Scottish coach Ian Cathro is currently the assistant manager to Nuno Espírito Santo at Valencia, having originally met the Portuguese coach at a Scottish FA coaching course in 2009. Previously a coach at a Scottish FA Performance School, St John's in Dundee, Cathro joined the La Liga side following a spell in Portugal as Nuno’s assistant at Rio Ave.
Ahead of taking part in the UEFA Pro Licence coaching course, Cathro took time to speak to the Scottish FA website to talk about his experiences in La Liga, youth development in Scotland and his thoughts on Ryan Gauld's move to Sporting Clube de Portugal.
How have your varied experiences so far in coaching equipped you for the demands of La Liga? What have been the biggest learning curves, surprises, differences?
The first few months in Portugal without doubt brought me the biggest challenges and learning curve that I think I may ever face - the combination of working with professional players for the first time, in a new country, new culture and without a word of Portuguese in the beginning - the experience of living through that, growing, learning and pushing through the initial stage where everything is new, different and very challenging - that in itself I would say has prepared me for most professional challenges I will face in the coming years.
How easy is it to stick to your principles and coaching ethos when you consider the quick leap from elite youth development to first-team coaching duties?
Football and everyone involved in football constantly evolves - I am not the same person or the same coach who left Scotland back in 2012, and to be candid, that was what I was searching for when deciding to leave.
For me youth development and professional competition are almost entirely different industries, but of course there are aspects of training principles that transfer from one to the other. Strangely I actually do not consider it as a quick leap, the truth is that it is something I had been naturally moving towards straight from the beginning - entirely unplanned I should add. I worked with almost the same group of kids for 5-6 years and as they improved, developed and matured, I did the same, as their training and education requirements evolved, I had to do the same in order to continue pushing their development.
On reflection, those kids are now footballers and I am now a coach.
What do you intend to glean from the Pro Licence course or in what areas do you want to develop more?
My impression is that the environment created throughout the Pro Licence course really stimulates your own thoughts on all aspects of coaching, management and leadership. Everyone comes to this course already with their own experience, achievements, views and ideas on how they will approach their work - to be challenged on these and to challenge your own thoughts and views, is a very valuable experience. I am sure everyone will leave the course feeling more prepared and with a clearer vision of how their own leadership and management will be.
Eight Scottish FA Performance School players were in the Scotland Under-15 squad to play Republic of Ireland this weekend - how would you measure the programme's progress so far after three years?
There seems to be a lot of people very keen to reach 2020 so they can have their say on the “results” of the whole performance programme - that is something I do not quite understand and would caution against this rush to reach this point to hold an evaluation, progress has to take place throughout every touch, every thought, every decision, every consequence of those decisions and throughout every training session - these are things that happen on a daily basis.
For this reason, we cannot rush ourselves through what is a daily process. The fundamental reasons behind the creation of the Performance School programme cannot be disputed.
How much pride do you take in the progress of the Dundee United players who came through your academy?
The pride is something I probably felt more at the time, during the training sessions, when the work we were all doing was working - that was when I had a sense of pride. Now the pride belongs to them, their families and the people around them, maybe later in life it will become something I feel again once we have all journeyed through our respective careers and see if we can fill a trophy room between us.
Ryan Gauld has taken a brave step forward by playing abroad: how closely do you keep in touch, how has he developed in your own mind and what can he achieve?
We keep in touch regularly - sometimes in English and sometimes in Portuguese! Just as I suggested that when I left I had to leave, I think Ryan was in the same moment, he had to leave - he needed a new environment, a new space and a sense of having more time to really prepare himself for his career - Sporting and the Portuguese Primeira Liga is the ideal environment for him to complete his preparation, development and really begin his career and arrive as a top level footballer.
When we all worked together ten years ago, I believed we could all achieve anything we desired - that has not changed.
He's been involved with the senior squad already: what encouragement does it give him but also other young players?
It seems to be part of a gradual and planned integration - which in most cases, is exactly what these young players need.
Do you believe Scottish footballers and coaches can be more open minded when it comes to playing and working abroad?
All I could say is that for me, the learning and experiences I have gained in Portugal and Spain, coupled with the personal and professional growth that I have found is something that leaves me feeling very comfortable and confident for all future challenges that lie ahead. Of course these decisions to live and work away from home are difficult, complex and completely down to each individuals moment in life, but experiencing a new culture and new football culture is something I think every player and coach would take some positive experience from.
There has been some speculated interest back home: how do you react to that and how easy/difficult do you find the media interest in your career?
It is a natural thing and something that needs understood and respected. This is our work, we are privileged to work in an industry that has a massive appeal and public interest, and subsequently there is a media component to our work. It is completely natural and with every passing day becomes more normal.
How have you settled in Spain? Valencia are a big and ambitious club: how invigorating a challenge to be at the sharp end?
Settling is not a word I would choose. I have the feeling you do not do much settling in top clubs, particularly in Spain. Everything is quite extreme here, as you live constantly 90 minutes away from massive success or the edge of crisis! That in itself brings its own lessons. This season our objective is very clear and very public - there must be Champions League football at the Mestalla next season. Everyone knows and lives it on a daily basis. It is intense but it is our reality. It is another thing that needs accepted and dealt with.
You've made no secret of your ambition to coach in your own right, how would you describe your coaching style and managerial philosophy?
Yes, at no point have I hidden that, my next step will be working as a Head Coach - of that there is no doubt. Something which I am not entirely in control of is when that happens, with which club and in which league - without those details I could not describe for you my style or philosophy. I expect to work in a way that embraces the football culture of the given club, respects and emphasises the individual qualities of the players - inside a playing structure that is built specific to achieving success in the given league. Time will tell.
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