Belfast Telegraph

This little boy is real reason ex-Rangers Spanish star Nacho Novo signed for Belfast team Glentoran

Former Rangers football star reveals just why he turned down lucrative move to India to come to east Belfast

By Steven Beacom

Former Rangers hero Nacho Novo has revealed the reason he shocked the football world to sign for Irish League side Glentoran was to be closer to his six-year-old son.

When Novo, who agreed a 12-month contract with the east Belfast outfit last week, makes his Glentoran debut he will become one of the biggest names to ever play football here.

And in an exclusive interview with the Belfast Telegraph, the 37-year-old Spaniard says he can't wait to bring his little boy Javier over from Glasgow to Northern Ireland to watch him in action.

Novo adds that he will be emotional when that time comes and beams when stating Javier already has a Glentoran tracksuit and doesn't like taking it off.

The striker is reputed to be earning £1,000 per week with his new club but turned down more money to play in the Indian Super League as he wanted to be able to spend more time with the person he says means "everything to me".

Novo, who is currently living in Moira and will regularly travel back and forth from Glasgow to see Javier, which wasn't possible when he was playing for his previous club Carolina Railhawks in America.

"I had other opportunities like going to play in the Indian Super League but I wanted to be closer to my son," said Novo, who may feature for the Glens tomorrow in their season opener at home to Dungannon Swifts

"From here to Glasgow it is only 20 minutes, so that is really good."

Novo, who is separated from his wife Donna, added: "Obviously, my last club was in America and I hardly saw him. I was miles away, so I decided to come over here to be closer to my son. Javier means everything to me. Everything.

"He loves football I want to bring him over to see me play for Glentoran. It will be emotional for me when he comes over and sees me play.

"He already has a Glentoran tracksuit. On the day I signed for Glentoran they gave me clothes for him. When I went back to Glasgow he put all the Glentoran gear on and didn't want to take it off!"

Novo's dad Ricardo played for Real Betis in Spain's top league and Nacho would be happy if Javier follows the family tradition, though insists he won't push his boy into sport, even though his nearest and dearest are renowned for it with his younger sister Arantxa an international basketball player.

"I always wanted to be a footballer. My dad played in La Liga for Real Betis. He was a tall and strong centre half. I just came out a different way, smaller and wanting to score," said Novo, who dedicates his goals to his mum Isabel, who passed away in 2004.

"I would love Javier to be a footballer. He is always with a ball and I try to spend as much time playing with him. I'm not a pushy parent and I need to let him do what he wants, though without telling him anything he loves playing football, so it is all good."

Novo started his career at home in Spain before moving to Scotland to play for Raith in 2001. He moved to Dundee before, in 2004, joining Rangers where his reputation for scoring goals soared. He left Ibrox in 2010 having won trophies galore and become a firm favourite with the fans. Post Rangers he travelled all over the world to play, including with Sporting Gijon in Spain and Legia Warsaw in Poland. Now he is a Glentoran player.

We are sitting in the Park Avenue Hotel in the heart of east Belfast conducting the interview.

In the heat of battle he has been a fiery character, but as we chat Novo is relaxed, good company and smiles a lot. He may have only started living in Northern Ireland, but is content so far and being well looked after by his agent and local businessman Bill Peden.

"I'm going to be based in Moira. It is quiet and peaceful. Sometimes it is good to just relax and not be in a big town where there are more people around. I like living in the countryside," said Novo, who hasn't tried an Ulster fry yet because "I'm looking after myself", but intends to at some stage.

The Spaniard had never heard of the Giant's Causeway until our meeting. Now he wants to go see the big tourist attraction for himself.

Glentoran's marquee signing is well versed on how popular Rangers are in Northern Ireland and over the years has made friendships with people from here, revealing that was the reason he was a somewhat surprise visitor to the Twelfth of July parade in Belfast last month.

"I came over to see my friends as I have lots of good friends here. I had never been to one before so it was like a new experience for me," he said. "I liked everything about it. It was really enjoyable. The people here are so friendly and that day was really good."

He added: "I like meeting people and when I'm here I want to go and meet the fans. That is a big thing for me. I think players need to realise how important the fans are. You need to be good on the park but you also have to spend time with the fans off it."

On the prospect of playing for Glentoran, he seems genuinely excited, saying: "When there was interest from Glentoran, we sat down and talked about everything and it worked for both of us and I'm happy to be here and to have the chance to keep playing.

"It is a good club with a lot of history. The chairman (Stephen Henderson) has told me a lot of that history and I have been pleased to meet a legend over here in Roy Coyle, who is with the club and is the most successful manager in the Irish League. It was fantastic speaking to him and listening to his stories."

Novo trained on Tuesday with his new team-mates for the first time and was back at it again last night attempting to improve his fitness levels. Quizzed on whether he will start against Dungannon tomorrow, he replied: "You will need to ask the gaffer (Alan Kernaghan). I really don't know. I am trying to get fit at the moment. Maybe I won't start and come on later on, but whatever he says I will do.

"I want to achieve success with Glentoran. It is a big club that wants to be up there fighting for the league and other trophies and qualifying for Europe.

"It is going to be hard because there are some good teams but we have good players and I am excited about this season.

"I know there will be lots of expectation. It is not about one player. It is a team game and if we stick together we will get success."

No matter what Novo achieves here, he will always be remembered for his time at Rangers, where he netted numerous goals, including the winner in the 2009 Scottish Cup Final 28 seconds after coming off the bench.

He likes nothing more than playing in Old Firm derbies against Celtic, including a certain Neil Lennon, the former Northern Ireland midfielder.

"On the pitch we would have hated each other but off the pitch I met him at some charity functions and found him to be a good person. We got on well away from the pitch," said Novo, who counts former Rangers star and Northern Ireland skipper Steven Davis among his best friends.

"For me Steven Davis is a player for Manchester United or Liverpool," said Novo when talking about the Southampton star.

"I would even say he could play at Real Madrid or Atletico Madrid. I am not just saying this because he is a friend of mine. He has got technique, he has the speed, he is great on the park and off the park and he is a fantastic captain for Northern Ireland. I think he is underrated in English football. I would say Steven Davis is one of the best midfielders in the English Premier division."

While insisting nobody knows what the future holds, Novo concludes that he could see himself sticking around Northern Ireland and maybe even set up football school for kids here.

He added: "I would want them to learn and enjoy themselves. That's what football for youngsters should be all about."

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