Raith Rovers: Centre back Ryan Nolan discusses his Spanish connection

Raith Rovers’ Irish centre back Ryan Nolan has been discussing his unconventional football upbringing, which saw him excel at youth level in Spain to earn a move to Italian giants Inter Milan.
Ryan Nolan has experience of playing in Italy and Spain (Pic Craig Foy/SNS Group)Ryan Nolan has experience of playing in Italy and Spain (Pic Craig Foy/SNS Group)
Ryan Nolan has experience of playing in Italy and Spain (Pic Craig Foy/SNS Group)

The 23-year-old turned out for Spanish side Torre Pacheco’s youth team prior to joining Inter, playing in their Primavera youth team from 2015 to 2018 to impress coach Luciano Spalletti, who even named Nolan on the bench for first team games.

Nolan told BBC Alba: “Torre Pacheco had a very good team. I had a lot of good friends there.

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“I was playing at a big tournament in Spain when I was 16 for my province, Murcia, I did very well there and that’s when Inter saw me and I signed.

"For me it was a no brainer when a team like Inter wants you, you can’t say no to that. That was my dream since I was a young kid.

"I don’t even know if I asked my parents. I just said ‘yes’ straight away because it was such a big opportunity.

"Thankfully I knew Spanish which is very similar to Italian so I was able to pick Italian up very quickly. In two or three months I was more or less fluent.

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"It was great to train alongside world class players. I think Italian is maybe a mixture between Spanish, British and Irish football because they can play but they’re rugged, they’re hard.

"Growing up in Ireland I was good in the air and a strong defender. In Spain I learned a bit on getting on the ball and coming out from the back.

"Then Italian football, defensively, especially in training there are hours and hours every week of shape, how your body position is, how to work as a back four or back five and it just comes naturally then when you’re playing a game.”

Unable to break into the Inter first team, Nolan joined fellow Italian outfit Arezzo on loan and played 12 games in the 2019-2020 season.

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"I started quite well, then I had a small injury around Christmas and then Covid hit in January or February,” he said. "Italy was the first country in Europe to get Covid so the season stopped at the end of January.

"So I spent six months alone in Italy in an apartment. Obviously I couldn’t get out, everyone was scared about Covid because nobody knew what it was, everything was closed.

"That was definitely a difficult few months and it got to the point where in the summer I was wanting to go back closer to home which was obviously Spain at the time because my family and friends are back there. That was when I joined Getafe.

"It was going really well there with the ‘B’ team – which is probably the third tier in Spanish football – then I was on the bench twice for the first team in La Liga.

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"I was going to make my debut in the Copa del Rey against a lower league team and two days before that is when disaster struck and I got injured in training. I twisted my knee and I knew straight away it was bad, it was my ACL.

"It was heartbreaking as I worked so hard for that opportunity. It was a hard 10 months getting back to fitness.”

Nolan went on to join English outfit Northampton Town in February 2022, before signing for Raith on a one-year contract last summer to get regular first team football.

He also spoke about his early years being raised in County Clare, Ireland, when he grew up playing football and other sports with his friends there until the age of eight when he and his family moved to Spain.

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Nolan added: "We used to go to Spain on holiday a lot and my parents decided that they wanted to go to the area and see if we liked it.

"And it was a great experience for me and my brother. The weather’s a lot different to Scotland and Ireland, you can play sport all day, summer, winter, whatever it is.

"It’s definitely a better upbringing for young lads like me and my brother. I’m grateful for that.

"When I got to Spain I went straight into the local club there, met a lot of friends and really enjoyed going to training.

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"The big difference in Spain was that since you are a kid they show you a lot of technical stuff, it’s all ball work.

"I think in Ireland it’s getting a lot better but when I was young it was still long ball stuff.

"In Spain it’s all on the ground, pass and go, so you get that base when you’re young which helps you a lot.”

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