United," he recalls. "Steve Bruce's lad [Alex] played. I remember taking pictures with Steve. I was only 11. Even though I was confident within my own realm in Nottingham, I mentally struggled when I was opened up to a bigger stage.

"You're a big fish in a small pond, and then all of a sudden, you're a little fish in a very big pond. There are some mental challenges with that for an 11-year-old boy. Even teenage lads struggle with it. So that was something that I had to overcome."

And overcome he did. Fast forward to the present day and a scenario beyond his wildest dreams played out in March this year, when Charlie became one of the youngest managers in international football after being named head coach of the Puerto Rico men's national team, aged 37 years and 333 days old.


Three months on and his side, with an average age of 21.8, are just one game away from qualifying for their first-ever CONCACAF Gold Cup.

El Huracan Azul, a nickname that translates to The Blue Hurricane, secured a victory against overwhelming favourites Suriname on penalties last weekend. They will face Martinique on Tuesday night at the DRV PNK Stadium, Fort Lauderdale – a game dubbed the biggest in their history.

It has been a remarkable journey for the nation and its enigmatic head coach. Not too long ago, Charlie Trout was working as an aerobics instructor after a failed two-week stint as a postman. Now, he manages a country with a population of over 2.6 million. "My life shows you how quickly things can happen," he says. "It's just crazy."


One of Charlie Trout's earliest footballing memories involves a young Wayne Rooney.

After being approached by Leeds while playing in the Nottingham school system, he would jump on a bus outside Elland Road on a Saturday morning with his academy teammates and travel across the country to places like Liverpool and Manchester, where some of the best talents in the country would gather.


A select few that featured in those games would reach the heights of Premier League football but one player in particular stood out from the rest.

"The kids that can go into those environments and still play like they're on the street flourish," Charlie remembers. "And Rooney had that kind of mentality. That was the difference. You can have all the skill, you can have all the technique and all the intelligence, but it's that mental stability that separated him from the others."

In the coming years, that kid who grew up on a council estate in Croxteth would become Manchester United and England's all-time top goalscorer. Two years after facing Everton at youth level, that kid from the Clifton Estate decided to step away from the academy process altogether.

"I lost that love for football," he recalls. "I was just trying to deal with the pressure of it all. I decided to return to the local leagues in Nottingham, just to try and reignite that enjoyment for the game again, and it worked. A year later, Lincoln City picked me up, which was only an hour from where I lived. It was just a better fit for me.”


Believe it or not, it was here, at then-League Two side Lincoln City, where Charlie would discover his love for coaching.

Earning the nickname Chico [the Spanish word for boy] because of his youthful looks, he once tried to sneak his way into a nightclub with his teenage teammates. After taking one look at his face, the bouncer would just laugh and send him away.

It was a blessing in disguise. He couldn't go out because, in his own words, he looked like a 12-year-old child. So rather than spend the evenings drinking, Charlie decided to help out coaching the youth teams.

"I just loved football. I wanted to be around it all the time," he says. "I had some coaches that made the environment fun. And I thought, you know what, I'd love to just help train the youngsters. As a 16-year-old, I was helping out with the Centre of Excellence. They were 10/11/12-year-old's.

"I wasn't thinking about the future. It was more just being around football as much as possible. That's all my motivation was. I just loved the game so much. I mean, even now, I'm obsessed, which doesn't help sometimes with a family balance. I watch it, play it, read it. It's 24 hours a day. So anything that was football related, I was there.”

During this period, he would also find great joy in playing the popular game Championship Manager. In fact, ahead of the 2001/02 season, he became one of few people to be included in the series after Lincoln manager Alan Buckley decided to hand him an unexpected squad number.

"Buckley liked the smaller, more technical players, so I got a squad shirt early, which meant I was on the game," he smiles. "I was absolutely shocking on the game but I'd take a lower league team, stick myself straight in and see what happened. As you can imagine, I didn't win many games but it was a good laugh."

Trout spent two years at Leeds United before moving on. Image credit: Charlie Trout/Instagram
Trout spent two years at Leeds United before moving on. Image credit: Charlie Trout/Instagram

Charlie absorbed himself in all things football. For three years, all he thought about was earning a professional contract and becoming a first-team regular at Sinny Bank, so when Lincoln decided to release the midfielder at 19, his life was turned upside down. Soon, he had to ask himself a question that millions face each year – 'What are my options?'

He was offered the opportunity to play in America at a top university in Louisville but because he wanted to drop down into the lower leagues and make his way back up the English pyramid, Charlie turned down the move abroad to join Conference North side Gainsborough Trinity.

