Ex-Hibee Kevin Nicol excelling as manager in Norway

Kevin Nicol says that he was 'too tentative' to really make an impact at Easter Road. Pic: Ian Georgeson

Kevin Nicol says that he was 'too tentative' to really make an impact at Easter Road. Pic: Ian Georgeson

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Kevin Nicol is the first to admit that as a player he never managed to fulfil his potential.

But it is that bitter disappointment that is now driving the former Hibs midfielder on as he takes his first steps into management.

And so far so good, the 33-year-old having guided Norwegian club Asker to the Third Division title – and in some style – in his first season as head coach of the Oslo-based outfit.

Twenty-six games played, 24 won, the other two drawn and an astonishing 151 goals is, as Nicol modestly put it, “a bit of a record”.

Assistant coach as Asker were relegated the previous season, club officials certainly must have seen something they liked in Nicol to promote him and charge him with the responsibility of winning 
promotion.

He said: “It was a great season, but we should never have been that position. A club of Asker’s standing should never have been in the Third Division.

“We were big favourites to go back up so it was nice to go through the season in the way we did. Any manager wants the best players, a strong squad – it makes the job that much easier – and I had that.

“We played fantastic football, we had a lot of young kids in the team and we played to a philosophy I enjoy which was important to me.

“It was a big move for the club to make me coach because I was assistant when we went down. But everyone finds their own role and it suited me, being the leader.

“I have a lot of people around me which helps. A sports director, for instance, who is responsible for contracts, although I have a say in who we sign.”

Now Nicol is determined he won’t be resting on his laurels, making regular returns to Scotland as he works towards gaining his UEFA Pro Licence which helps keep him in touch with what is going on in this country.

But, he insisted, Norway is very much home, his love affair with the Scandanavian country having begun ten years ago when, having endured an injury-ravaged season at Easter Road in Tony Mowbray’s first year in charge, he joined Stromgodset on loan.

He said: “I’d broken my left foot twice and was out for eight months. I think Tony Mowbray and Mark Venus knew an agent with contacts in Scandanavia and with summer football here it was a chance to play some football. It went quite well and I really enjoyed it.

However, Nicol’s hopes of salvaging his career in Edinburgh were wrecked as he reported back suffering from a groin injury which plagued him until his contract expired and he was released.

A short spell with Peterhead, who lost out on promotion from the Second Division in a play-off penalty shoot-out to Partick Thistle followed, and then a surprise call from a former team-mate at Stromgodset asking if I fancied a week’s trial with another club, Haugesund.

“I honestly didn’t think for one minute back then that I’d still be here in Norway. But my family and I are settled here although, in football, you never know.

“But we have long-term plans at Asker, big ambitions to get promoted in the near future to the First Division.”

And to that end, Nicol firmly believes he can use his own setbacks as a player to his benefit now having also gained playing experience with Mjondalen, Moss and Frigg.

Signed from Raith Rovers under Franck Sauzee, Nicol started just 12 games in his two-and-a-half years at Easter Road and he’s brutally candid as to why, injury apart, he didn’t play more.

He said: “I played some games but I didn’t impose myself as I should have done, that was the main problem.

“You need to have that bit extra, more self-belief and confidence. I never really got the best out of myself in games. When I look back, I can see what went wrong. I was a bit too tentative, I probably spent too much time reflecting on things.

“I didn’t really believe in myself, I didn’t have that swagger, to go and dominate games, to show what I could do in front of 20,000 people.”

Nicol also had the emergence of the likes of Kevin Thomson and Scott Brown to contend with, as he acknowledged.

He said: “Things moved on, we’d had the likes of Grant Brebner, Matty Jack and Ian Murray, but the young kids were coming through and doing really well so the manager has to go with them.

“I was two or three years older than them when I came from Raith but I played a lot of reserve games with them.

“I had played in the Scotland youth teams, but these boys had tremendous belief in themselves. They were so relaxed they just went out and played for fun. It just came naturally, whereas I used to think too much about things.

“But as you get older you get mentally stronger. I became a better player and I can bring all my experiences to bear in helping guide the young players we have here at Asker.”