'Sam is like a father figure and I want to be just like him'
Given his long association with Sam Allardyce, it's perhaps no surprise that Kevin Nolan has his heart set on one day emulating the man he describes as a father figure. Just don't make the mistake of calling him "gaffer."
"There's only one gaffer in our club," laughs Nolan, before instinctively taking a second to check over his shoulder just in case Big Sam is lurking nearby.
"I've always thought since I was a young lad that I'd love to be a manager. I think everyone just expects it from me now – all the lads in the changing room say, 'You can see you're going to be a gaffer' but you never know, do you? You never know if you're going to get that chance.
"I'm going to be taking my badges to know that if there's anything out there when I do finish then I can have a crack at it. I know that I'll always have Sam on the end of the phone if I ever needed any help or advice."
Like Keegan and Toshack or Clough and Taylor, the names Allardyce and Nolan will always go together.
Within a year of signing his first professional contract, the lifelong Liverpool supporter from Toxteth was still only 18 when he played every minute for Allardyce's Bolton Wanderers as they beat David Moyes' Preston North End in the 2001 Championship play-off final.
More than a decade and nearly a century of goals later, Nolan is back with Allardyce at West Ham United, having also been unintentionally reunited with him for a brief period at St James' Park.
"He didn't buy me at Newcastle but everyone seems to think he did. I suppose that's understandable," Nolan acknowledges with a wry smile. "Sam's like a father figure to me in the football game. He brought me through, nurtured me and gave me a clip around the ear when I needed it.
"He understands me. He's from a similar background to me and I think he just gets me and I get him. I feel he's one of the top-end managers and I'm very disappointed that he's never had the chance to manage England. Hopefully he might in the future – who knows?"
Now 30 and settled in the south-east of England with his wife Hayley and their two children – who, he admits, have already started coming home from school with an Essex twang – Nolan is clearly hoping some of Allardyce's extensive managerial know-how will rub off on him.
But, with West Ham now confirmed as the new tenants of the Olympic Stadium in Stratford from 2016, there are more pressing matters to deal with in the meantime.
"Being at the launch last week and seeing all the fuss about it, you can't help but get a little bit of a buzz," says Nolan.
"Football is the only thing that is going to be able to pack that stadium out unless you have another Olympics or major event, but you can't just wait for them every couple of years.
"It was so important that we got the right people and I think we are. We're from a few miles down the road in the East End so it all made sense.
"Everyone that sees the plans will be excited about it but now it's just down to us, as a group of players, to make sure when we do get there we're a well-established Premier League team and pushing for European places."
Whether Nolan will have hung up his boots by then remains to be seen. He is back for today's meeting with West Bromwich Albion after sustaining a broken toe against Tottenham Hotspur last month, but his current contract expires just as West Ham are due to leave Upton Park for good.
Their first season at the Olympic Stadium would be his 18th as a professional but Nolan has complete faith that Allardyce's methods could help him emulate some of the legendary bunch of 30-somethings he was handed the daunting task of captaining at Bolton all those years ago.
"We had lads like (Youri) Djorkaeff and Gary Speed, who people thought were finished. Fernando Hierro came out of retirement and Ivan Campo did the same.
"To captain all those players was a big boost to me because to have players like that to be able to turn to and get advice from made me the player I am today," he reflects.
"It's up to me to make sure I can keep going for as long as possible.
"I knew Sam would give me my best chance of prolonging my career for as long as I can, with the way he understands the game, and the scientific approach means he is very proactive. It's a big motivation for me.
"I'll be 33 or 34 then, so who knows? There would be no one more proud if I was able to walk out there as captain for the first game at the stadium."
Nolan has been around so long that he can still remember when Bolton left Burnden Park for the Reebok Stadium in 1997, although it was another two years before he made his first-team debut – five months after Allardyce succeeded Colin Todd as Wanderers manager.
Even though Allardyce has steered West Ham to mid-table respectability after their promotion via the play-offs last season, however, talks over extending the manager's contract – which expires at the end of the season – have yet to be resolved, although Nolan is confident it is now only a matter of time.
"If there's one man who should lead them into that stadium it is Sam," he says. "I firmly believe with him at the helm West Ham will be where they need to be come 2016. But with our history, I suppose I'm always going to say he is the best man for the job!" (© Independent News Service)