Pat Nevin: ‘I didn’t want to be a player at first but I enjoyed it’

Photo of author

By Creative Media News

  • Pat Nevin’s diverse interests beyond football
  • Transition from player to commentator and writer
  • Hopeful about Scotland’s European Championship chances

A day with Pat Nevin reads like a travelogue. The former Scotland international awaits me inside Berwick-upon-Tweed station, where he is reading a memoir written by Simon Raymonde, the bassist of his favourite band, the Cocteau Twins. The book is allegedly fantastic, and it inspires a slew of humorous anecdotes about Nevin, a Chelsea and Everton footballer who is interested in music, reading, film, and politics.

We drive out of England and into Scotland, with the 60-year-old Nevin discussing his love of travel and his excitement for another European Championship when he will serve as a commentator for BBC Radio 5 Live in Germany. The tournament begins on Friday, and Nevin will be in Munich for Germany’s opening encounter against Scotland.

Nevin went from being a gifted player and chair of the Professional Footballers’ Association to working in nearly difficult conditions as a player-cum-chief-executive and director of football at Motherwell before becoming a writer and commentator. He reflects on his peculiar voyage in his latest book, Football and How to Survive It, with wry insight made fresh by the fact that, as Nevin admits at home, “I didn’t want to be a footballer in the first place. I enjoy playing football, but do you want everything else in it? Not really. But in the end, it was very good, and I enjoyed it most of the time.”

That devotion is evident when Nevin recalls some of the nine major tournaments he has covered. He is as intrigued by off-the-field events as he is by the amazing games he has witnessed. “People do not always consider the moral implications of these tournaments, which can be problematic at times. Think about the last two World Cups. I travelled to Russia and Qatar.

His eyes flare with faux fury. “How dare you?” he exclaims, echoing the questions he has been asked, sometimes by himself. “I want to see it with my own eyes.” I don’t want folks who’ve never been there to tell me what it’s like. Russia is a classic example.

Nevin laughs in his dry Glaswegian accent as he recalls his work for the BBC at the tournament in 2018. We had a fixer, a local who showed us the ropes and spoke English. Our fixer was a young woman who let me wind her up. We got along well, and by the end, I adored the area. The folks are fantastic. So I told her, ‘Russia is great, and the culture is vast. But I can’t bear your leadership. I believe it’s vile. I know you can’t talk about it, but what a wonderful country we’d have without them.

“She says, ‘Oh, interesting.'” How do you feel about your leaders? We had Donald Trump in the White House, and Boris Johnson was on his way to becoming Prime Minister. I grinned because it was an excellent parry. And that’s the thrill I get from these tournaments: you stand outside of yourself, look and listen, and think, ‘So that’s how it looks from here.'”

Nevin once characterized himself as “an accidental footballer,” but as he prepares to journey through Germany for the next month, he reveals a wealth of information about the game. After Scotland’s second match, he will travel home temporarily for his daughter Lucy’s wedding before returning to Stuttgart. “I said, ‘Please don’t marry during the Euros.'” However, the only other feasible date was this [past] weekend. However, there was a good reason for not selecting that option. The country doesn’t work when Taylor Swift is in town.

After another joke and segue into the hope that Swift will support Joe Biden and derail Trump’s orange juggernaut, Nevin shifts his focus to football when I ask if he believes Scotland will advance from a group that includes Switzerland and Hungary. “That’s the right word.” I was asked twice on the radio this morning, ‘Are you confident?’ No, I’m hopeful. The last time we played against Germany at the Euros, they were world champions, and we gave them a tough time [during Scotland’s 2-0 defeat in 1992]. We should have gone for them earlier, so I’m hoping for more of a dig this time.”

Nevin praises Germany as “a good team” that has been boosted by Kai Havertz, a player he has supported for years. “He is excellent and will be unstoppable when he is playing in his finest position. Havertz might be an absolute colossus, similar to Michael Ballack. He has everything. Look at the height. He’s swift and really intelligent.”

Antonio Rüdiger is a different type of colossus. “There isn’t a stopper in world football that matches Rüdiger,” Nevin asserts. “I don’t care if it’s [Lionel] Messi or [Cristiano] Ronaldo facing Rüdiger. They’re not leaving with the ball. This never happens. He is an excellent marking and destroyer. So that’s the challenge in facing Germany. We’ll give it our all, but the other two games will be the deciding factor. I don’t think there’s much difference between the Swiss, Hungarians, and Scots. “We have a chance.”

That potential is boosted by the presence of his former Chelsea teammate Steve Clarke as Scotland’s coach. Nevin considered luring Clarke to Motherwell as their head coach. “Definitely, but I couldn’t get him away from Chelsea. Clarkie has worked with many famous people, including José Mourinho, Ruud Gullit, Kenny Dalglish, and Bobby Robson. They were the managers, and he was the head coach. You can’t obtain a job with those people unless you’re really good.

