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Daniel Nardiello – the one that got away for Wolves?

Mention the name Daniel Nardiello, and there is a nod of familiarity among a certain generation of the Wolves fanbase.

Man Utd's Daniel Nardiello gets round Alon Harazi during a  Champions League match with Maccabi Haifa at G.S.P. Stadium, Nicosia, Cyprus.  THIS PICTURE CAN ONLY BE USED WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF AN EDITORIAL FEATURE. NO WEBSITE/INTERNET USE UNLESS SITE IS REGISTERED WITH FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION PREMIER LEAGUE..
Man Utd's Daniel Nardiello gets round Alon Harazi during a Champions League match with Maccabi Haifa at G.S.P. Stadium, Nicosia, Cyprus. THIS PICTURE CAN ONLY BE USED WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF AN EDITORIAL FEATURE. NO WEBSITE/INTERNET USE UNLESS SITE IS REGISTERED WITH FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION PREMIER LEAGUE..

Nardiello enjoyed a very successful career.

Almost 400 appearances, yielding 128 goals. Four promotions, three senior international caps with Wales.

None of those statistics were chalked up with Wolves, but the name still rings a bell.

That’s because the initially Stourbridge-based frontman first burst to prominence within the prodigious Academy set-up at Molineux.

And was then recruited by Manchester United at a time when the Red Devils were an indomitable force across European football with Sir Alex Ferguson leading an almost personal crusade to attract top young talent.

Nardiello’s father Donato, himself a Welsh international striker, was taking the aspiring frontman to training in the evenings after he was first scouted by Wolves.

The young Nardiello admits he had to up his game training and playing alongside some talented team-mates, but he certainly enjoyed it.

“It’s the dream of so many kids growing up to be a footballer, isn’t it? And I was no different,” he says.

“Even from primary school, that was the thought process and I believed in myself and felt I had the ability.

“I remember being spotted by Wolves and my Dad taking me to training on the evenings and then playing games on a Sunday.

“There were a really good group of lads there, I was nowhere near the best and felt I was playing alongside some real top talent.

“It was a difficult learning curve, going from playing at school to that sort of quality but it was also really enjoyable.”

Daniel Nardiello in action against Maccabi Haifia for Manchester United. Inset, with captain and club legend Roy Keane.

Nardiello recalls another striker by the name of Mark Webb within the Academy set-up at the time who was a talented frontman who never quite made it.

But decision time was soon lurking for Nardiello as he was selected for the FA’s School of Excellence at Lilleshall in the same year group as Joe Cole and Jermaine Defoe at the age of 14.

At that stage the FA were always keen for players to be signed up with clubs to avoid the uncertainty of scouts circling over the young players at Lilleshall and Nardiello, on schoolboy forms at the time with Wolves, was attracting plenty of interest.

The other two clubs particularly in the frame were Manchester United – at the time when they were securing trophies for fun – and Blackburn Rovers, not long after winning the Premier League.

When United showed their hand, it was always going to take something special to turn them down.

“United were renowned at the time for the work they did with young players and Sir Alex (Ferguson) spoke to my parents about what they would be able to do for me,” Nardiello explains.

“To be brutally honest, I was a kid and didn’t really know much better but when you consider it all it was always going to be very hard to turn down Manchester United when they came knocking.

“Like I say, I enjoyed my time at Wolves, we were living in Stourbridge and even aside from the games I played I would get the bus in on a Saturday and go and watch the first team at Molineux.

“I always remember a couple of big local derbies walking past a bit of scrapping outside and things got a bit lively!

“With hindsight, staying at Wolves could have been a good option but I got sucked in a bit by the lavishness of United.

“It was all about deciding what we thought would be best for my career and I certainly can’t say I regret the decision, not by a long way.”

With Nardiello registered under schoolboy terms at Wolves at the time, a Football League Appeals Committee ordered United to pay £200,000 compensation for his services, including other potential add-ons, just as they also did for midfielder Kris Taylor who made the same move.

Wolves Academy’s influential director of the time Chris Evans described Nardiello as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of the club’s schoolboy development programme, and would become well known for being fiercely protective of young players both in championing their cause at Molineux or securing adequate compensation if they moved elsewhere.

For Nardiello, all routes led to Old Trafford, and several years both coming through the Academy and as a professional which provided a footballing experience which he feels more than justified the big decision.

He made four first team appearances, his debut as a just-turned 19-year-old as a substitute in a League Cup tie at Arsenal, also later coming on in a Champions League tie at Maccabi Haifa, on those occasions partnering Dwight Yorke and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer up front respectively.

Nardiello also started a League Cup win against Leicester at Old Trafford in front of almost 50,000 as part of a team also featuring Solksjaer, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, David Beckham and Diego Forlan.

“I did o-k with the academy teams and then found myself training and travelling with the first team from a young age,” he recalls.

“Being up close alongside players such as Beckham, Scholes, (Roy) Keane, (Ryan) Giggs – it gave me incredible experience.

“Of course, it was practically impossible to get a run in the first team, only very few manage that, but to make those four first team appearances is something I feel very proud that I managed to do.

“And playing under Sir Alex? There are probably two stories I can tell you about that!

“He called me into his office once when I was about 19, to offer me a three-year contract.

“So, at the same time I decided to ask him if I could buy my own house, and he said no, not until I had done three months of cooking lessons with the club chef, so I knew how to look after myself.

