As the clock ticks down to the dawn of a new year, thoughts inevitably turn to the future and what 2017 might hold.
But, for former Hibs skipper Ian Murray, that’s already been done and next Wednesday he’ll be boarding a plane destined for Norway as he takes his post as right-hand man to former Easter Road team-mate Kevin Nicol, now boss of Second Division side Asker FC.
It signals the end of a year out of football for Murray – other than scouting duties for English Premiership outfit Middlesbrough – after he quit St Mirren following just six months in charge of the newly-relegated Paisley club.
If you’d asked him this time last year where his career might have taken him, the 35-year-old readily admits Norway probably wouldn’t have figured highly in his thoughts.
However, the former Rangers, Norwich and Scotland player is excited at the prospect of working with Nicol, seen as one of the up-and-coming young coaches in Norway having, in his first season, guided Asker to the Third Division title with an astonishing record of 26 games played, 24 wins, two draws and 151 goals scored.
Although news of his move was only recently announced, Murray revealed he and Nicol had been talking for a few months, the former team-mates in Scotland’s Under-16 squad having been reunited as they studied for their UEFA Pro Licence, the highest coaching certification available.
The pair met frequently throughout the course, Nicol underlining his commitment by flying back to Scotland at his own expense to do so. Murray said: “Kev and I had always known each other but not to any great level although I was probably the face he knew when he came to Hibs from Raith Rovers all those years ago.
“You lose contact with people but we ended up on the same Pro Licence course. When you are doing that you spend a lot of time with others seeing how they work and also spend a lot of time socialising and talking about different things although the discussion inevitably always turned to football.
“It just blossomed from there and perhaps Kev felt we were on the same page. It was something of a surprise when he asked me to become his assistant. If you’d asked me could I have seen myself going to Norway I would have said ‘no’, but things change very quickly in football. I’ve always wanted to work abroad but I was not sure if or when it might happen.”
Nicol, it seems, didn’t need to do much persuading, Murray also impressed by what he saw and heard during a four-day visit to Asker, a suburb of the Norwegian capital Oslo, during which he met with their sporting director and other board members before agreeing a one-year deal.
Murray, who began his managerial career with an impressive spell in charge of part-time Dumbarton before his ill-fated switch to St Mirren, gives the impression he’s not only excited but reinvigorated by the prospect even if he’ll be arriving in the middle of a Norwegian winter which will shroud the country in snow until March.
He said: “I think there is more scope for improvement over there. I don’t see much chance for progression here, I don’t think it is easy for players or managers. Do well at a Championship club and you go to another Championship club or a lower-end Premiership side. You can have success but a bad run of results and you are dropped like bomb. Everyone is under pressure to do well.
“At the moment, I think Norway will be a good environment for me. I’m going somewhere with a guy who is doing really well. He has a real drive and desire about him to keep improving, which is great.
“Asker is a very wealthy area but there’s no benefactor to come in and help the club so they are up against it a little bit. I had dinner over here with Kev last week. He’s very excited because he feels he is building a good squad and believes he can win the league and further promotion again this year which was good enough for me although there will obviously be two or three other clubs who fancy their chances.”
Murray admitted there may be a few Hibs fans who might struggle to recall Nicol’s time at Easter Road, a then highly-rated midfielder who struggled to command a regular first-team place in a three-year spell in the Capital during which he spent time on loan with Norwegian side Strømsgodset, later managed by former Celtic boss Ronny Deila.
But, he insisted, Nicol was probably always going to be up against it. He was signed by Franck Sauzee although the Frenchman had gone by the time he made his debut and Hibs still boasted the likes of Gary Smith, Gary Caldwell, Freddy Arpinon, John O’Neil, Craig Brewster, Garry O’Connor and John O’Neil with youngsters such as Derek Riordan, Steven Whittaker, Scott Brown and Kevin Thomson all waiting in the wings.
Murray said: “Kev’s probably a player Hibs fans don’t remember that well but we had a really good team and to be a young player at Easter Road at that time meant it was very hard to break in. Then you had that elite bunch just behind, so there were maybe a lot of young but good players who fell by the wayside.
“But Kev’s shown that sometimes what you see on the pitch is not what you get. Kev’s only 34 but he’s done all his badges, worked really hard and committed himself which is shown by the fact he flew back every month at his own expense to do the Pro Licence course. That shows he wants to be the best he can be.”
If Nicol’s Hibs career never took off, that loan spell with Strømsgodset sparked a love affair with Norway, the Kirkcaldy-born coach going on to play with Haugesund, Mjøndalen, Moss, Frigg and Asker before moving into management.
Murray said: “Kev’s had a decent career in Norway. Just because he didn’t do particularly well at Hibs does not map out the rest of his life. He’s been in Norway for ten or 11 years now, he speaks Norwegian, his kids are bilingual. That’s their life at the moment and, to be honest, I don’t think he has any huge aspirations to come back here. He seems to be really enjoy it.”
And Murray fully intends to do likewise while admitting that, having been a manager in his own right, being an assistant may take a little getting used to. He said: “I might have to adapt a bit but I’m sure we’ll be open with each other. We’ll have discussions about things but, like in any job, it’s the boss who makes the decisions.
“Ultimately, it is his head on the block more than mine but I am there to help him and back him up in every way I can.”
Murray will be leaving his own family behind but, with direct flights between Edinburgh and Oslo, he doesn’t anticipate any problems. He said: “Kev’s got me sorted out with an apartment right in the centre of Asker which is only 20 minutes from Oslo and then it’s something like an hour and 15 minutes on the plane so I can be back quickly if need be, while the family will also come out to visit.”
The immediate future, though, centres on preparing for the coming season. Murray said: “We have a long pre-season, 14 weeks with a ten-day training camp in Portugal in February. The club are trying to do the right things to make sure the players are prepared properly. The season then begins in April with a break in July. The league is regionalised and there are a lot of Oslo-based clubs so we don’t have a lot of travelling to do although there are a couple of plane journeys but nothing serious.”