Cathro helped bring through some of the most exciting Scottish talents in years while at Dundee.
There are few cities as passionate about their football as Newcastle. Every week, rain or shine, win or loss, they are there, their vociferous support reverberating around each and every corner of St James’ Park. Imagine, then, if they had one of their own to spur on from the terraces. The fact that the hotbed of North Eastern football has produced only a slight smattering of elite level footballers remains something of an enigma.
In the best part of a decade, only Andy Carroll, Paul Dummett, Tim Krul and Sammy Ameobi have made the step up from academy to consistent first-team appearances. And, even with exciting talents a la Adam Armstrong, Freddie Woodman and Alex Gilliead waiting in the wings, recent history suggests making any sort of discernible impact, let alone cementing their place in the side, won’t be an easy task.
Consequently, their albeit admirable decision to allow 30-year-old coach Ian Cathro to take on his first senior managerial role at Hearts could elicit a few rhetorical ‘what ifs’ somewhere down the line.
The Dundee-born coach was given a huge responsibility over training sessions after making an impression on Rafa Benitez, though it was his early days in his hometown club where he really made his name as one of the British game’s most intriguing young minds.
Ascending to the Head of Dundee United’s academy at the age of just 22, Cathro helped hone the talents of some of Scotland’s brightest stars. John Souttar, 99 days past his 16th birthday, became The Tangerines youngest ever first-team player. Ryan Gould, meanwhile, the so-called ‘Scottish Messi’, upped sticks for Sporting Lisbon just two years after breaking into the senior squad.
Although their careers have stalled somewhat in recent times, both owe their rapid ascent to the coaching of Cathro. Gould himself admitted to The Guardian that his former academy guru gave him the skills to succeed in the professional game. Who knows, maybe Newcastle United would finally have had their very own homegrown hero if Cathro had stuck around.
“Kids are not playing as much football,” the former Valencia coach said in quotes reported by the BBC in 2014.
“So we’re giving them back the touches they’d have got knocking the ball against a wall or playing 15-a-side with jumpers for goalposts until you were shouted at to come in for your tea or because it was dark.”
Modern insight complemented by a refreshingly old-school understanding of the spirit of the game; Newcastle should be proud of Cathro’s progress but you wonder if they will come to regret granting him his wish for a relatively early exit.