IT IS hard to escape the irony. Three years ago Nacho Novo brought out an autobiography, the title of which riffed on the episode where he was pursued by both sides of the Old Firm when a player with Dundee.
I Said ‘No Thanks’ was the unusual title, one that seemed to delight in the choice of Rangers over Celtic that he eventually made.
It was a slightly more humble figure who presented himself at Hampden yesterday to help make the draw for the third round of the William Hill Scottish Cup. Novo, 34, is now cast in a football wilderness and desperate to avoid being forced into retirement.
He has already agreed to be the star attraction at half-term holiday Ibrox stadium tours next week, when he will discuss the part he played in great matches for Rangers. This won’t completely satisfy someone who says he finds it hard to watch games at the moment without wanting to “run down on to the pitch and score a goal”. However, it provides him with an opportunity to run into Ally McCoist, someone he says he has had trouble contacting since his return to Scotland earlier this year.
One by one yesterday, Novo picked out the names of clubs, even handing Rangers a home a draw against Airdrieonians. If only it was so easy to pick up a club in his professional car-eer. Even Rangers have said “no thanks”. Or at least that is what he assumes they have said, since he has not heard from McCoist since playing in a Legends match against Manchester United at Ibrox in May.
“You know McCoist,” Novo lamented. “It is a nightmare to get him to answer phone calls.”
So he has had to accept that his dream of a return to Rangers is over. Novo stressed that he was still in good shape. He certainly looks no different to the Nacho Novo who scored regularly for Rangers, and before that for Raith Rovers and Dundee. Since leaving Ibrox he has played in Poland and also for Huesca and Sporting Gijon in his homeland – indeed, he was playing at the Bernabeu in a league win for Gijon over then manager Jose Mourinho’s side as recently as 2011. From playing in front of 95,000 people to now training alone.
“I am starting to get bored, to be honest with you,” he said. “I can definitely do a job for someone.”
A trial period at Kilmarnock earlier this season did not result in a contract offer. He has no complaint with manager Allan Johnston, who explained to him that what he really needed was a right-sided midfielder rather than a forward. “He has been brilliant and the thing I like best about Allan is he is an honest person,” said Novo yesterday. “He is a good manager. I know it is not the best situation at Kilmarnock just now, but having been there, his training and everything is fantastic.”
However, there is definitely some dismay at the silence from McCoist. He would, of course, argue that he is under no obligation to re-sign Novo just because he is such a fans’ favourite. Indeed, it is possible to wonder whether Novo did himself more harm than good during that Legends game, when he missed several one-on-one chances and then was upstaged by McCoist, who came on and scored twice at the age of 50. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you”, seemed to be the gist of what McCoist said to Novo after that, and the Spaniard is still waiting.
“It’s a long story,” he admitted. “I always thought I would come back to Rangers and lots of things came out in the papers that McCoist wanted to speak with me but it has never happened. You have to take that as obviously they don’t want you, so that’s football.
“You don’t always get what you want and you just need to walk away and work hard.”
The rejection, he added, has “made me stronger”, and now he “wants even more now to get back on to the park and give everything for a team who wants me.
“He [McCoist] never said anything to me at all, so when that happens, you have to think about other options.
“At the Legends game he told me he might be able to bring me back here. He said he’d have a chat with me but he never spoke to me.”
So Novo remains for hire, and he was quick to assure those in attendance yesterday that he was still as fit as he always has been, while he claims to have lost none of his pace.
There was heavy poignancy attached to Novo’s appearance at Hampden Park yesterday. Requested by photographers to wander out onto the pitch, his mind could not help but flash back to 2009, when he scored the winning goal for Rangers over Falkirk in the Scottish Cup final.
It wasn’t so long ago that he was a contributor to a Rangers side expected to win major honours. Now both Novo and his former club are experiencing more trying days, although he still believes his old side have a chance to win the Scottish Cup this season, after being knocked out in emphatic style by Dundee United at the fourth-round stage last season.
“They have a bigger squad – probably the biggest after Celtic,” he said. “They’ve done very well so fark, so you never know. In the Scottish Cup there can always be a surprise because the teams are changing. There’s always a team who come into it and do well.
“I remember last year I watched Rangers against Motherwell [in the League Cup] and it was probably the best game Rangers had.
“I think the boys will really get up for it if they drew a Prem-iership club. They would want to show how big a squad they have and prove themselves.”
Novo is hopeful to be fixed up with a club by the time the next round is played, at the start of next month – perhaps he might even be participating in one of the ties.
Among the stand-out matches are Alloa Athletic hosting Highland League club Inverurie Loco Works while Raith Rovers travel to Ochilview to take on in-form League Two leaders East Stirlingshire.
There are two all Championship clashes – Queen of the South v Hamilton Accies and Dumbarton v Cowdenbeath.
Lowland League side Preston Athletic will face League One side Ayr United should they win their replay with Queen’s Park, after last weekend’s impressive 2-2 draw at Hampden Park.