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NEVIN: THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED

9 April 2014

Paul Nevin will assist Neil Adams with first-team coaching duties for the remainder of the season. Nevin's story was profiled recently in 'The Canary' magazine.

Neil Adams announced on Monday that City academy coaches Paul Nevin and Mark Robson would join him as First Team Coaches for the remainder of the 2013-14 Premier League season. 

Nevin is as well-travelled an English professional as you are likely to meet and he has seen his footballing journey take him from a youth career at Shrewsbury Town, to the United States, to Australia & New Zealand, to the famous ASPIRE Academy in Doha, Qatar and beyond. 

The following story is an excerpt from the most recent issue of 'The Canary' magazine released in March 2013.

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If the English Premier League is seen as a magnet for the best on-pitch talent in international football – the same can be said of its allure for the world’s most successful coaches. The Premier League playing field is a veritable battleground for the best, and most cutting-edge tactics and sporting philosophies from around the world. Wenger, Benitez, Mourinho and countless others have challenged footballing standards in England – drawing on a vast array of international experience en-route to producing impressive results.

In the case of Norwich City, an injection of international expertise has arrived, somewhat ironically, courtesy of an Englishman – namely via at the appointment of Paul Nevin as Head of Coaching at the club’s Colney-based Academy.

To say that Nevin is well-travelled is an understatement. The man charged with ensuring that City’s Academy is operating with a ‘unified’ coaching and development ethos has played and worked in football in virtually every corner of the globe.

Nevin’s playing career began as a youth player at Shrewsbury Town, before a performance as part of an England Schoolboys Under-18 side caught the eye of scouts from America and sent his career veering in an unusual direction for an English player. Nevin signed on for a full scholarship to play four seasons for the University of Evansville in Indiana.

While the American collegiate soccer league (known Stateside as the NCAA) is not typically noted for the technical finesse of its players, it is certainly an environment where all notions of peak performance, in a wider sporting sense, are wholeheartedly embraced. Indeed the training and development resources afforded to even some of the smaller athletic programs in the American college system would dwarf those of many lower league professional clubs in the UK. And in an Evansville program where Nevin, alongside the likes of future professionals David Weir, formed a core of players with proven technical pedigree, the environment proved an influential learning space, and a springboard for the young player’s return to professional football in England with Carlisle United and Yeovil Town.

“A lot of people would look at a move from Shrewsbury Town to an American college as a step down,” Nevin told The Canary in a sit-down interview at Colney.

“But it opened my eyes to a lot of new things, particularly in the field of sport science.” And, he importantly added: “I think that’s where I caught the travel bug.”

Upon Nevin’s return to England and league football with Carlisle and Yeovil, his playing career was unfortunately cut short due to injury. But where footballers with perhaps less life experience would have struggled to cope with the end of a playing career, he immediately shifted gears.

Having already dipped his toes in coaching while still a player at Yeovil, Nevin took the decision to step away from football entirely – instead enlisting himself as a social worker assisting troubled youths on the outskirts of London.

“I was working in Putney and Wandsworth with teenagers who had experienced abused and were dealing with low self esteem,” Nevin told us.

“The whole social work thing really helped to improve my counselling skills and my ability to listen and have empathy for young people. That’s been a very important part of my development.

While continuing his work outside of the game – an opportunity for a part-time return to football opened up as Nevin was offered a position in the academy at Fulham FC. Nevin would go on to spend eight years at the club eventually found himself heavily involved with Fulham’s reserve team and even the first team.

Then, once more, Nevin was lured overseas.

Stepping into the breach during a time of financial crisis for the now-defunct New Zeland Knights of the Australia A-League, Nevin took the head coaching job during the club’s final season.

“The team I was working for were in some serious financial trouble, but having the ego of a young coach, I stepped into the situation and decided to give it a go,” he said.

“It was a difficult time, and at the end of that season the club actually folded because of its finances, but the amount I learnt in that short period was immense.”

After remaining in Australia and New Zealand for another year in a coaching development role, Nevin opted once more to challenge himself in a way that few of his English peers have done, this time signing on as a youth coach at a facility in Doha, Qatar known as the ASPIRE Academy.

Noted as one of the best-resourced sports development facilities in the world, Nevin worked at ASPIRE as a coach for Qatar’s junior national teams.

“My time in Qatar was another eye-opener,” said Nevin.

“Players from that part of the world obviously have a very different mentality than young English players, and I think learning to understand them has proven to be another important step in my development.”

In the end, Nevin’s five years in Doha capped off an international footballing odyssey that saw him travel from England, to America, to Australia and New Zealand, and onwards to Qatar – with stops in China and Brazil along the way. With such a breadth of international experience, and pertinently, a thorough understanding of a number of different footballing philosophies,  it is perhaps no surprise that Nevin has settled into his role as Norwich City’s ‘coach of the coaches’ with relative ease.

As alluded to earlier in the piece, Nevin’s number one priority during his first season here at Norwich City is to ensure that all of the staff tasked with player development are reading from the same hymn sheet.

“It’s about making sure there is a pathway for the players and removing as many obstacles as we can on their journeys,” he said about his role at the Club.

A large part of Nevin’s nurturing of the coaches is also to ensure that ‘The Norwich Way’ is being definitively instilled in the players by those assisting them on their developmental journeys.

He described the club’s technical ethos as follows: “We want to be playing through the thirds with a technical style.”

“It’s about giving the opportunity to the technical players. Players who can play well under pressure and who will look to get on the ball, even in tight situations. That begins right form our foundation phase. That being said – we don’t want to maintain possession just for the sake of it. We want there to be a purpose to our play.

Having been at the club for nearly 9 months now since joining in July following his time in Doha, Nevin pointed to the club’s ‘good values’ as its defining feature compared to some of the other stops on his road for Norfolk.

“Every time you hear the club mentioned, Norwich City is mentioned as a ‘good’ club’,” he said.

“You hear it from coaches, from previous managers. A lot of people in the game look at Norwich as a well-run club. This club is about people, and I believe coaching is about people. There is a real unity here. Of course we look at football as team sport, but we also feel the same way as a group of coaches. We believe there is a real clear focus to what we are doing across the board. “

The club’s positive social values, stemming undoubtedly from the very top, and Chris Hughton’s well-known reputation for being one of the most liked and well-respected managers in the English game – gels well with Nevin’s own coaching philosophy.

At the heart of the matter for the former social worker, is the reality that the business of developing young athletes is a people person’s craft.

“At its core, being a coach is a human experience,” he said as we concluded our interviews.

“As a coach you need to have that natural drive to keep learning and keep developing.

“As I’ve said before, you are never the finished product.”

Coming from a man who has spent much of the last 25 years experiencing the very farthest outposts in the global game of football – Nevin’s acknowledgement that there is still more to learn and experience in his own career – speaks to an outward-looking humility that has perhaps been in short supply amongst his coaching peers in the English game.
 

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