Why the Luddites are wrong about Ian Cathro

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A rebuttal to the insistence of Kris Boyd and Jamie Fullarton that ‘laptop’ coach Ian Cathro is a major gamble for Hearts, by Joel Sked

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Ian Cathro is the man Hearts want to replace Robbie Neilson.

Ian Cathro is the man Hearts want to replace Robbie Neilson.

In 1947 a United States Air Force balloon prompted much curiosity, interest and conjecture. It is still talked about today by conspiracy theorists. The incident is better known as Roswell.

Scottish football may just have its own Roswell in 2016. Instead of a balloon/UFO, we have the laptop. Such is the suspicion the device is held in some circles.

Kris Boyd is the latest to deride those that use laptops in football showing that Neo-Luddism is alive and well in Scottish football.

In his column in the Scottish Sun, Boyd belittled Cathro for his age:

“He’s probably not been this excited since FIFA 17 came out on Playstation.”

And for Cathro’s use of technology . . . in the 21st century when it has never been more pervasive in football:

“He’s one of the up-and-coming, modern-era coaches who can organise a session just by flicking open his laptop.

“There isn’t a session out there he couldn’t get on to his MacBook. But setting up a presentation to a group of players is all well and good.

“That does not require man management skills, which is part of the game he knows absolutely nothing about.”

It led to more words. Too many words. Technology won’t help him solve in-game problems and how to deal with players, apparently. He went on to question his personality and opined that if he was a Hearts fan he would be worried.

This isn’t the first time a player or ex-player with little experience of Cathro has taken to the media to question his credentials. Jamie Fullarton was on BBC Sportsound explaining his own reservations about Cathro following an encounter he had with him nine years ago. Yes, nine years ago.

Craig Fowler wrote last week that Robbie Neilson was a divisive figure among the Tynecastle support. Cathro has not even been appointed yet and he’s already proving divisive within a country that he has been away from for four years. Working in the top-flight of Portugal, Spain AND England.

Fullarton’s comments on Sportsound weren’t so much a critique as a tirade. He poured scorn on Cathro’s role at Newcastle United, making a big deal about him being Rafa Benitez’s ‘fourth man’, and how he had little influence with the first team. He was shot down by Tom English who confirmed the truth that Cathro is heavily involved with the first team on both the training ground and preparation.

Fullarton - who, following a brief spell in charge of Notts County, is now Sportsound’s doyen of coaching - then tried to move the goalposts, a task which Cathro was only good for at Newcastle if he was to be believed.

He spoke about Cathro’s personality, character and man management. Of course, any new manager is going to have these questions asked about them, especially one so young. But both Fullarton and Boyd were trying to paint a vivid picture of an introverted and peculiar character, despite their brief encounters with him.

I’m not sure it can be emphasised enough. Fullarton was basing this on a meeting with him nine years ago, when Cathro was in his early 20s. Jamie, people are capable of change. Boyd’s experience of Cathro came from a coaching course, and he tried to paint him as someone who hid behind a computer screen as if immersed in a glorious Championship Manager save.

Whatever his approach to coaching courses, it sure as hell worked for Cathro. Nuno Espírito Santo was enchanted by Cathro. When appointed Rio Ave boss, Nuno made sure to make the young coach he labelled a ‘genius’ his assistant. The duo took the team to two cup finals in one year before leading Valencia into the Champions League. It must be some laptop!

Nuno is not the only one to label Cathro a genius. Stevie Campbell, who worked above Cathro at Dundee United, was mesmerised by the way his mind worked: witnessing first hand the hard work he put in, the quality and range of ideas and sessions, and the way players responded to him.

Speaking to someone who has known Cathro for years, he is described as “driven”, “meticulous” and “single-minded”. It will be these qualities that will help him earn the respect of players. Writing off his character and man-management with flippant remarks is great for a sound bite, but they are poorly formed and underdeveloped views.

If he was unable to deal with first-team players why was he the only one kept on at Newcastle when Rafael Benitez replaced Steve McLaren? Why was he viewed as an integral cog in the success at Rio Ave and Valencia? If he was such a diffident character why has he formed lasting relationships with the likes of Ryan Gauld and John Souttar? Having moved up ages groups at United both players would often refer back to him.

It will be surprising if Cathro pays much credence to what Fullarton and Boyd say. He will be used to sceptics. After all, this is a coach who has such an unremarkable playing career behind him that it borders on non-existent. A man who turned 30 this year, he will be younger than Don Cowie.

It is clear he is idiosyncratic, but that trait has been key in his development; from the Cathro Clinic in Dundee to his pioneering Box Soccer business which is used by Hearts at youth age groups, through Dundee United, the SFA, Rio Ave, Valencia and Newcastle.

It is hard to understand someone progressing through these stages, on the verge of being appointed head coach at one of the biggest clubs in the country by a respected figure in Craig Levein, if that person has serious personality or character defects.

There is of course a difference between being a coach and being the head coach. It is a different mentality. But look at the progression he has made and obstacles he has faced and overcome, namely language barriers and convincing multi-million pound players to trust him and buy into his methods. The evidence we have at our disposal suggests he will be able to make that shift.

Is there a better place, a better grounding, to make that shift than at Tynecastle, working under his mentor Levein? There is unlikely to be conflicts within. He is coming into a job where a strong foundation is already in place. There is a youthful and malleable squad, one which he can relate to with stuff like FIFA 17 (eh Kris?). There are progressive processes in place: conditioning and intense training schedules. He needn’t worry about a major revamp, just doing what he does best and making players better.

Now is the time for him to step up into the ideal role. He could have been at Tynecastle in 2014 if Levein had his way, but continued his development in La Liga, earning those life skills that Fullarton said he apparently lacked, picking up a third language. He’s not some flash in the pan coach. He’s worked, progressed, learnt, developed and worked some more.

He has been hyped up more than all Super Sundays, Red Mondays, Special Saturdays, Tantalising Tuesdays put together. People will be lining up, waiting for him and his laptop to fail so they can laugh into their clipboards and telegrams. If he fails it won’t be because he was under-prepared. If he fails he won’t be a failure. Just as Jose Mourinho after his time at Benfica and Benitez after his spells with Valladolid and Osasuna, he’ll learn and get to work again.

While many will walk into jobs simply due to their playing career, or the jobs for the boys culture, Cathro has backed up Arrigo Sacchi’s logic that you needn’t be a horse first before becoming a jockey. He has shown that being open-minded, innovative and hard-working, seeking new challenges and broadening horizons can lead to a job with one of Scotland’s biggest clubs in an industry and environment which can at times be prehistoric in its outlook.

We are all about to find a more definitive answer to whether this laptop-coach is a balloon or the real deal.

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