Sam Nicholson has emphatically backed Ian Cathro to bounce back from a chastening start to his tenure as Hearts head coach.
The winger, who has just left Tynecastle to sign for MLS side Minnesota United, struck up a strong bond with the 30-year-old while working under him in the second half of last season.
Despite a grim finish to the campaign as a team hastily assembled in January failed to gel, Nicholson is adamant that Cathro will give a true representation of his managerial abilities once he has had a full pre-season with his new-look squad.
“I felt sorry for the gaffer with all the grief he got last season,” said Nicholson. “He was absolutely fantastic with me. He knew I needed extra work done to get fit after my injury and he made sure it happened. He wanted me to play, and I appreciated that. He realised I wasn’t fit but he kept trying to play me to get me fit. If I saw the gaffer in ten years, I’d stop and speak to him. I’ve got a lot of respect for him. He did a lot for me and, in my opinion, he’ll be a success at Hearts.
“He’s a strong-willed person. People jump on what he says, but I think a lot of what he says is misconstrued. I think he’s brilliant. Coaching-wise, he’s fantastic. I don’t know a lot about management, but as a player, you can read a coach or manager and suss them out, and I think he’s definitely got what it takes. With the right players in this summer, he’ll have a good season. He’ll turn it round, 100 per cent.”
Nicholson dismisses the suggestion that last season’s Hearts squad weren’t playing for Cathro as they won only two of their closing 16 games of the season and limped to a fifth-place finish. “I don’t think the players doubted the gaffer last season,” he said. “I just think we got in a rut, where we were getting beat every week. It’s like when you’re winning every week, it’s easier to keep winning. When you’re getting beat every week, it’s hard to get out of it. We tried to dig deep but because we were in such a hole, it got really hard.
“It was never a case of us not trying. People were saying we weren’t trying because the club means so much to them, and it’s understandable, but we were trying. We all get our GPS and all the technology that measures how far you’ve run and your heart rate and things like that, and everyone was higher than ever under Ian.
“When the team gets beat, it can look like people are not trying. But I can assure you that, if you’ve got guys like Prince Buaben or Don Cowie in your team, there’ll always be people trying regardless of what the score is. A lot of the time, little things happened in games that went against us.
“There were so many new boys as well coming into a new environment. If we had a month’s straight pre-season with that team, I think we’d have done a lot better. The only time we really had a chance to properly get to know how everyone played was in the actual games, which is not ideal. You saw glimpses of how we could play under Ian against the likes of Rangers and Motherwell. We were on fire – it’s the best football I can remember us playing for a long time. But losing to Hibs at Easter Road was a killer for us. We never really recovered from that.”