“Once or twice a week I had to come in early before training to help the chef and learn how to cook, probably so I didn’t end up ordering takeaways and eating a load of rubbish at home!

“That was the caring side of the manager, but I also saw a very strict side as well.

“I remember once we played Stoke away in a friendly and he absolutely ripped me to shreds after the game – you don’t forget that sort of thing in a hurry!

“He was generally always positive and constructive, and his man management skills and the way he looked after players is what makes him one of the very best of all time.

“United gave me such a good grounding, at that time they were the best team in the league and right up there in Europe, so when you eventually have to leave, the only way is down.

“That is tough in one sense, because you go from the pure luxury of Old Trafford with the stadium and how you are looked after behind the scenes to other clubs where the facilities are never going to be quite the same.

“But I feel really lucky to have experienced those years at United and picked up knowledge and information which I took with me for the rest of my career.”

Ultimately it was during discussions with Ferguson that Nardiello realised it was time to leave United, the manager himself acknowledging that he needed to play more regular first-team football.

And the rest of that career certainly proved fruitful, with Nardiello achieving that aforementioned quartet of promotions, with Barnsley, Blackpool, Rotherham and Bury.

His century-and-a-quarter of goals also included some notable ones, such as in both the play-off semi-finals and final as Barnsley won the League One play-offs in 2005/06, defeating Kenny Jackett’s Swansea, another of Nardiello’s former clubs, on penalties in the Millennium Stadium final.

“I am proud of playing for all the different teams that I did, and I think it is only after you retire that you look back and properly appreciate it all,” says Nardiello.

“Even my debut for United, at Arsenal away, at the time it probably didn’t fully sink in and you only reflect fully after you look back when you finish.

“When I was promoted with Blackpool to the Premier League, I only made a handful of appearances due to injury but with the other three I was fortunate to play a key part and score some important goals.

“Playing regularly and scoring goals, like those in the play-off games, they are the ones that stick with you particularly as it is a short career and is over very quickly.

“I will always feel very lucky to have played as long as I did and had the career that I did.”

Nardiello’s final appearance came with Bangor City just over five years ago, a career swansong in Wales also offering a reminder of his international experience, three senior caps including a debut in Bulgaria in which debutant Freddy Eastwood scored a spectacular winning goal and a young Wayne Hennessey was on top form in keeping a clean sheet.

Proud dad and ex-West Bromwich policeman Donato Nardiello

He was actually eligible to play for three countries, England – his birthplace for whom he played at junior levels, Wales – his father’s birthplace – or Italy – his grandfather’s birthplace.

A particularly timely trio at present given England met Italy for Molineux’s first senior Three Lions international since 1956 last Saturday, and England are due to meet Wales in a major tournament once again in the World Cup Qatar in November.

Given his father Donato had represented Wales, it was of huge significance for Nardiello that he was able to follow in his footsteps and wear the famous red jersey.

“I get hammered by people all the time because I suppose I can support three different countries due to my family links,” he laughs.

“That will become even bigger with England meeting Wales and to be brutally honest I would have to support Wales in that one, because I represented them in senior internationals.

“I do feel very privileged to have earned those international caps and it was particularly special because my Dad had also played for Wales back in the Seventies.”

Looking forward, Nardiello’s career post football is one which is founded ever so slightly on his own formative years in the game.

He works as a Financial Adviser with KWM (Klipp Wealth Management), helping clients achieve financial security whilst planning for the future, including supporting young footballers who may find themselves vulnerable to exploitation when it comes to looking after their monetary affairs.

“When I was a young player, I got taken advantage of in terms of finances and some dodgy investments and from that point onwards I have always had a keen eye on this sort of area,” Nardiello reveals.

“When you are young, and start earning good money, sometimes you don’t know what to do with it and can end up losing a lot - I have heard some horror stories over the last year or so.

“Working with young footballers is just a part of my role now - I work with many different clients in terms of financial services - but I suppose it’s nice to be able to pass on some guidance based around my own experiences.

“It is such a short career that it is important for them to have that support with their finances, and I can also remind them to enjoy and take in every bit of their successes in football as, before you know it, it is over!”

Nardiello certainly did that, even if sadly it wasn’t ultimately with Wolves where he would go on and make his name.

He admits to sometimes wondering what might have happened had he stayed at Molineux and potentially had more opportunities of first team football in his formative years.

But life is about more than football, and, even if he still refers to Stourbridge as home, Nardiello is now settled in Manchester and it’s the city where he met his partner with whom he now has a young family.

Is he ‘the one that got away’ when it comes to Wolves? At a Golden Era in the club’s Academy history when the likes of Robbie Keane, Matt Murray and Joleon Lescott were emerging through the youth ranks? Who knows what Nardiello could have achieved had he stayed and fitted into the jigsaw of that time?

Equally, would anyone in his position have been able to turn down the advances of a powerhouse such as Manchester United as they were then under Sir Alex Ferguson? And had the opportunity to play those four first team games and learn from some of the genuine greats of world football? It would have been very tough to say no.

No surprise then that Nardiello himself is more than comfortable with how events panned out.

Daniel Nardiello now works in the financial services sector

“As I said I loved my short time at Wolves as a youth team player and will always want them to do well especially still having so many friends in the area,” he says.

“But I also loved going to United, all the experiences I had there, and the career that followed afterwards.

“Sometimes you can think about it and wonder how things might have turned out differently but ultimately there isn’t too much point looking back too much.

“It’s one of those things both in football and in life, that you make the decision which you think is best and then stand by it.”

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