‘All the tools to be a success’ – Who is Robin Nicholls, Sunderland’s new Academy Manager?

Graeme Atkinson speaks to Jacob Tanswell from The Athletic to get the details on Robin Nicholls, our new Academy Manager
Robin Nicholls, Sunderland's new Academy Manager

This week, Robin Nicholls takes up his Academy Manager role at the Academy of Light. We speak to Jacob Tanswell, Southampton FC Reporter with The Athletic to get the lowdown on the new man in charge.

WMS: It would be fair to say that Robin Nicholls is a name most Sunderland supporters will not have heard of until now. We understand he held the roles of head of academy operations and assistant academy manager at Southampton, amongst others. Broadly, what can you tell us about his time on the south coast and how well was he regarded within the club as well as amongst supporters?

JT: Nicholls is probably not a name most Southampton supporters would know either. However, internally, Nicholls was viewed as an impressive coach with a solid CV for developing youth. He used to play for semi-professional side AFC Totton on the weekends and was not too bad himself in central midfield!

WMS: Following Nicholls’ appointment being confirmed Kristjaan Speakman stated that Southampton has “a proven track record in nurturing young talent”. Nicholls has obviously had some important roles in the academy set up but how crucial to player development do you think Nicholls’ specific methods were to ‘nurturing that talent’? Are there any specific examples/stories of how, he positively impacted upon the improvement of players?

JT: Nicholls was regarded generally as providing a good overview of the academy. He also shift the playing style implemented in the academy – as instructed by Ralph Hasenhuttl – by coaching a high-pressing, choreographed system.

WMS: In general terms what do you think have been Nicholls’ standout achievements in the years he was at the club?

JT: Helping to revitalise a stagnant academy. Keep your eye out on Dom Ballard and JJ Morgan in the coming seasons.

WMS: Sunderland have talked about “strategic leadership being required” at their academy level, do you think Nicholls is capable of stepping up to an academy manager position given it’s a role he is seemingly yet to undertake and if so why?

JT: Yes. For the reasons I have mentioned. His ability to oversee a project is a key strength and is a leader with clearly defined instructions that fellow coaches are aware of. Southampton have an excess of coaches so I don’t think Nicholls not being in this role should be seen as a concern – rather than his pathway has been blocked.

WMS: Are there any young players who have come through the ranks and into the first team at St Mary’s who have name checked Nicholls as being instrumental in their development?

JT: Not yet – although privately players have thanked him for his role in their development.

WMS: What can you tell us about Southampton’s own academy set up in respect of facilities etc and do you think the transition from one Cat 1 academy to another will make it easier for Nicholls to settle in?

JT: Yes it will. Southampton have multiple coaches for every age group as well as “bridge coaches” who bridge the gap between age groups. Nicholls’ experience in dealing with several coaches and being able to use the best facilities on a daily basis means there will be no culture shock when it comes to coaching in a Category One academy.

WMS: Word from the south coast suggests “Nicholls will not yet leave Saints and will continue his role in the meantime, leaving the club plenty of time to appoint a replacement.” Do you have any information around when he is set to formally leave?

JT: No – but once he serves his notice.

WMS: In your opinion do you think Nicholls has the tools to make a success of his time at Sunderland?

JT: The opportunity to reinvigorate Sunderland’s academy, especially given such a huge talent pool, means Nicholls has all the tools to be a success. He is calm, and conscientious and will embed a structure that will result in a clear pathway from the academy into the first team.

You can read Jacob’s work in The Athletic here