“Look at the incredible energy of the Scotland squad under Clarkie. It’s a tired cliche that everyone uses, and it’s generally rubbish. Not with Clarkie. There’s a tremendous spirit based on genuine honesty. Then he accomplished a handful of technical things that are now taken for granted but were revolutionary at the time.

“Our best two players are Kieran Tierney and Andy Robertson, and you cannot play both at left-back. Tierney is a fantastic player and arguably a superior footballer, but Robertson is more imaginative. Tierney spent a few of years at right-back, but it didn’t work out. And then Clarkie realizes that if he moves to 3-4-2-1, he can play both. Nobody else was advocating for the tactical adjustment. I couldn’t figure it out since I assumed he was committed to the back four.

Nevin also compliments Clarke for the manner he altered Scott McTominay by shifting his position, as well as the coach’s ability to remain calm. He describes in detail how Clarke waited and waited before unleashing his substitutes to overcome a 1-0 deficit away to Norway and win with two extremely late goals that sealed Scotland’s qualifying.

The customary excitement surrounding England has subsided, but Nevin appears captivated when he considers Gareth Southgate’s group. “I just hope they try something different [tactically].” Pep [Guardiola] occasionally goes 4-1-4-1. Gareth does not do that. But consider this for a minute. If you do that with [Declan] Rice as the sitter, picture the unimaginable four: Saka, Foden, Bellingham, and Cole Palmer. Excellent quality. As an outsider, I’m thinking, ‘That’s where you’re fantastic; put them on. Some people would consider it naive. It’s not naive for Pep. He tried so the week before the FA Cup final but then switched back to 4-2-3-1, which was unexpected.

“If you want to win competitions, you have to be brave. So, England, if you’re technically bold, (a) you have a chance of winning, and (b) I’d love to see you win.”

We return to Chelsea, where Nevin feels there may be some method to the apparent chaos of the Todd Boehly period. However, there are echoes of the carnage Nevin experienced at Motherwell, where he worked for a wealthy new owner, John Boyle, who knew little about football but made great comments to the press, attended training sessions, and visited the dressing room.

“These multimillionaires and billionaires come into clubs and think they know everything,” adds Nevin. “They’re disdainful of many people. But football fans aren’t foolish. They have street smarts. These extremely wealthy owners invest in football and lose a lot of money. The footballers themselves do not lose money. They produce a lot.

“I’m not saying Chelsea will fail since many other clubs are considering the same strategy. What I find fascinating is that Chelsea has gone considerably further. They tell their coach, ‘We know better than you, because we have the data, and we’ll provide you the right players.’ “The problem is that everyone has the same data.”

Nevin believes that the religion of the manager is dying and being replaced by increasingly replaceable coaches in data-driven operations, but he nods when I mention that footballers often thrive under experienced and sympathetic man-management. “Exactly, which is why it’s such an interesting experiment. I studied statistics for my degree, but I see all of the issues. I’m interested to see where this goes.”

Is there any sense in the Chelsea experiment? “Yes. I could see it within a few months. I knew exactly what they were doing, and I warned them that this would be harsh, ugly, and challenging for two years because they had brought in too many young players from various backgrounds. They have not been chosen to merge like a manager would. It’s simply pluck, pluck, pluck. Not many things thrive in that manner. But if you have a good coach who is ready to work with this system, you can finally make it work.”

Nevin laughs. “For one billion pounds, it should work in the end. So it’s not very clever, and who knows what will happen next season. This concept feels incorrect to football fans, and as someone involved in the game, I applaud what Sir Alex Ferguson achieved. I respect what Stevie Clarke is doing. I admire the ability to think in ways that no algorithm can. However, this does not rule out the possibility of success with this new strategy. We don’t know yet, but I’m open-minded.”

“Take a step towards financial freedom – claim your free Webull shares now!”

Near the end of our afternoon together, I ask Nevin how his passion for football has evolved. “It’s crystallized. I’ve always enjoyed playing football and admired its beauty. I could get on my phone right now and show you a trick from Diego Maradona that I want to see again and over. It’s that gorgeous.

“Eberechi Eze did something with the ball [for England against Bosnia and Herzegovina last week] that I simply wanted to slow down and watch again. I played that position and was expected to be skilled, but he did something that made me think, ‘Oh, that’s impossible. What the hell were you doing there? It doesn’t have to be a great player; simply someone who contributes to the creation of these lovely moments.”

Such moments, after all, remind an accidental footballer why he has spent nearly his entire life travelling and experiencing the game.

Read More

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to content