Ian Cathro insists that joining Rangers when they expressed an interest in him 18 months ago would have been the wrong move for him and he is happy that he has been handed his first lead role at Hearts, a club he considers a better fit.
The Ibrox side spoke with the 30-year-old prior to appointing current manager Mark Warburton but the discussions petered out and the new Tynecastle head coach, who will take charge of a game for the first time tomorrow, sees nothing ironic in the fact that his managerial debut will be against the Ibrox club.
“It’s only a question or a point of discussion because there was a bit of press coverage on that at the time,” Cathro said of his talks with Rangers. “We’re giving it more due than what it was. There is no sense of irony around it. It was a conversation, no more than that.
“I think it was publicly documented at the time that there was a couple of meetings [with Rangers] and some chat but it wasn’t right on either side and it never happened.
“Rangers made the step that they did and so far I think they’ve done everything they were meant to do so it’s gone well. I’m not really thinking about what might have been. I don’t really know how close it was to be honest. It’s just that – both in life and work – when something feels entirely right, you know.
“There has been maybe a couple of times where I could maybe have taken that first step [into management] but it never felt like this felt like. So I can just wash everything else away and just be focused and pleased that this is the right place.”
Rangers appointed Warburton instead, but two seasons on Hearts have succeeded in luring Cathro back to Scottish football where he will now vie with the Govan outfit – amongst others – for the runners-up spot behind Celtic this season.
Having gained plaudits for his work in the world of youth coaching, at the SFA, with the first team at Rio Ave in Portugal, La Liga’s Valencia and in his last post at Newcastle United, Cathro insists the wait to gain a step up to his first head coach’s role has been worth it.
The youngest man ever to take the helm at a Scottish top flight team, many others might have found the opportunity to make that breakthrough even earlier, at a club like Rangers, too big a temptation. But Cathro is level-headed and while admitting Rangers never pursued him beyond the first couple of discussions, he says he already sensed that it wasn’t the right club, or the right time, for him.
“I wasn’t in a rush to be the youngest to do something. I was in a rush to be good at doing something. I didn’t feel like ‘it needs to be now’. It doesn’t. It needs to be right. It needs to be when I’m ready, when the people around me are ready. I’m more focused on being able to be good than being able to be first or being the youngest at something. It doesn’t really matter. This is probably the next 20 years of my life and I want that to have more goods than averages in it.”
Tomorrow’s result could have a bearing on how quickly/if ever he is able to turn around the doubters, who have greeted his arrival at Tynecastle as some kind of outlandish experiment destined to go wrong. The man who will occupy the opposition dug-out has his own critics to win over.
Hearts dominated Rangers in the recent victory at Tynecastle, in what was Robbie Neilson’s last match as Hearts head coach. It stirred the negativity around Warburton and prompted more questions about his tactics and apparent unwillingness or inability to revert to a Plan B.
But, having studied Rangers in preparation for his debut, Cathro has sympathy for his counterpart. “I think that’s slightly unfair. They have other movements, they have other ways that they can bring the ball out. The point I would probably make is that there is a clear process in the team. They have obviously done good work. It’s a well-trained team. There is more than one thing that goes on.”
Unable to predict how demonstrative he will be in the technical area claiming he tends to be a calm individual but confessing he can be “a bit mad” as well, he is passionate about winning and about the game.
Discussing his own playing philosophy, he said it is all about being flexible and players and staff having the ability to adapt to whatever demands are thrown up in any particular game.
“I see football as a whole and I’m not obsessed about it being a specific way,” he said. “It’s about having an intelligent team who knows how to feel its way through games and learning to react when games are stretched or when the game opens up for us.
“There may be things that evolve over time but it’s not a case of turning the page and it’s a completely different book because things are good here.”