Interview: New Wolves assistant Ian Cathro on why he and Nuno just click
On the face of it, a 32-year-old coach from Dundee with no top level playing experience wouldn’t have too much in common with a 44-year-old Portuguese ex-Porto goalkeeper.
But scratch beneath the surface and it’s absolutely no surprise that Ian Cathro has again teamed up with Nuno Espirito Santo as his assistant at Wolverhampton Wanderers, writes Tim Spiers.
The pair are intrinsically linked by an idea, a notion, a philosophy, on how football should be played.
It transcends languages, countries and leagues. And it means that Wolves were the only club Cathro, who was Nuno’s assistant at Valencia at Rio Ave, would have joined as a coach after a disappointing stint as boss at Hearts in 2016/17 led him to take a year out of the game.
They met at a Scottish FA coaching course in 2009 and five years later were together in the dugout at the Mestalla, but Cathro admits you wouldn’t necessarily place him together with Nuno.
“You wouldn’t at first!” he told the Express & Star. “But once that happened then it became normal.
“We’re linked by the way that we see football, not just how it’s played but the way it’s played based on that being what makes us most likely to win.
“It’s not a materialistic or superficial thing because it looks nice –it’s because we believe that’s the best way of getting the team the most probability of being in control of the game and winning.
“In the vast majority of cases it transcends countries and leagues, although there are always small adjustments that need to be made.
“You have to go with what you believe in. That’s the only way you can convince people to come with you.”
It certainly bred success at Rio Ave, the small Portuguese club that Nuno and Cathro guided to Europe for the first time in its history.
A fourth-placed finish at Valencia followed before Cathro left to work with Steve McClaren at Newcastle United in the Premier League. When McClaren exited St James’ Park, successor Rafa Benitez kept Cathro on.
That ill-fated seven-month stint as boss at Hearts followed until August last year.
Cathro, who was a footballer at youth level in Scotland before soon turning to coaching, said last year he would have been treated differently at Hearts if he’d ‘played for a division two team for 10 years’.
Between that chastening experience and now, he pored over his Hearts experiences in detail...and also became a Wolves fan, willing on his friends Nuno et a to lead Wolves to the Premier League.
Richer for his experiences, Cathro has now joined Nuno and his backroom team once again.
It’s not taken him long to settle in.
“We all stayed in touch,” he said. “A lot of things happened, there were different opportunities but I wanted to be here to be with people I believe it, with a head coach who if he’s not already regarded as one of the top, will without doubt become one of the top.
“They’re staff I know and trust and believe in.
“I’m happy and excited to work with people who believe in the same ideas of football and working that I do.
“There’s no issue in terms of settling in. Everyone, myself included, has grown a bit further and improved in their own area.
“Everyone is a better version of themselves.
“I saw four or five games last season and enjoyed it, obviously because there were people’s lives who I cared about being played out on the pitch.
“I was a supporter for the majority of the season! And I enjoyed it.
“And also because of the football itself, a way of seeing the game that I enjoy and believe in and naturally I wanted to see that succeed.
“I know the hours and the work that all these guys put it to try to put that on the pitch. There was great success in how the manager, the club, the players, the city, the supporters were all connected and trust formed very quickly.
“That can be a very powerful thing in the coming months.”
Wolves supporters quickly took to Nuno and that’s no surprise to Cathro, who has seen first-hand the tried-and-trusted methods behind the success that Nuno has brought to Molineux.
Cathro believes his friend is destined to become one of the highest regarded bosses in Europe.
“The top guys reach a point where they see things really clearly and there’s very few things that could happen that would knock them off track,” he added.
“That’s something that comes from inside, from your own strength and what you commit to and are convinced of.
“Nuno has the strength of vision to go through with his own convictions.
“You live through different challenges and experiences and the important thing is you come through a stronger version of yourself.
“Sometimes experience turns into knowledge and strength.
“My Portuguese is OK, pretty good. I never lost too much of it. I spent quite a bit of time speaking Spanish – I spoke more Spanish in Newcastle than what I did in Valencia, which is a strange scenario but true!
“We spend a lot of time together, so naturally you socialise.
“It would be very difficult to work the hours that we work if you didn’t have that friendship, so it’s important.
“My history is as a coach, I’m a coach so I’ll do everything I can to help.
“If I was going to take the next step working as an assistant, this is the one place I’d work, because of how I consider the quality of Nuno and the staff.”
Cathro has penned a three-year contract at Molineux, marrying up with the three-year deals Nuno and his team signed last week to keep them with the club until 2021, with Rui Pedro Silva (assistant head coach), Rui Barbosa (goalkeeping coach), Antonio Dias (fitness coach), Joao Lapa (rehabilitation coach) and Julio Figueroa (first-team coach) all on board.
Having studied the team in great detail, Cathro knows there are big challenges ahead in the Premier League, but that Wolves – after their hugely successful 2017/18 season and with a young and developing squad – not to mention huge investment from Fosun – can be confident of a bright future.
“It’s a very genuine project with real ambitions.” Cathro added.
“You can only achieve those ambitions by focusing properly, staying humble particularly after success and knowing what the challenge is in front of you.
“And pushing yourself to improve day after day after day.
“Let’s hope it’s ready to lift off but we need to focus on the day by day.
“There’s preparation of the team, various transfer activities which every club in the world is going through.
“I think we’ve got a good period of time (between now and the start of the season), we’re already in a good position given the condition the players came back in.
“There’s a really strong base for the players individual and the collective – and the idea that exists in the football and all the good work done in the past 12 months.”
It’s clear it’s a long term project – and not just about staying in the top flight.
Cathro added: “Everything that was successful last season doesn’t change because you got to put a tick in one of the boxes.
“You have to go even deeper and harder to continue that situation, which is more difficult to do.
“There’s focus and excitement but we’re ready to support everyone in the next step, because it’s a difficult challenge.”