NEW: FRANK NUTTALL INTERVIEW!
Frank Nuttall is manager of the Kenyan champions, Gor Mahia. The 46-year-old has coached across the UK, including for Rangers and the England youth teams, and has worked for the Chinese national team and Qatar under-23s. He’s also employed by FIFA to run courses across the world. Here he talks about life on the road, winning titles in Scotland, and Kenyan fan culture…
The Kenyan fans are very, very passionate. There are hordes of them outside the stadium before and after games. They lead the team bus to and from the ground, stopping the traffic, making sure the bus gets out. They’re very vocal, and very colourful. It’s an unbelievable atmosphere. But of course, if you’re not doing well, they’ll soon let you know. Thankfully I haven’t seen that yet.
Gor Mahia probably have the best support in Kenya. The stadiums are pretty full when we play – we can get between 8,000 and 10,000 in the city stadium (in Nairobi). The last couple of games we played in Kisumu at Lake Victoria (around 200 miles west of Nairobi) and there were maybe 15,000 or 16,000 there. It was packed. Outside there were maybe 10,000 who couldn’t get in. We’re also on live television most of the time, so we’re getting a huge audience. The passion is unbelievable.
I took over the Gor Mahia job from Bobby Williamson. I’d known Bobby for a number of years, from before he went out to manage Uganda (in 2008). When he moved from Gor Mahia to the Kenyan national team job (in August) he contacted me and said: “Do you fancy coming out?”
Bobby encouraged me, told me I’d enjoy it. He said: “Come for a few months. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, it’s not the end of the world.” He spoke to one or two people, and recommended me to the club. Other names were mentioned – foreign guys – but they had faith in Bobby’s judgment.
The club looked after me from the moment I arrived. The chairman, the committee, all the staff… they’ve been really supportive. They couldn’t have done more. I’ve been living in a hotel – I was due to move into Bobby’s apartment, but he hasn’t been able to move on. But the hotel suited me fine.
Bobby had the club first or second when I arrived. So it was a strong unit. The problem was, a couple of months before I arrived, of the sponsors pulled out and a lot of players left. They were down to the bare bones. Bobby didn’t tell me that before I came mind you!
The players are not millionaires, believe me. You have to make allowances for their situation – their living conditions, where they’re travelling from, how they’re travelling. So if they’re a little late for training, you make allowances. They are very focused – they want to get on, they want to progress.
From a technical point of view, they’re very good players. And from a physical point of view, they have great attributes. Quick, strong, fit. When I arrived, we played four games in ten days. And they were very hard games; the type I haven’t seen for a long time. And yet not one of them complained.
I am in the process of negotiating a new contract with Gor Mahia. If we can agree something, I’d be happy to go back. It was fantastic to win the league, and the African Champions League would be great. Part of my negotiations is, “Do we have the finances and ambition to compete, to get us to the group stages?” Because that would be a great experience.
I was a young pro at Celtic but got released in 1987. There was a lot of competition. I could have gone to other clubs, but I was disillusioned. I was 20 – there were no advisers then, no agents, so I just got on with things. Thankfully I had the grades for uni so I went down to Cardiff to study physical education at UWIC (now Cardiff Metropolitan University). Then I went to Loughborough to do a masters in sports science.
I started my coaching qualifications at uni, and by age 24 I was doing coach education for the Welsh FA. I worked with their under 14s and under 15s, I worked for the Sports Council, and I was a sports science lecturer at university. But my ambition was always to get back into full-time football.
In the 1990s, there weren’t as many possibilities. If you weren’t an established ex-pro, it was very difficult. That has changed a lot now, but then, it was much harder. To get back in, I took a job as fitness coach at West Brom (in 1998). I had no intention of being a fitness coach (long term), but it was a way in.
I found myself in a situation where I had a reputation as a good fitness coach. I was pigeon holed, and I didn’t want that. I did my A Licence at 29, and my Pro Licence by the time I was 34. So the capability (to coach more broadly) was there, but not the opportunity. I tried to keep the frustration in abeyance, tried to keep it private, and wait for the moment. But it was frustrating.
I became fitness coach at Rangers in 2004. I was brought up a Celtic supporter, I played there, and for many people it would have been difficult. But being a professional, I knew I should take it. Alec (McLeish) gave me a lot of freedom to work, and we were successful. We won the league the last game of the season, and won the League Cup. The next year we got through the Champions League group stages and came very close to knocking out Villarreal (going out on away goals).
Was it difficult beating Celtic to the league on the last game of the season? (Celtic were on course for the title but conceded two goals in the last two minutes against Motherwell). Look, I’m the sort of person who wants to win. The Celtic factor didn’t come into it. I enjoy winning football games and winning leagues. It was all about winning.
After Rangers, I went to Dubai to coach for Al Nasr, but I couldn’t settle. The family couldn’t come out and it was hard. As a family, we moved around early in my career, but it got to the point where they needed stability, especially with schooling. So they stay in Scotland, and I work around that. Football can be fickle and insecure – you could move your family to the other end of the country, and the next minute, you’re out of work.
When I came back from Dubai, I did some scouting for Middlesbrough. I also did part time work for St Mirren and the English FA (working with youth teams from under-17 to under-20) and then Gareth (Southgate) asked me to become full-time fitness coach at Middlesbrough.
I was a bit reluctant at first. I was building up contacts and life was fine, but it was a way into the Premier League. Unfortunately we were relegated, budgets were cut, and I lost my job along with six other people.
Over the past four or five years I’ve been going back and forth to China (to work as a coach for the Chinese national team and Chinese clubs). It’s good to be able to dip in and out, because that’s a completely different culture. It’s a different life, different food, everything. You’ve really got to be able to get your mind round it. You’ve really got to build relationships.
My advice to British coaches who want to work abroad? Build your network. Find your contacts. And through your work – and your character – make a good impression, so they want you back. And also, a lot of jobs I’ve taken have been a means to an end. It doesn’t have to be your dream job. It can be about development.