One on one with Hearts Scottish coach Frank Elliot Nuttal

BY: Beatrice Laryea

Scottish coach Frank Elliot Nuttal joined Accra Hearts of Oak last February at a time when the Phobians were without a substantive trainer since care-taker coach Yaw Preko vacated the club in October last year.

Following his appointment, Coach Nuttal took a few steps back, observed the team under assistant coach Henry Willington before assuming full control. And since he assumed duty, the 50-yaer-old tactician has repositioned the fitness of the players and transformed the squad into a top notch team.

Despite the club's inability to win the league this season, Hearts have seen a massive rise in the performance of the players, an indication that their fitness levels are apt and their technical development, spot on thanks to Coach Nuttal and his technical staff.

Players like Thomas Abbey, Vincent Atinga, Kwame Kizito, Fatawu Mohammed and Paul Acquah, who were placed on transfer list by management at the end of last season, have suddenly become heroes under Frank Nuttal.

Nuttal's biggest achievement in  Africa was winning the Kenyan Premier League back to back with Gor Mahia FC (2014 and 2015), the second of which was achievement with an impressive all-season-long unbeaten record (24 wins and 6 draws out of 30 games).

He also won the 2015 Kenyan Super Cup and the Kenya Super 8 Cup with Gor Mahia and was named Kenyan Coach of the Year in 2015.

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Last Wednesday, the affable coach granted an interview to BEATRICE LARYEA at the club’s Secretariat at Adabraka in Accra where he talked about the secret to the transformation of his clubs, experiences and expression of the Ghana Premier League,  and family among others.

Here are excerpts of the interview.

Graphic Sports (GS): Coach Nuttal we know that Hearts did not win the league but you finished third and it is obvious there has been an improvement in the performance of your players. Congratulations!

Frank Nuttal (FN): Thank you so much. It is not easy but it is my job so we are getting there.

GS: You have been around for about eight months now so what is your impression about Ghanaians?

FN: My impression is that Ghanaians are very friendly people and they are passionate about football. You become their best friend when you win but you are not really their best friend when you lose. Thankfully this season has been good so I’ve got many friends.

GS: What accounted for that sudden transformation in your team?

FN: People tell me that but it’s difficult to compare what we have done this season so far to previous seasons because I wasn’t in Ghana. But anything we have achieved this season is based on collective effort first and foremost on the part of the players. Their attitude, desire to win and their professionalism is extremely high. I also have a very dedicated staff and myself because I am very passionate about my job. So I can say that those factors have helped us to perform at a good level this year.

GS: What is your relationship with the players?

FN: I would say we have a good working relationship. They are respectful and I am also respectful of them. I can sometimes be very friendly with them but it is not a sign of weakness.

GS: What do you tell them before the start of a match or during recess to psyche them up to perform better?

FN: We just speak about the motivation that they should keep believing in themselves and that they can be successful if they keep working hard and they listen to me. So that’s just about it.

GS: Which of the players impressed you most this season?

FN: To be honest I wouldn’t like to single out any player. As a group they have all worked hard so far. They are dedicated and focused and every one of them impressed me in different ways so there’s no one particular player that I will single out.

GS: Are you satisfied with your performance and that of your players at the end of the season?

FN: Well not really but there were a few facts that we didn’t have control over and I don’t want to go into details today. But we will review the season after the MTN FA Cup final game on Sunday and we will deal with those things.  

GS: What was your target when you assumed duty?

FN: My aim was to achieve the highest possible position in the league but when games don’t go as you expected you can never reach your target.

GS: You are aware of the incentives problems the players often encounter. Does it worry you and if it does how do you motivate them to perform better?

FN: In my job as a coach I am always concerned for my players and my staff but any such matters are addressed within the football club in a good manner so I try my best to get those issues solved.

GS: You had five of your players featuring for the national team at the just ended 2017 WAFU tournament. How does that make you feel?

FN: I was very pleased for them because it was an indication of their hard work and discipline. Hopefully we can get more of them in the national team squad in the future.

GS: What do you hope to achieve with Hearts of Oak before you part ways with the club?

FN: My priority now is preparing the team for the FA Cup final on Sunday and I don’t have any other thought as at now. But next season we want to improve on our performance.

GS: How do you see the fans of Hearts of Oak?

FN: They can be the twelfth man on the pitch so they have a role to play. Over the season they have become more positive and I hope that continues.

GS: What can you say about the board and management team of Hearts of Oak?

FN: My relationship with the board is a good one. I have good lines of communication with them. They allow me to get on with my work. They allow me to select my team and they provide me with good players as well as resources. There’s a mutual benefit for all of us so we are working as a group. The management, board, technical staff, players and other stuff we are all working to improve Hearts of Oak.

