Pert's remarkable journey to Ipswich Town... via Old Trafford, Bielsa's house, two road trips, the NBA and a tough break in Ecuador
- Credit: ITFC
New Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna has appointed Martyn Pert as his assistant manager. Andy Warren profiles a coach who has travelled the globe to make his way in the game.
Whisper it quietly, but Ipswich Town’s new assistant manager grew up in Norfolk and began his playing career as a youngster at Carrow Road.
He came through the youth system alongside Craig Bellamy and Danny Mills and describes himself as a ‘decent full-back'. But he didn’t make the grade and was released at 20.
His next stop was Cambridge but there was no spark. That’s when his playing career ended and he began to take a different path.
He is a highly qualified coach with an excellent reputation, earning his B Licence aged just 23 and his A Licence a year later.
But, now aged 44, it's taken an unusual route for him to get to this point.
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The end (or so he thought) of his football career saw Pert head to Loughborough University to undertake a degree in management accountancy.
But the football bug was still there deep down. Pert had been given his first tactics book at 13, as a present from his grandad, and it was his advice which prompted him to turn his back on numbers and books in order to follow his true calling. He did go back and finish his degree, though.
‘Whatever you do, do it with enthusiasm,’ his grandad had said.
Despite laughter from his friends, many of whom were destined to work for big firms like Goldman Sachs and Price Waterhouse Coopers, he was going to become a football coach.
One of his university tutors had told a young Pert that he needed a ‘unique selling point’ as part of a marketing course, so that’s what he decided to try and find as he took his first real steps towards coaching.
“I saved the money, got in my Ford Fiesta and drove for 16 weeks around Europe, staying in a tent,” he said, speaking to the Sideline Stories podcast. “I went to Brondby and Copenhagen in Denmark, Dutch teams like Ajax, PSV and Heerenveen and then to Germany with Dortmund and Bayern Munich, spending a week at each one. Then I went to Italy and back through France to England.
“I wrote letter after letter before they said I can come and watch training and maybe have a conversation.”
Pert wrote reports from each of his training ground visits and sent them far and wide, with one of those reports ultimately ending up on the desk of Aidy Boothroyd, who was then coaching Peterborough’s youth teams.
The working relationship which subsequently became between the two would prove to be a very important one for Pert.
A false start
Back in England, a young Pert starting coaching Cambridge United’s Under 14s – a job given to him by Dan Ashworth, who would go on to become take high-powered roles at the FA and is currently technical director at Brighton. He looks set to become Newcastle’s new sporting director in the coming days.
Pert spent a season at Cambridge, combining the coaching role alongside jobs delivering potatoes to fish and chip shops and also as a college lecturer. He had also set up his own football school.
He returned to Norwich at that point, finally linking up with Boothroyd as the pair worked together in the Canaries youth set-up. When the latter moved to West Brom to head up their youth system, Pert was delighted to be given the opportunity to follow and work in football full-time.
This was his big chance, or so he thought. Pert was soon out of work as the Baggies slashed their youth budget and Boothroyd quickly left to coach at Leeds.
He was back to square one.
Road Trip: The Sequel
With no job, Pert did what he knew best. Hit the road again.
This time it was the Americas, flying into Montreal in 2004 with the goal of ultimately flying out of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil at the end of his journey 12 months later.
He made his way to Miami, where he spent several weeks collecting water bottles and observing NBA franchise Miami Heat at work, where icons Shaquille O’Neal and Dwyane Wade worked under legendary president Pat Riley.
Then it was off to clubs in Honduras, a time learning Spanish in Guatemala and then football hotbeds Argentina and Brazil before heading to the airport to fly home from Rio.
The phone rang while he was waiting to board the plane. It was... Aidy Boothroyd.
The Boothroyd Years
Boothroyd called to ask Pert, then 27, to join his coaching staff after being appointed Watford boss in 2005. Coincidentally, that appointment was made by Town CEO Mark Ashton.
Pert was given two weeks to impress in a first-team environment but was given the coaching role full-time within four days, with the Hornets winning promotion to the Premier League in their first season.
“I would work with the players on my own on Sundays, that was big for me,” Pert said.
“Malky Mackay, who was 33 and had played for Scotland, is one of my best friends now. But you win players over with good training. You learn from going all over Europe and see what big clubs do.
“I wouldn’t coach them too much or talk too much, because I’m 27, but it’s my job to put on really good drills and sessions so they can learn as much as possible.
“Over time, pretty quickly actually, they were happy with it. The manager wouldn’t have let the whole season go by with me taking training on Sundays if it was good. I took so much confidence from that.”
Boothroyd was sacked in 2008 and replaced by Brendan Rodgers, with Pert departing too and spending six months helping rehabilitate Fulham’s injured players under Roy Hodgson.
But he was soon back at Watford, coaching under Mackay, before another big break saw him named Boothroyd’s assistant as the pair moved to Coventry. They were sacked six months later. Now what?
The answer to that question was, become assistant manager of Bahrain under Peter Taylor.
The Bielsa Tapes
Before the Bahrain opportunity came up, Pert used a gap in employment to analyse Marcelo Bielsa’s innovative Chile side from the 2010 World Cup, before sending his findings to the current Leeds boss, who was then at Athletic Bilbao.
“I didn’t expect too much but he wrote back to me and said, ‘brilliant’. Everything is based on relationships,” Pert said.
“A few years later, when I was the assistant at Vancouver Whitecaps (2014-18), I was in Buenos Aires with Robbo (manager Carl Robinson) and I got up at 5am and drove to Rosario, which is three and a half hours away, to meet Marcelo Bielsa in his house.
“He talked football to me for three or four hours and was genuinely humble and interested I had driven all that way to meet him and listen to him talk about football.”
False Start: The Sequel
When Pert was scribbling in his tactics book as a 13-year-old, he dreamt of going it alone as a manager one day.
That chance came in 2012 when, after a period working towards a career in South America, Pert was handed the reins to Ecuador’s biggest club El Nacional.
Only, he wasn’t ever in charge. Within three weeks of the club’s military owners giving him the job, the El Nacional were sold to a hedge fund who wanted to employ a Spanish boss. Pert was out without managing a single game.
"They decided to get rid of me before I'd even had a chance to properly meet the players, which is a bit of a disaster," Pert told The Guardian.
"In truth, coaching in South America can be volatile at the best of times – clubs change their manager regularly, often after just one year, so I may not have lasted that long anyway."
Finally, some stability.
After a brief period working under Mackay and briefly Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Cardiff, Pert headed to MLS to spend four years in Canada with Vancouver Whitecaps.
He assisted Carl Robinson, the former Wolves, Sunderland and Norwich midfielder, with their side making the play-offs three times and also winning a Canadian Championship at a time when the squad included current Bayern Munich star Alphonso Davies.
Theatre of Dreams
And so to Manchester United, where Pert built the relationship with Kieran McKenna which has ultimately brought him to Portman Road.
Pert focussed on strength & conditioning at Old Trafford, but his language skills have received the most public praise, with Solskjaer crediting his ability to speak Portuguese with improving the form of Brazilian-native Fred. It’s also meant Pert was able to communicate with Cristiano Ronaldo in his native tongue.
“He’s someone I only got to know really well over the last three years or so and he’s someone I really trust as a person,” McKenna said of Pert.
“He’s good with staff and players and had a good relationship with everyone at United. He knows how I work so that’s really useful for me as he can help me get things across on the training pitch in a quick way.
“I’m really happy to have him here.”