Over the next three years, he would train two times a week before playing competitively at the weekend. A full-time job, meanwhile, was a necessity to live. "I was a builder. I was a painter and decorator. I was a postman. You name it. I've done it," he says.

"I was an apprentice roofer as well. I carried tiles up and down a ladder all day. I wasn't the biggest lad so other apprentices were carrying eight tiles up a ladder and I was carrying two or three. And they were ripping me. So I'd try and do more. I nearly fell off the ladder on several occasions. It just wasn't for me."

Charlie also tried his hand at being a postman, although that only lasted for two weeks because he couldn't get his mail in on time. "I was still out there at seven o'clock at night trying to go through my round," he laughs. "I was just trying everything that could offer some kind of balance with football and then finally, believe it or not, I landed a job as an aerobics instructor."

After his sister – a dancer by trade – sent Charlie an advert in the local newspaper, she advised him to try and give it a shot.

"I turned up to the interview and I was the only male there," he says. "There were 14 women and me going for this position. And for some reason, the guy really liked that. He wanted a man to do it so I managed to land the job. For the next two years I was doing that alongside my football, which was great because I could keep myself fit. I was running two or three aerobics sessions a day."

Charlie, meanwhile, was playing some of the best football of his career. Gainsborough were also doing well at the time but a week before an FA Cup game, where he was desperate to put himself in the shop window, the aerobics instructor-turned-footballer tore his hamstring against Paul Gascoigne's Kettering Town – an injury that would rule him out for eight months.

As he reminisces about that devastating time, Charlie looks down at the ground. "At that point, I was 21," he says. "I'd lost a huge amount of speed through tearing my hamstring and I remember thinking, 'This just ain't gonna work. This journey is over'".

He enjoyed a lengthy spell at then-League Two side Lincoln City. Image credit: Stacey West
He enjoyed a lengthy spell at then-League Two side Lincoln City. Image credit: Stacey West

Many people tend to shy away from uncomfortable or unpredictable situations in life but Charlie Trout has found that they often produce the most effective results. In fact, throwing yourself into such moments is the only way to progress and grow as a coach, according to the man himself.

Take his first training session with Puerto Rico, for example. Nobody knew of his previous coaching background and his Spanish was limited, to say the least. But he tried speaking the native tongue to make a solid first impression. It was a “really uncomfortable” thing to do but he wanted to better himself; just like in the summer of 2007, when he left behind a comfortable life in the UK.

Shortly after calling it quits on his career, one of Charlie’s old college teachers invited him over to his old stomping ground Lincoln to play in an organised game. After the full-time whistle, a scout approached him and asked if he wanted to study at the University of Illinois Chicago through a full-time scholarship.

He remembers that decision-making process well. "I was 22, I had split with my girlfriend maybe six months before and was an aerobics instructor. I was just like, 'Let's just do it. Let's just have a go. If I didn’t like it then I'd just come home.’"

A midfielder by trade, Trout was a first-team regular for UIC in the Devitt NCAA Division One, which is the highest level of college football. Out of the starting 11, the team had eight or nine international players including Bosnians, Polish, Ukrainians and African; not to mention Hull-born defender Robert Younger.

He notched 12 goals and 12 assists during a three-year stay, helping UIC win the 2007 Horizon League Championship, amongst other silverware. It was the most successful era in their history across all sports but in the background, Charlie was also pursuing a career in coaching to earn some extra cash. He never looked back after that.

“I got lucky," he says. "I started coaching a new club that was in the city. Talented players from the inner city would come, and I was just trying to make a little bit of money on the side. It's not like my parents could fund me while I was here. And it's difficult to work when you're on a student visa, it was difficult to get a job, so I was just coaching.

"I spent the first two years after university trying to go professional but it just wasn't working out. My hamstring was pulling every single year. It was at that point when I thought, I want to stay in America and I really enjoy this coaching role. The team that I was working with were doing really, really well. A lot of people were watching at the time."

Chicago Fire, who currently compete in the MLS, started to take an interest in not only several players from that team but Charlie himself. "That was really where my journey started," he remembers. "I felt like I had a talent for coaching. Life can take you down different paths and my story shows you can jump into something and it changes completely. It was the best decision I ever made.”

It has been a "crazy" journey for the former Leeds youth player. Image credit: Charlie Trout/Instagram
It has been a "crazy" journey for the former Leeds youth player. Image credit: Charlie Trout/Instagram


That switch from player to full-time coach came naturally. He soon spent five years with MLS side Chicago Fire, a job which involved mentoring an U10 team for four years before passing them over to academy director Larry Sunderland, who was an important mentor throughout his time at the Fire.