GS: If you have to change anything at your club what will it be?

FN: Nothing really.

GS: You monitored players during other clubs during the WAFU games so if you have to recruit any of them to your team which of them will it be?

FN: Hahahaha…come on I am not telling you that one. I have some players in mind but the media will be the last to know. Coaches are always looking for players that will improve their squad and so that is an ongoing process but I can’t tell you who I have spotted. The media will be the last to know what I have on my list…Hahahahahaaa

GS: Is Sunday’s the FA Cup enough compensation for the league loss?

FN: Not really because that will be disrespectful the FA Cup Committee, the sponsors and to the game itself to regard it as secondary to the league. What we have in front of us is a serious situation where we have been able to get to the cup final so we will try to get the reward by winning the cup.

GS: So how important is the FA Cup for you?

FN: It is a great opportunity to win a trophy. It is an opportunity to win another football game. It is hugely important.

GS: So will winning the FA Cup be fulfilling for you personally?

FN: Well as you get into every competition you try to win it so of course it will be a sense of fulfillment but I think what we need to do is to focus on job and not looking at the glory before you achieve it.

GS: Are you under pressure to win the trophy?

FN: I don’t regard being a football coach as pressure. Being a coach is facing the challenges and obstacles and finding solutions to those challenges. There are bigger pressures in life than being a football coach.

GS: You know there is this rivalry between Hearts and Kotoko. How are prepared are you to meet the pressure of playing Kotoko?

FN: So far our preparations are pretty good and I believe that come Sunday we will be ready for the game.

GS: Are you winning the trophy?

FN: I can’t look into the future so I can’t tell but what I can say is that we will try to get the victory.

GS: Does Tamale present a level playing ground for you and your team?

FN: Yes it’s a good stadium and a nice edifice. To be honest I don’t know why Bolga AllStars were not playing there last season because it was an opportunity for them to market the stadium. This is an opportunity again to showcase the stadium as one of the best facilities in Ghana as well as the talented players in Ghana.

GS: What is your impression of the Ghana Premier League?

FN: First of all the standard of play is good, there are well organized teams and a very competitive league but unfortunately the standard of officiating is a very wrong standard and it is a course for concern for the brand of Ghana football. I am definitely not impressed with officiating and it has to improve because there are too many negative stories that have come out about these things and it’s not good for Ghana.

GS: Talking about bad officiating, if you have to change anything in the Ghana Premier League what will it be?

FN: Standard of officiating. That’s my major worry.

GS: Aduana Stars made a complaint to the Disciplinary Committee of the GFA that you usually argue with other coaches on the touch line. How true is that?

FN: That’s their opinion. It is not accurate. That’s all I can say.

GS: What was your most difficult match last season?

FN: Every match was difficult. There was no one game that I would say was more easier than the others.

GS: What has been your biggest challenge as a football coach?

FN: The challenges come in terms of moving from country to another to work as a coach and getting to adapt to different cultures. There’s always a challenge of managing a group and getting a team to perform on a high level and delivering individually and collectively. This doesn’t change wherever you go.

GS: What has been your biggest achievement in your coaching career?

FN: As a head coach I went 48 games unbeaten in Kenya with a team called Gor Mahia and winning the league back to back in 2014 and 2015 and we got three trophies in that season. So I think for any coach to go 48 games unbeaten and to win the league unbeaten is a great achievement and I am very proud about that because only a few coaches can achieve that.

GS: Talking about Gor Mahia and other Africa clubs what experiences and fond memories do you have of coaching in Africa?

FN: The fans. When they are on your side it’s fantastic. In Ghana the fans are very similar to those in Gor Mahia and Zamalek. They are very passionate and lovely people. They are very friendly, especially when you are winning.

GS: What are your highs and lows in your career?

FN: My highs are winning football games and low is losing. Had it not been for bad decisions taken during games I would have a lot of high moments this season. We lost games were we could have at least won a point was worrying.

GS: Tell us about your family

FN: I am married with two children. My daughter is 19-years old and he is at the university but my son is 17 and he is also in school but my wife is a primary school teacher in Scotland. Due of their education situation I can’t bring them here to stay. They may come on vacation when it is possible.

GS: How about your education?

FN: I have a UEFA Pro License which is Level five highest Europeam coaching. I have a Master’s Degree in Sports Science as well as a Post graduate Degree in Physical Education

GS: How do you spend your leisure time?

FN: Watching DVDs on football games and catching up with my family on the internet.

GS: We wish you all the best in your endeavours.

FN: Thank you very much!