Adrian Whitbread

Name: Adrian Whitbread
Date of birth: 22 October 1971, Epping, England
Debut: Premier League, West Ham United 0-0 Leeds United, 20 August 1994
Final game: FA Cup fourth round, West Ham United 1-1 Grimsby Town, 7 February 1996
Appearances: 14

Adrian Whitbread felt the bite of the recent cold snap more than most.

The former West Ham United defender was back at the Boleyn Ground for the New Year's Day victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers, taking time out from his job as assistant coach of the Puerto Rico national team.

Whitbread, now 39, combines the role with the same post at North American Soccer League side Puerto Rico Islanders, working under head coach and ex-Portsmouth team-mate Colin Clarke.

The pair have been working together since shortly after Whitbread left Leicester City in 2007, where he served as assistant to former West Ham midfielder Martin Allen.

"I was fortunate that my old friend Neil Sillett was working with the Puerto Rico national team and asked me to come across for three weeks all-expenses paid.

"Personally, I thought it was in the Canary Islands, but then I learned it was in the Caribbean and I went out there to work with Colin and he liked what he saw. He said 'I work with the national team and a club side called the Puerto Rico Islanders. Would you like to come out and help me?'

"I was in a situation where I had no family as such so I went over and we haven't looked back since. We've been very successful over the last three years."

Under the guidance of Whitbread and Clarke, the national team has flourished, drawing 2-2 with FIFA World Cup qualifiers Honduras and reaching the second qualifying stage of the 2010 Digicel Caribbean Cup.

While the 'Blue Hurricanes' will never win the World Cup, Whitbread said the island's football supporters had been pleased with the progress being made.

The Islanders, meanwhile, finished first and third in United Soccer League Division- the level below Major League Soccer - in 2008 and 2009 respectively. This year, the club will compete in the newly-formed North American Soccer League (NASL) - the level below Major League Soccer.

"I think we'd give a League One side a good game. I'd like to think we could push for the play-offs if we were in that division. I don't think there is much in it.

"This year, we're going to be joining the NASL and we're looking forward to it. We're going to be playing teams from across the United States, the Caribbean and Canada.

"Football over there is a totally different animal because we have to fly to every away game."

Whitbread has travelled all over the region since arriving in the Puerto Rican capital San Juan a little more than three years ago.

"I've been fortunate enough to experience so many different cultures - I've been to Argentina, Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador. It's been a fantastic adventure.

"We've had some great times, but there is more to come."

As a club, West Ham has made great strides in enhancing the club's reputation across North America in recent years, in particular with the launch of the West Ham United International Academy in 2006.

The International Academy already has a partner club on the Caribbean island of Bermuda, and Whitbread confirmed that the Hammers are becoming more and more popular on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.

"When we were in the USL, the league brought coaches across from the Premier League clubs to help out.

"I know what West Ham are about, having played for them myself, and I know all about the traditions.

"Football across North America is getting more and more serious and we see so many more players now from Europe who have gone over to play professionally.

"I can see myself that it is growing and growing. A lot of people talk about the United States not being far away from winning the World Cup and you could see in the summer that they aren't too far away.

"Hopefully, Puerto Rico aren't too far away from reaching their goals too. We've set ourselves short and mid-term goals. We are looking at things like playing in the Olympic Games.

"While playing in the World Cup is some way away, we look at the other teams playing in the Digicel Caribbean Cup and the qualifiers and it is something that is attainable. If we get it right, we won't be far away."

Before embarking on his coaching career, Whitbread spent two seasons at the Boleyn Ground, making 14 first-team appearances.

"I didn't play as many games as I'd have liked to because of injuries. Before I came to West Ham I was used to playing regularly. I wasn't used to playing reserve-team football, but I sat it out. At the time, Alvin Martin and Stevie Potts were still around, Rio Ferdinand was coming through and Slaven Bilic and Marc Rieper were also here, so I was up against some strong competition.

"In those days, we had some good centre-backs."