"I had a great time doing it," he grins. "There's been a lot of those players that I took at the age of nine that are currently playing for the [Chicago] Fire first team, or playing in Major League Soccer, or even just playing professionally. Seeing that progression has been great.”

Fast forward another couple of years and the highly-rated coach was interviewed by some of the MLS' biggest hitters, including New York Red Bulls and Nashville SC. That being said, stability for his family was the most important factor so he remained in Chicago, despite numerous job offers.

"We were very close to moving the family but I had two daughters," he recalls. "At that time they were stable in school, so we decided as a family to not do it. If you want to go down the coaching route then you have to be willing to move every year or two.

"At that point, it was like, 'Okay, I've got to stop chasing this dream.' Because if we're not able to move the family, then what's the point? That was a really difficult time for me. Because again, you're looking to be a professional soccer player and that's changed. You're then looking to be a professional coach, and you've got to divert again. It was like, 'Okay, what do I do now? What's going to motivate me? Who is going to push me?'".

After a brief period of uncertainty, Charlie decided to link up with another young coach in the Chicago area, Oleksiy Korol, who was a product of Dynamo Kiev's academy system. They started their own supplemental training academy called Fundamental Futbol during the COVID pandemic, which sparked a surge in customers.

"High-level players come and train with us once or twice a week," he explained. "We offer training that the clubs really don't offer. It's more individualised. It was crazy because the month that I decided to do that, COVID hit. All the clubs had to shut down. Everyone was looking for individual training opportunities and it gave us a real kickstart."

On top of that, Trout stepped out of his comfort zone again and started a video analysis company. In fact, during this period, he was also working with the Puerto Rico national team after agreeing to help out then-manager Dave Sarachan, who remains a close friend.

Sarachan, a former United States assistant manager under Bruce Arena, brought Charlie into some camps to take a number of training sessions. Clearly impressed, he hired the Nottingham-born coach as his assistant before eventually moving on 18 months later.

"Dave left and they offered me the job," Charlie says. "It was an opportunity I couldn't turn down.

“Some people will say, 'Well, I didn't realise Puerto Rico had their own team because they're part of America.' But football is growing massively here. We have young, eager, committed players that have a passion for the game. And even though football in the country is not top of their list of sports. It's growing. The love is starting to get there."

Trout may be from the East Midlands but this small island in the Caribbean has become a second home. His ambition and drive to bring this nation together and realise its potential is admirable. He knew there was something special brewing when he first arrived. Now, he wants to take it to the next level – a summer in the Gold Cup.

Positive results against the British Virgin Islands, Curacao, the Cayman Islands and Suriname in their Nations League qualifiers mean they are just one game away from coming up against a Central American trio of Costa Rica, Panama, and El Salvador in Group C.

Two years ago, the 38-year-old never thought he would be in such a position.

“It's insane what’s happened in such a short space of time," he says. "You've always got to dream big because if you dream big, you think about what you're going to do, and then you're prepared. You've always got to believe that those opportunities will come and when they do – and this is the key thing – you have to be brave enough to grab it with both hands.

"And that's where a lot of people struggle. Opportunities come and there's a fear of failure. But as you will see, if you watch closely with Puerto Rico, we won't play safe. Even though I'm a newer coach; I could very easily play safe. But I think, let's do the opposite. I tell my players to be brave and really push this as far as it can go. You have to be confident in yourself to do that but you also have to be willing to fail because if not, then you're going to be afraid to make mistakes.”

Job offers will naturally come if Puerto Rico continue to impress on the international stage but for now, Charlie Trout will continue in his efforts to elevate this sport in a country that ranks football behind baseball, basketball and boxing in popularity.

"I'm working my socks off," he smiles. "Whatever I've done in my life, my attitude has always been the same. I've always wanted to be the best. I've come up short so many times, and I've come up really short. But you learn a lot about yourself through all of those failings. You have to fail to get to this point.

"I might get another international job further down the line. Who knows. It might be a club within Europe. I don't know where it's going to take me but the key thing right now is I want to do the best possible job for Puerto Rico and take them to that next level that they crave."

As we say our goodbyes ahead of arguably the most important week in Puerto Rico's history, Charlie has one last message to those who may be interested in following their journey. “I will say this to all the English people that are reading this. You haven't got a major tournament this summer so I want you to get onto the Puerto Rico bandwagon because we're going to do something special.”

Featured Image Credit: Twitter/@FPFPuertoRico

Topics: League Two, Leeds United, MLS, Major League Soccer, Wayne Rooney, Spotlight

Jack Kenmare
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