Opinion: No middle ground with Ian Cathro

© GettyIan Cathro.
Ian Cathro.

There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.

Start a conversation about Ian Cathro and invariably he’ll either be spoken about as one of Scotland’s most innovative football thinkers or a laptop-and-cones man who has been promoted above his capabilities and will be found out if and when he gets a first team manager’s job.

Few divide opinion like the Dundonian, who started to make a name for himself as a coach not long after turning 20.

A story which is doing the rounds perfectly captures the Grand Canyon that exists between those in Camp Cathro and Team Traditionalist.

It goes back to the days when he was said to be coaching a young team and they won a late penalty, which was set to settle a game that was being drawn.

As the lad approaches the penalty spot, according to the tale, a Cathro shout from the sidelines suggests that he should challenge himself by taking the kick with his weaker foot.

This yarn recalls that another coach’s voice from pitchside tells him to do no such thing and just bury the ball in the back of the net, which is what happens.

Craig Levein was supposed to have been watching and thought, ‘he’ll do for me’.

Now, the above probably didn’t happen or, if it did, has grown so many arms and legs that it bears no real resemblance to the actual events.

But, looking back at how Cathro has spoken about football down the years, it doesn’t seem totally implausible that he could make an instruction of this kind.

Anyway, it isn’t the story itself, urban myth or otherwise, that’s the most interesting bit. It’s the reaction it gets when it’s told, which brings us back to the divergence of opinion.

Some react with horror and others love the idea that an effort was being made to test a youngster’s skill-set in a pressurised situation.

You only needed to listen to a worked-up Stephen Craigan making his point about Cathro on BT Sport before the Hearts v Rangers game to realise that there will be plenty of people rolling their eyes and saying ‘I told you so’ if it all goes horribly wrong at Tynecastle, or wherever Cathro ends up getting his big chance as head coach.

‘Let’s see what he’s made of’ was the gist of it. And, cynicism was the sub-text.

The middle ground that doesn’t seem to exist when Cathro is spoken about will have to be found when he is his own man, though.

Players will need to cast aside their ‘show us your medals’ instincts and he will have to realise that pragmatism is at times more important than philosophy.

Surely working with Rafa Benitez – nobody’s idea of a football evangelical – will have nailed home that point. Gain the respect of his dressing room and he has a chance.

Cathro clearly has genuine assets – you don’t work for the people and clubs he has without them – and I hope he proves a success. Scottish football should be a broad church.

And for what it’s worth, I quite like the idea of the wrong-foot penalty taker. Not that I expect Jamie Walker to be asked to dispatch one at Tynecastle with his left.

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