Sheffield United: Former Blade Nick Montgomery will achieve another career landmark this weekend
Nick Montgomery was preparing to spend the summer scrolling through spreadsheets and analysing databases until walking into a meeting which changed his life.
So, rather than watching Sunday's game against Brisbane Roar from the posh seats, the former Sheffield United midfielder will be pacing the technical area as Central Coast Mariners attempt to get their latest A-League campaign off to the best possible start.
"The position came about when the club brought in a new manager, Mike Mulvey, at the end of last season," Montgomery, his new assistant, said. "Soon after that, we spoke properly for the first time and instantly clicked. So when he offered me the job, because of our relationship, the timing and our views on football, it just felt right. I knew what a great opportunity it was and couldn't wait to get started."
Montgomery, who made nearly 400 appearances for United before joining the Mariners, has performed a number of different roles with the New South Wales club. Signed six years ago as a player, following over a decade at Bramall Lane, he went on to become their vice-captain, captain and, after announcing his retirement, head of football.Â
The transition from bootroom to boardroom can be difficult to handle. But, observing how the game had changed since his professional debut, Montgomery recognised that being able to organise training sessions is no longer enough to build a successful coaching career.
"After stepping down from playing professionally, I saw it as an opportunity to learn a lot that would help me in the future," he said. "I think too many players step into coaching roles straight away after playing and I've seen how hard that can be.
"I spent the last four years doing my UEFA B and A licenses, and used the time to learn the dynamics of the office and the football departments, together with coaching kids from eight years upwards, the under-23's and also first team players who didn't travel to a league game. Within 12 months, I had a good understanding of the club as a whole."
"It was quite daunting at first, becoming the head of football," Montgomery added. "Managing my time was the hardest things because, for nearly 20 years, everything had been part of a routine. I can see how so many players struggle after finishing full-time because the transition is really hard. But I kept busy, learning how to use computers for analysis, creating relationships and coaching. That worked for me.
"I also took time to build links with clubs elsewhere, including United of course, together with an academy in Vietnam where I took our under-16's to play in the opening tournament."
Montgomery still keeps abreast of events at United; a club he believes shares plenty in common with the Mariners.
"They're special," Montgomery continued. "The Mariners are a community club, just like United, and although we're one of the smallest in the league, we've been the most successful in terms of producing young players who have gone on to represent Australia.
"Back in Sheffield, I feel super proud of Kyle Walker, Harry Maguire and Gary Cahill who I played with at the Lane and have now gone on to become household names.
"At both United and the Mariners, there are people who live and breathe the club and that's so important to the DNA. It brings success and that's something Chris (Wilder) has done since becoming United manager. He's been brilliant and I try and keep in touch with him too, sending good luck messages from time to time."
Wilder might feel compelled to reciprocate this evening, following United's meeting with Derby County.
A visit to Roar, the two-time champions and three time grand finalists, represents a difficult start to the season for the Mariners who, despite having the competition's smallest budget, regard their blue collar status as a badge of honour. Usain Bolt's efforts to earn a contract with Mulvey's squad - the multiple gold medalist will sit out this weekend's contest - means the fixture is guaranteed to create headlines.Â
"It will be a real challenge as, financially, we have to keep things tight," Montgomery said. "We have a salary cap and no marquee players, unlike most of the other clubs, but you won't see us complaining.
"Mike is really experienced and I've already learned so much from him."