The former Sheffield United star becoming a big noise in Australia and beyond
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And yet, thanks to an antiquated rule inherited from another sport, Nick Montgomery won’t be named Australia’s soccer coach of the season. Despite, as even many of his contemporaries have pointed out, being the only real choice.
“I got sent-off from the touchline a while back, two yellow cards,” the former Sheffield United midfielder tells The Star, breaking into laughter as he explains why down the telephone. “It was ridiculous really, all I did was throw my arms up in the air after one of my lads had seen red, and the lino told the ref. I actually got an apology afterwards, because I’d not done anything wrong. Hundreds of people would be getting dismissed every single week if that was the case. But the thing is, there’s this idea that got adopted from rugby league over here which means if that happens, then you can’t get considered for the award. It is what it is.”
Banned from being considered for an honour he’d be a strong favourite to win - “A few other people in the game have messaged to tell me they think it’s a bit daft” - Montgomery will instead have to console himself with becoming the brightest young manager in a country where has now lived for 11 years. Now aged 41, and having moved Down Under after making the last of 398 appearances for United, Montgomery first joined the Mariners as a player before undertaking a job in their academy. Having proven himself adept at nurturing up-and-coming talent, he was then appointed to the club’s first team staff before taking charge at the beginning of last term.
“I think, at least I hope, people can recognise my personality in this team,” says Montgomery, the engine of the squad Neil Warnock led into the Premier League in 2006. “I used to work hard, bloody hard, and was willing to sacrifice myself for the good of the group as a whole - starting out as a bit of an attacking player and then taking up more of a defensive role.
“The lads here now, they’re bloody tough to beat. They’ve got a spirit about them which reminds me of that side we had at United which was horrible to come up against. But do you know what? We played some really good stuff too and that’s what the guys here do now. They dig in, they’re prepared to roll up their sleeves and go into the trenches for each other. But they also play really exciting and forward thinking football.”
Montgomery is becoming a big noise in coaching circles thanks to the transformative effect of his work. So too, by association, are The Mariners who have already taken points off Manchester City’s sister club in Melbourne, Brisbane Roar, Sydney FC, Perth Glory and arch-rivals Newcastle Jets since August. That has attracted scouts from some of the leading names in Europe to the Industree Group Stadium of late, with the likes of Bayern Munich, Newcastle and Heart of Midlothian all raiding Montgomery’s squad. Rather than complain, having been shaped by his experiences at United, the former Scotland under-21 international has simply doubled down on the policy of promoting from within. Given the sport’s new financial landscape, Montgomery’s ability to deliver positive results on a pittance compared to some means it can only be a matter of time before a side abroad comes calling. He appears the perfect candidate for a side which wants success but lacks the patronage of a billionaire benefactor or sovereign wealth fund.
“I took the view that we shouldn’t let what we haven’t got define us,” Montgomery continues. “Instead, let’s make a positive out of what we have got, which is a damn good youth programme. I know because I worked in it. We’ve got people wanting to join us now, who view us as the best destination, because they know they’ll get a chance here. And if they deserve one, they will do because we’re not afraid to put people in.
“It’s given us an identity. I think we stand for something and, for me, that’s important in football.
“We’ve got our own personality.”
Speaking before the first leg of their final series tie against Adelaide - the overall A-League title is decided by a six team knockout tournament - Montgomery explains how his time at Bramall Lane has shaped his approach to the job he holds now. United are never far from his thoughts - “I watch most of the games and it’s brilliant, just brilliant, to see the lads get promoted from the Championship” - and neither are the lessons he learnt, together with fellow youth team graduates Phil Jagielka and Michael Tonge, under Warnock.
“The three of us sort of came through together and ended up being the core of that team. But the things that always struck me, and it’s something we do here as well, was the emphasis on producing good people as well as good players. Whenever someone new came in, we used to make sure they knew all about the area, had everything they needed and were settled in as well. There was a recognition that the fans are at the heartbeat of everything and that’s something we’re also big on here.
“I want good people as well. That’s everything really. It goes without saying that you need ability. But if you’re a good person, the more of those you’ve got around you, the better your chances are.”