December 27, 2018
« I came to see Patrick* »
Monday 17 December, 11am. OGC Nice’s training ground. The day after the epic duel against Saint-Etienne (1-1), the starters are in recovery in the gym. The other half of the group is out on the pitch, for a series of finishing drills. Stood along the touchline, a man observes the session. A flat cap on his head, an impeccable suit, he looks as if he has come straight out of Peaky Blinders. However, it was an entirely different career that Adrian Heath embarked upon. An Everton legend, - with two league title wins in England (1985, 1987), a Cup Winners Cup medal (1985) - the former number 10 left his country of birth to head to the United States eleven years ago.
After participating in the creation of Orlando City, the Brit now manages the franchise of Minnesota United, who play in Major League Soccer. “I faced Patrick when he was at New-York. But I have known him for much longer than that. We met via the owners of Manchester City, with whom we are very close.”
Making the most of the winter break, the Heath family travelled over to France for a few days. “I made the most of the trip to come and say hello to Patrick. The club very kindly invited me in. I have been able to visit this fantastic training ground. I have been in football for a long time: believe me, it’s up there with the best clubs in the world. Everything needed to succeed is here.” The day before, the former playmaker attended a fixture that reminded him of his youth. “I am 57 and when I was young, Saint-Étienne had a great team with Platini, Rocheteau… And Nice were one of their main rivals. This match had a special meaning.”
Brought up with the atmosphere of Goodison Park (Everton) and even Maine Road (Manchester City’s former home), Adrian Heath has a slightly less raucous crowd in the brand new, “Allianz Field” in Minnesota. “The MLS is only 20 years old. 16 new grounds have been built in the last decade, and younger and younger internationals are now joining us. The league is progressing every year. But the fans are yet to realise the importance they can have on a match.” In that way, the former youth international was particularly receptive to the atmosphere in the Gym’s ground: “The atmosphere was incredible, it was really first class. Here, supporters know football, they know when you need to push. I came to the Ray on several occasions to see Eric Roy, who worked for me at Sunderland. I loved that stadium.”
After the session, Heath spoke at length with “Patwick” and his assistants Kristian Wilson and Matt Cook. “I knew that he was very happy at New-York. It can’t have been an easy decision for him. To follow on from Lucien Favre is no mean feat. But I know Patrick. Difficulty is not something that worries him. Quite the contrary, he loves a challenge. I am sure he will do a fantastic job. For me, he can become as good a coach as he was a player. When I saw the stadium, the facilities, and the quality of his squad, I understood [his decision]” smiled the Englishman, who admits to having a particular soft spot for Youcef Atal. “He is fantastic. His speed is impressive. He is small, but he jumps higher than everyone else! He is a real athlete. Nice have good players. Really!”