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The Life of a Young Football Manager: Kevin Nicholson Q&A

Fri 9th May 2014 | Football Club Management

At 27, Kevin Nicholson is the youngest professional U18s Manager/Head Coach in the country, currently with CARDIFF CITY FC.

Identified by the League Manager’s Association (LMA) as a future Manager of Premier League and Football League teams, Kevin is an exciting, vibrant and talented young manager and a forward thinking coach.

Kevin’s managerial career started in his teens and since then he has worked under and alongside famous managers including: Nigel Clough;  Paul Tisdale; Ole Gunnar Solskjer; and Malky Mackay.

Prior to Cardiff City, Nicholson was U18s Manager at Exeter City for nine months, worked at Championship side Derby County for six years and Stoke City previous to that. He joined Derby in February 2007 aged 20, and progressed through the ranks to become Academy Head Coach and Under-16s Manager.

Nicholson has developed players such as Will Hughes, Mason Bennett & Max Lowe of Derby County and Matt Grimes, Christy Pym & Matt Jay at Exeter City.

We catch up with Kevin to find out more about him, his career pathway and what he thinks of football management as a career choice.

FCB: Your CV boasts a hugely impressive range of coaching qualifications, what was it that made you decide to become a coach at such a young age?

KN: I enjoyed a bright start to my football career, having joined Derby County at the age of eight and spent eight years there as an academy player.

Following spells at Sheffield Wednesday, Rotherham United and Burton Albion, I spent a year and a half at Kidderminster Harriers before turning my focus to coaching.

When I was 18 I noticed there was a gap in the market for young coaches as managers and coaches seemed “old” so turned to coaching influenced by the new school of young managers at the time including Mourinho and Guardiola.

You are one of the first coaches to achieve FA Elite Coaches Award. What did it take to achieve this and how will it help your career?

It was an honour to be selected by the FA as one of only 16 coaches from around the country to attend the inaugural Elite Coaches Award. I graduated from the 18-month course in June 2013. The course was a fantastic experience and gave me the opportunity to learn from the best coach educators and working coaches in football, including Dick Bate, Rene Meulensteen and Sean Dyche.

Going forward in my coaching and management career the course gave me great insight and exposure into how to succeed as a coach/manager at the highest levels of the game. More importantly, it has helped me develop my blueprint – the guiding principles, values and beliefs that form my coaching, training and playing philosophies.

I believe in a TEAM APPROACH – as together everyone achieves more. I create an environment that is professional, competitive and balanced.

I want my teams to find an impressive balance between good attacking and good defending. I want them to be competent and clear of their roles and responsibilities in all four modes of the game – Defending, Offensive Transition, Attacking & Defensive Transition. Transitions are gradually becoming more vital within the game as the ball in playtime continues to increase.

The game should be played with energy to excite and with passion to produce a performance. The ball should be passed with intelligence and purpose and the team should have self-confidence and belief to be attack-minded in its approach. The way I coach influences the way we train and the way we train is the way we play. 

Who are your management heroes and the main influences in your career?

The main influences in my career to date have been Nigel Clough who I worked under at Derby County, Paul Tisdale at Exeter City and Dick Bate firstly at the FA and now at Cardiff City.

I’ve learnt a lot from all of them - about getting the right characters in the squad, being strong-minded and sticking by your beliefs, having the confidence to give young players an opportunity to play in the first team and the importance of clear and concise communication with your players.

In terms of role models, I would look up to likes of Jose Mourinho, Brendan Rodgers, Andre Villas Boas and Pep Guardiola. All are young managers who have succeeded at the highest level.

We’ve seen the pressures that manager’s face up and down the leagues and with David Moyes’ struggles at United, what do you think of the chances for young coaches making a career in the cut-throat world of football management?

Football has always been my passion – my belief is that I will one day manage a top tier side. If you are focused and are willing to make sacrifices giving 100 per cent commitment to the game – you will succeed.

My goal as a young coach is to gain as many coaching qualifications as possible. Every course I have attended has allowed me to develop new ideas and has given me the opportunity to meet other coaches and key people within the game.

Also a strong point of a young coach is ability to relate to younger players and vice versa.

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What do you think it takes to be a successful young football manager these days?

Very simply three things:

Develop and consistently evolve your coaching and man-management skills;

Understand how to Influence and motivate the players – getting the best out of all players and the team;

Play with a style and a system that suits the players and links to the strengths of the group.

You are currently in charge of Cardiff City’s U18 team, how is this going and what have you learned from your time there?

 I have had a great season in the Premier League at Cardiff City. The experience has put me in a good place to further my career in the top flight of English football.

Highlights include: guiding the U18 Team to FA Youth Cup victories against Blackburn Rovers and Oxford United - The Academy's first FA Youth Cup triumph in a home fixture since 2008 and the first time the club has progressed to the 5th Round/Last 16 of the competition in seven seasons; seven players from the U18 signing professional contracts; two impressive performances and league victories over local rivals Swansea City; top 3 League finish; and FAW Youth Cup Semi-finalists 

A lot of talk has been on the declining standard of home grown talent, do you think this is still the case and what do you think of the FA’s attempts to restructure youth football?

The FA are doing a great job, I am seeing more local boys coming through the academy at Cardiff – which is a good thing for the clubs and national teams longer term.

Do you think the Elite Player Performance Plan will make a significant difference to the standard of football England?

It’s early days yet, but the signs are positive. The plan should see an increase the number and quality of home grown players gaining professional contracts in the clubs and playing first-team football at the highest level through investment in coaching and education.

Obviously the top clubs are still at an advantage as the higher a club's category the more funding will be available to it – however the Premier League and FA are investing more central income than ever before in youth development programmes across the country.

Do you have any tips for young aspiring coaches/managers out there?

My advice is become an obsessive observer. Study football matches at all levels, all around the world, constantly seeking new ideas, tactics, styles and systems of play - I always design coaching practices and drills that replicate the ideas I see.

Whenever a coach works with his or her players or the team, their philosophy and playing beliefs should be evident and consistently communicated.

Managerial Record (U18 Football – Cardiff City, Exeter City, Derby County)

Played 64 -­‐ Won 35; Lost 19; Drawn 10; GF 159; GA 93; GD +66; Win rate 55% 

Hosted by: Aaron Gourley 

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