Luke Thomas-Arayo has enjoyed a rapid rise as a member of technical staff with the London City Lionesses, but his climb into the Barclays Women’s Championship represents a 15-year battle to hone his craft as a coach.
The Islington-born tactician joined London City as Development Squad Coach during the pandemic but saw his role shift quickly after former Head Coach Melissa Phillips departed to Angel City FC.
“I’ve always been a massive believer in learning being the most important thing,” explained Thomas-Arayo. “When Melissa was here, I was fortunate to be able to come in, observe first team sessions, and learn from what I saw.
“When Melissa left the Club, I was offered the opportunity to step onto the training pitch to help out in any capacity that I could – whether that was session planning or delivering parts of the practice. From there, it just developed and I was asked if I would like to join the coaching staff full-time – which is an opportunity I’m extremely thankful for.”
Thomas-Arayo was officially promoted to Interim First Team Assistant Coach duties earlier this month and experienced his senior debut away at Brisbane Road versus Tottenham Hotspur in the Vitality Women’s FA Cup. But he didn’t allow himself to be knocked off balance in the moment.
“I just wanted to make sure that I was doing everything I needed to do to help the players perform,” the 29-year-old said when asked what was in on his mind as he stepped onto the touchline in East London. “Whenever you step onto the football pitch, you need to make sure that the detail you give to the players is correct.
“It’s also important to bring the right energy. You need to instil belief and energy into them, so that they are ready to perform when they come out onto the pitch. When I stepped onto the pitch, my mindset was that I just needed to do whatever I could to help the players perform.”
Thomas-Arayo has since become a crucial member of the team at Princes Park and jumped into a leadership role while Interim Head Coach Nikita Runnacles was away on international duty with England U17s.
Still, his approach to life in the dugout remains the same thanks to two pieces of quality advice.
“I worked with an excellent basketball coach at Barking Abbey College and he has a saying that has always stuck with me,” explained Thomas-Arayo. “It’s that you always have to ‘sweep the sheds’ – which basically means you are never too big to do the small things. It’s about constantly wanting to do everything you need to do to give the players the best possible platform to perform.
“There is another one that I have as the background on my phone – which is to ‘work hard and make your art undeniable’. You may not win popularity contests year after year but people will have to respect you because the quality of your work is undeniable.”
Thomas-Arayo has made an undeniable impact at London City, with the Lionesses hurtling into the final weeks of the season with a spring in their step. And his future is bright, after a long journey to Princes Park.
“I started coaching as a 15-year-old,” the Londoner explained, “and the club I was at back then felt I could use my leadership skills with the younger age groups. And that kind of set my career progression on the path that it’s been on.
“I think the most important thing to do is to live for today but plan for five or ten years into the future. I would say that it was my plan five or ten years ago to be here, but I take each day as it comes and make sure I do the little things to make sure I end up where I want to be.
“It’s all about progress, not perfection, for me. I think as long as you continue to progress in what you want to do and you’re continually striving for perfection, you will eventually get there.”