Sport Soccer

Friday 13 December 2019

Kevin Nolan appointed player-manager of Leyton Orient

Kevin Nolan has been appointed as player-manager at Leyton Orient
Kevin Nolan has been appointed as player-manager at Leyton Orient

Luke Edwards

He's been training with them for three months to keep fit since his release from Slaven Bilic's West Ham, and today Kevin Nolan took his first step of the coaching ladder when he was announced as player-coach at League Two Leyton Orient.

Nolan, 33, former Premier League stalwart, rejected a playing contract at Brisbane Road only last month, but the prospect of additional managerial duties following the sacking of Ian Hendon last week have persuaded him to join the troubled lower league outfit in an unfashionable corner of London's east end.

Not only is there trouble on the pitch, following relegation and a managerial merry-go-round, but Francesco Becchetti, the club's wealthy Italian owner, is also facing allegations of money laundering, fraud and a criminal investigation.Becchetti - who once ordered the team to stay in a hotel for a week after a defeat - has also been hit with a six-game stadium ban for kicking a member of his coaching staff after a 3-2 home win. His defence? That it was high-jinks.

It sounds like a weird amalgamation of plots from Roy of the Rovers, EastEnders and Viz. Even Billy the Fish - with his legendary capacity for optimism - might have had second thoughts.

Nolan does not yet possess his coaching badges, but when asked to combine the role with management duties, the former Bolton Wanderers, Newcastle United and West Ham captain could not resist.

When West Ham move into the Olympic Stadium next season, Orient will suddenly have a Premier League neighbour, flooding their catchment area with discounted tickets in order to fill the vast arena they have been gifted in the name of an Olympic legacy.

It an ominous financial threat, but the need to ensure the Olympic Park had permanent tenants rode roughshod over the complaints from Brisbane Road. The O's have always operated in the shadow of three larger rivals in Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham, so why, the argument went, should it be any different just because the Hammers’ new home is that bit closer - just over a mile away?

Orient thought they had found a saviour 19 months ago, when the club was sold by its previous benefactor, the sports promoter Barry Hearn to Becchetti.

According to Hearn, Becchetti had enough money to take Orient into the Premier League in the same style the Russian billionaire Maxim Demin has at Bournemouth. He warned West Ham, they should be “afraid”. They may well have spent most of their time since laughing.

In May 2014, Orient led their League One play-off final against Rotherham at Wembley 2-0 at half time. They lost the game, after a penalty shoot-out, but the arrival of Becchetti eased the pain.

Becchetti’s heart may have been in the right place, but he had little understanding of English football. When the manager who had taken Orient to Wembley, Russell Slade, quit in September to take charge of Cardiff City, Orient were plunged into a spiral of self-harm, with Becchetti wielding the knife.

Three managers, Kevin Nugent, Mauro Milanese and Fabio Liverani, were hired and then fired, the last following relegation to League Two.

In October last year, Becchetti, who owns a television channel and made his money in waste disposal, was arrested by Metropolitan Police on behalf of the Albanian government on charges of alleged money laundering, tax evasion and fraud in relation to the failed construction of a hydro power plant. His assets in Albania were frozen, including shares in his television station Agon.

Becchetti has vehemently denied the allegations and claims the charges are politically motivated. But he has surrendered his passport and waits to learn whether he will be extradited to stand trial in Albania.

In documents seen by the Daily Telegraph, it is alleged the businessman’s mother, Liliana Condomitti, who is also a stake holder in Leyton Orient, was a director of one of the shell companies involved in the alleged fraud.

Not that the owner has exactly kept a low profile. After a Boxing Day win over Portsmouth, the 49-year-old, who had rowed with assistant manager Andy Hessenthaler during the game, ran on to the pitch and kicked his employee up the backside, before dancing in front of the stands and running along the touchline high-fiving supporters.

He was fined £40,000 and issued with a six-game stadium ban by the Football Association, despite the club issuing a statement claiming the spat with Hessenthaler, who remains at the club, was good natured.

Nolan, though, has already proven he can handle himself when a club is in chaos. On his last visit to Brisbane Road as a player in 2009, Nolan was part of the Newcastle team which, following repeated mistakes by owner Mike Ashley, had just been relegated from the Premier League. Orient won 6-1.

In the dressing room after the game, Nolan led the inquest, took charge of the situation and united the players in a common cause. Newcastle returned to the Premier League in impressive style nine months later. Can he stabilise the east London ship? Watch this space.

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