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First the apprentice, now the master graduates

NO matter how you view it, these have been an extraordinary few days for the former Cathro Clinic in Dundee.

Ian Cathro's innovative coaching clinic produced a generation of talented young players. Picture: Mark Mains
Ian Cathro's innovative coaching clinic produced a generation of talented young players. Picture: Mark Mains

The star pupil was transferred from United to Sporting Lisbon for £3m, while yesterday it looked probable that the founder is to become an assistant coach at Valencia.

Ian Cathro has always thought outside the box. When Ryan Gauld and other 10-12-year-olds were attending his innovative coaching clinic he impressed on them that they should be aiming not for the top levels of Scottish football, but the very best European leagues.

Now, at the age of just 27, Cathro could be heading for Spain, while Gauld, 18, is on the far side of the Iberian Peninsula in Lisbon. There were plenty prepared to laugh at the teenage Cathro and his lofty aspirations, but the events of this week - which came as absolutely no surprise to those who know the young Dundonian well - have provided vindication if indeed it was still required.

What is nevertheless remarkable is that just over two years ago Cathro was the Scottish Football Association's regional performance coach on Tayside, and not long before that the junior academy manager at Tannadice. He had never played professional football nor coached senior players until he joined Nuno Espirito Santo's coaching team at Portuguese Primeira Liga club Rio Ave in 2012. It was also Nuno's first managerial appointment.

Nuno and his coaches left Rio Ave when their two-year contracts reached their conclusion at the end of last season. Their last match in charge of a club which has average home gates of under 2000 was the Portuguese Cup final against Benfica, and although Rio Ave lost 1-0 it was enough to get them into the Europa League for the first time.

Nuno's achievements at Rio Ave, which also included reaching last season's League Cup final (they again lost to Benfica), were expected to win him a move to Braga. The Portuguese press reported it was virtually a done deal, but then events at Valencia determined that his next destination would instead be Spain.

The catalyst was the conditional purchase of the financially troubled club by the wealthy Singapore businessman Peter Lim earlier this summer. Previously he had tried to buy Liverpool in 2010, and was also once linked with AC Milan.

It looked for a while as if the Valencia deal would collapse as well after problems arose with the purchase. To the dismay of the fans Lim pulled out and retreated to Singapore, where he was followed by the Spanish club's president, Amadeo Salvo. The purchase was salvaged when he was able to give Lim the assurances he needed to proceed.

After that events moved quickly. One of the new regime's first acts this week was to sack Juan Antonio Pizzi, the Argentine who had been appointed manager only last December. On Thursday Nuno was appointed the club's fourth manager since Mauricio Pellegrino departed near the end of 2012.

While his two years at Rio Ave suggest that the former goalkeeper can become an outstanding coach and manager, Nuno's arrival at one of the top clubs in Spain has also been facilitated by his agent, the powerful Jorge Mendes. According to reports Nuno has been given just a one-year contract, and will be under huge pressure to produce winning results quickly.

The new manager, who first met Cathro on an SFA coaching course at Largs, is likely to reassemble his Rio Ave backroom team and yesterday Cathro was said to have travelled out to Valencia with a view to taking a role at the Mestalla.

If terms are agreed, the Scot, who will be 28 on Wednesday, will have to quickly expand his linguistic skills. Two years ago he travelled out to Vila do Conde, without a word of Portuguese. He learned the language and will now have to learn Spanish.

A readiness to be adaptable, and do what it takes to achieve his ambitions, are just two of the characteristics of a young coach who is never happy in comfort zones. His elevation to the Primera Division, at an age when he would only have been approaching his best years as a player, has an element of good fortune attached to it, certainly, but it is also testament to his belief in his own abilities.

Cathro was given his opportunity in professional football by Craig Levein, who deserves credit for making it his business to find out why youth players such as Gauld and John Souttar were technically years ahead of their peers when he was manager of Dundee United.

Levein learned about the Cathro Clinic, invited the founder in for a chat, and set him on a journey which now may have Valencia as its latest destination.

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