Ian Cathro is now officially the next head coach of Heart of Midlothian. All the talk and hype will fade into the background and we’ll get the chance to see what the 30-year-old is made of.
Here is what he needs to do to ensure his first job in football management is a success.
Ignore the sceptics
Scepticism will have followed Cathro throughout his career. He will be used to the cynics, doubters and, to quote Taylor Swift, haters by now. With little playing background to speak of, in an incestuous environment, reaching the top level at such a young age is only going to attract naysayers and provoke bitterness and jealousy.
But there is a reason Cathro has found himself hyped-up and appointed head coach of one of the country’s biggest clubs. His CV is both extensive and striking. He has framework supported by innovation, hard work and first-hand experience of two clubs which could fall in to the ‘basketcase’ category.
From impressing as a young coach in and around Dundee, bringing a successful coaching business in Box Soccer to fruition and gaining valuable experience in a range of roles at Dundee United, the Scottish Football Association, Rio Ave, Valencia and Newcastle United, it would be naïve to believe he is under-prepared or ignorant about what he is about to face in his first management role.
Ignore the sceptics, just keeping working hard and he will give himself and his new club every chance of success.
Take inspiration from Neilson’s last game in charge
When swatting up on his new team the 30-year-old could do a lot worse than watch the recent victory over Rangers. The folkloric Tynecastle atmosphere made a reappearance.
Rather than groans and frustration there was backing and noise. The vibrancy was helped by the opponents and the game being under the floodlights. But what gets the crowd going more than anything is a positive and energetic performance.
There are few things Hearts fans respond more to than a high-tempo approach; pressing high up the pitch, putting the opposition under constant pressure. We are yet to really know what Cathro’s doctrine is but his evolution as a coach suggests it will be proactive rather than reactive, progressive rather than conservative.
That will music to fans’ ears. No matter the opposition, no matter the venue, fans want to see Hearts take the game to their opponents and play on the front foot with intensity.
Sterile possession is a big no-no. Ambition is a big yes-yes.
Fix the away form
There are two different Heart of Midlothian Football Clubs. The one which plays at Tynecastle and the one which mutates when it ventures outside of EH11. Yet, instead of becoming a superior being like Logan becoming Wolverine, Hearts are more Color Kid (has the ability to change the colour of anything – great if you are redecorating).
From the start of the 1996-1997 season Hearts have played 383 away league games. Of those 383, 123 have been won giving a win percentage of 32.1 per cent. Those numbers are boosted by the 14 away wins on the way to winning the Championship. Hearts have never managed more than nine top-flight away wins outside Gorgie in that time. The last time that was achieved in the top tier was in the 1991-1992 season.
This isn’t a problem created by one manager. It is an ingrained problem. An issue which most, if not all, clubs outside the Old Firm suffer. But it should be a whole lot better for a club of Hearts’ stature.
For some reason the team rarely play with the same intensity, ambition and belief as they do at Tynecastle. Away games are to endured rather than enjoyed. It shouldn’t be that way.
If Cathro can get Hearts playing as well away from home as at home, or even just make the team harder to beat on the road, the club will fancy their chances of winning the battle for runners-up spot.
Relate to the fans
In Germany they are labelled ‘Menschenfanger’. Jurgen Klopp was awarded such a sobriquet. The term is given to those who appeal to people’s emotions through their passion and eloquence.
Hearts fans want a man in the dugout they can relate to, someone who ‘gets it’ and ‘gets Hearts’. As far as the players go, the importance of a bawling and energetic coach on the sidelines is negligible. But fans, especially those at Tynecastle, give credence to such figureheads. They want to see a boisterous figure, passionate, someone who will stand up for the club in the Jurgen Klopp and Antonio Conte mould rather than the Louis Van Gaal and Carlo Ancelotti mould.
It is one of the reasons an element did not take to Robbie Neilson - as they accused of being indifferent - but did to the likes of Gary Locke and Csaba Laszlo. The former led the club to 10th and 12th placed finishes, while the latter’s football was often soporific.
It may be no more than cosmetics but Cathro could score an early victory by replicating the fans’ passion on the sidelines.
Be his own man
Cathro is in a fortunate position that Hearts have never been more stable off the pitch. Work has started on a new main stand, positive financial figures have been recorded and the new Oriam training facility is one of the most advanced in the United Kingdom. Then there is the support of the Foundation of Hearts and Ann Budge, plus sell-out clubs and a friendly face in Craig Levein.
On the field Cathro will be walking into a dressing room with a competitive squad; one which is young and fit with the quality of Callum Paterson, John Souttar, Arnaud Djoum, Sam Nicholson and Jamie Walker. It really is an attractive position.
There is little need for a revamp or revolution. However, Cathro should not let all that dissuade him from being his own man. Through his evaluation of the squad and club, if he feels that something needs tweaked, changed or altered he should do it.
He is now the boss. He has been spoken about A LOT. The interest in him will be intense from all around Scottish football. So if he is to succeed or falter he needs to do it on his own terms, his own decisions.
It would be foolish not to consult Levein and get his mentor’s input, but he needs to make sure that any decision he makes he is comfortable with. Second-guess and question your choices, that’s other words for being thorough, but make sure that the final decision is one you would make again and again.
The last thing he wants to do is allow himself to be influenced. That will only lead to regrets. If he is to fall on a sword, he needs to make sure it is his own.