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Nacho Novo needs to start living up to his reputation

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 18/10/2016

Joy and pain: Nacho Novo has struggled to make a meaningful contribution at
Joy and pain: Nacho Novo has struggled to make a meaningful contribution at Glentoran

The first indication comes as the two teenage boys watching eagerly at the front of the stand suddenly reach for their mobile phones.

"Here's Nacho," the younger one says to his friend.

Sure enough, a few seconds later the figure emerges from the dugout, slowly breaking into a gentle sprint along the touchline.

The movement may be a little more stilted and the body shape has certainly broadened from his days as a hero on the streets of Glasgow.

But the face is unmistakable and later, when he comes on as a second-half substitute, the flashes of skill and quality are still there.

Albeit they are just flashes, mere glimpses in a largely uneventful 30-minute cameo against Dungannon Swifts.

That has been the story of the season thus far for Nacho Novo.

Hailed as the man to rouse the Glens, one of the fallen giants of the local game, it just hasn't happened for the ex-Rangers striker.

One goal in 11 appearances - and at a reported cost of £1,000 a week - is not good enough.

At the weekend he even suffered the ignominy of having his name misspelt on the official team sheet, where he was listed as 'Nacho Nova'.

He has also had to deal with injury and living under a death threat in his early weeks here.

Novo remains a big draw, but it is off the pitch where he is making an impression, not on it where Glentoran really need him.

In a recent game he busied himself posing for selfies with fans.

And at the weekend, the two boys at Stangmore Park seemed more impressed with the photos captured on their phones than his contribution to the game.

The journey from Galicia in northern Spain, where Novo hails from, to Dungannon is a road less travelled.

But here, on a chilly October afternoon, it was the latest stop-off in the final days of Novo's career.

It is a sad tale of one man's rage against the dying of the light. Now 37, the signing which got the whole of Irish League football talking this summer has failed to deliver on all of the hype.

He has scored just once, in a catastrophic 3-2 cup defeat at Annagh United, starting more games on the bench than on the pitch.

At the weekend he was again a substitute, a spectator for the first hour at Stangmore Park.

He must wonder how it has all come to this.

The suspicion among the fans is that the new manager doesn't rate him.

Gary Haveron rejects this, but most observers agree that it just isn't working out.

Club insiders say Novo is a model professional, mixing enthusiastically in training sessions and enjoying the dressing room banter.

But on the terraces, a truer barometer of the fans' feelings, opinion is mixed.

Some say he hasn't been given enough of a chance to impress, and six substitute appearances compared to just five starts add weight to that theory.

But others feel he was the wrong signing, and at precisely the wrong time.

David Walsh, who has travelled from Hillsborough for the game, says: "He's made no impact whatsoever. I've been disappointed in the extreme.

"I don't think the new manager fancies him at all."

Thomas McCartney, who follows the team week in, week out, believes the Glens made a big mistake in signing Novo.

He says: "We are wasting money on him when we could have got three decent Irish League players.

"I was at Annagh and he didn't make much of an impact against a team that got beaten 9-0 a couple of weeks later.

"I just think that, given our circumstances, he's not the player we need."

Others are more understanding, feeling too much was expected too soon from a player whose career is undeniably on the wane.

"You have to realise he is 37," one fan, who works at Glentoran and does not want to give his name, observes.

"He hasn't played a lot recently and that is hard. It doesn't matter who you are, you're going to struggle.

"Off the pitch he is a very, very nice guy and I have no doubt that if he trains hard and gets his fitness up he can make an impact."

Certainly Novo has found himself in the eye of a storm around east Belfast this season.

Given his box office profile, he was always going to be judged more closely, and the demands of fans would be so much greater.

It hasn't helped that he has been parachuted into a club in turmoil.

The Glens, once a stellar name of the local football scene, have endured their worst start in living memory.

Even after a 1-0 win at Dungannon, they remain third bottom.

Novo, too, has had to contend with off-pitch issues, including a sinister death threat just weeks after his arrival.

