The Carolina RailHawks’ long-gestating rumor is now official: Nacho Novo, the lauded Spanish striker who spent seven seasons with Glasgow Rangers of the Scottish Premier League, has signed with the RailHawks of the North American Soccer League (NASL).
The 35-year-old Novo, who last played this spring for Carlisle United in England’s League One, traveled to North Carolina in June to trial with the RailHawks and also took in a few of the club’s matches.
Novo and the club agreed to contractual terms several weeks later. However, immigration entanglements delayed Novo joining the team until this week.
After arriving in North Carolina late Wednesday evening, a jet lagged Novo trained with his new teammates Thursday morning after passing a team physical. Afterwards, he spoke with INDY Week about what brought him to Cary, NC.
“The advantage I had was I came over here and saw the facilities and the city, and I felt relaxed,” Novo says. “The main thing for me is to feel relaxed and settled, where I come every day and enjoy training. At my age, I still enjoy football like when I was 12 years of age.”
Novo says the longest time he’s previously spent in the United States was a month-long vacation in Orlando, Fla. Now, his contract with the RailHawks extends through the 2015 season.
Novo is arguably the most pedigreed player to ever join the RailHawks. During his time with Rangers from 2004-10, Novo scored 47 league goals, 25 of those in his first season with the club. During that initial season, Rangers won both the Scottish League Cup and Scottish Premier League, with Novo scoring the winning goal against Hibernian to clinch league title.
Several lackluster, injury-hampered seasons followed at Rangers. Still, Novo converted the winning kick from the penalty spot in the semi final shootout against Fiorentina that put Rangers through to the 2008 UEFA Cup Final.
Novo served largely as a bench contributor as Rangers won the Scottish league title in 2008-09 and 2009-10, the 2009-10 Scottish League Cup and the 2009 Scottish Cup, when Novo came on to start the second half and scored the game-winning golazo.
Prior to joining Rangers, Novo played two seasons with Dundee in Scotland, where he scored 26 league goals in 60 appearances.
Novo became a bit of a footballing vagabond after leaving Rangers following the 2010 season. His two seasons with Sporting de Gijón in La Liga ended when manager Javier Clemente unceremoniously terminated his contract.
Nevertheless, Novo, a longtime fan favorite at Rangers, was inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame in March 2014.
“I’m delighted to have him,” RailHawks manager Colin Clarke says, “He’s a goal scorer, first and foremost. He’s a little older but brings more experience. We had him in here for two or three weeks earlier in the season, and we saw what he can do. If you give him a chance, he puts it away. So, we’re excited to add someone of his class and caliber to the squad.
“He’s someone who has been around the game at the highest level and succeeded.”
Clarke says the RailHawks and Novo first connected over the offseason when Novo was exploring a move to America.
“Nacho got in touch with us at the start of the year and was looking to come over,” Clarke says. “I know he was in touch with a few other teams, but it didn’t work out [with the RailHawks] at that time. Greg Shields, our assistant coach, went back to Scotland to do some work on his coaching badges and saw Nacho there. [Shields] was impressed with how fit Nacho still was and how hungry he still was to play.”
Clarke says Novo can contribute to the RailHawks during their NASL stretch run and beyond.
“He still has the desire to play and work hard,” Clarke contends. “He still has the ability to score goals. And he’s got a little bit of bite about him, even though he’s small. He punches above his weight, so to speak.”
Novo is one of two players to join the RailHawks’ camp this week. He joins forward Devon Sandoval, who arrived on loan from Real Salt Lake this week for a two-match stint.
With eight games remaining in the regular season, the RailHawks are currently sixth in the NASL combined standings for 2014, two points behind the Tampa Bay Rowdies for the final berth in The Championship, the league’s four-team postseason tournament.
Novo and Sandoval arrive in advance of two straight homes matches for the RailHawks, which have lost three consecutive home games and four of their last five in Cary. This Saturday, Carolina hosts the league-leading San Antonio Scorpions. Then on Saturday, Sept. 20, the RailHawks host the always-dangerous New York Cosmos.
“Everyone here has been treating me absolutely fantastic,” Novo says. “Now I need to show the same thing to them: try to put it on the ground and score as many goals as I can.”