Against Glenavon last month he suffered a groin strain, further hindering his attempts to make an impact.

The player arrived with a big reputation, largely on the back of his exploits in the light blue of Rangers between 2004 and 2010.

He made 179 appearances for the Glasgow club, scoring 47 times.

It included the winner against Hibernian which secured Rangers the title on the final day of the 2004-05 season.

There were also two goals in an Old Firm game against Celtic in October 2007.

After leaving Ibrox in 2010, Novo had spells in Spain with Sporting Gijon and SD Huesca, also turning out for Legia Warsaw, Greenock Morton and Carlisle United.

Most recently he had been playing in the United States with Carolina Railhawks.

And so to Glentoran, with his arrival in July arguably the greatest coup for local football in a generation.

He clearly isn't here for the money. Novo turned down a move to the Indian Super League in the summer, where the financial rewards would dwarf the £1,000 a week he is said to be receiving at The Oval.

Explaining his decision in August, Novo (below) said he wanted to spend more time with the person he says means "everything to me" - his six-year-old son Javier.

His debut for Glentoran was as a 67th-minute substitute against Dungannon on the opening day of the season.

Since then he has made five starts, and five more appearances from the bench, including in the rematch against the Swifts on Saturday.

Of course expectations were huge, but so far few can claim that the move has been a success for player or club.

In the opening weeks Novo felt the need to defend himself against accusations that he is overweight.

He took to Twitter to respond, posting a photograph where he appeared to be mocking the jibes.

But it is on the pitch where Novo really needs to do his talking, and it just isn't happening.

A club insider says: "I think his settling-in period has taken longer than we would have hoped. If he gets himself a bit fitter then who knows?

"It is hard for the fans because he's on the bench and we're not seeing him play."

That was the case at Dungannon, where Novo was named as a substitute.

Although the biggest name in the league, and despite his early season struggles, he seems content to mix in.

Ahead of kick-off on Saturday, he took part enthusiastically in the pre-game warm-up.

When a team-mate's long-range shot found the net, he applauded excitedly.

But fans expect a lot more than a professional attitude which, in any case, should be taken for granted.

The change in manager raises obvious questions about Novo's future.

Haveron (left) replaced Alan Kernaghan three weeks ago after the latter resigned in the wake of the Annagh cup humiliation.

Novo played seven minutes of Haveron's first game in charge against Linfield, but was an unused substitute against Ballinamallard.

At Dungannon he came on for the final half hour.

But it was a team-mate who came on at the same time - Jonathan Smith - who made more of an impact.

The teenager, who at 19 is around half Novo's age, won and converted the penalty which gave the Glens a 1-0 win.

It was Haveron's first three points since taking charge at the club.

Afterwards came questions surrounding Novo's future.

"Nacho has been first class," he insists.

"A lot of people have asked me the question about Nacho - because he is a big name and because of what he has done in the game.

"On the training ground he works as hard as anyone.

"People have labelled Nacho as being overweight and unfit, but I can assure you the guy works really, really hard.

"He is busting a gut to play for this football club and I can't fault his attitude.

"And you know what? It's infectious as well. He is good to be around and is good to have around, and he's good in the dressing room."

Haveron believes that, given time, Novo will come good.

"I'm hoping that the more he works, and the way we work, that he will enjoy it a lot more and we will get a happier Nacho," he adds.

"Hopefully it will be a good relationship for the two of us moving forward."

Glentoran striker Curtis Allen, who has started all three games under Haveron, also believes Novo needs time.

"He is working hard, he knows he needs his fitness, but hopefully the fitter he gets the more he can bring to the squad, whether it is off the bench or starting," he says.

"Any player that is in the squad needs to work hard and bring something to the team, and that is what he is trying to do."

But fans need more than just hard work from the Spanish striker.

He is the star name in local football, the biggest we have seen in years.

And with reputation comes expectation.

It is time for Nacho to live up to all the hype.

Belfast Telegraph

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