Nick Broad: Remembering a performance pioneer
Written by Simon Austin — January 18, 2018
FIVE years ago, Nick Broad was killed in a road traffic accident in Paris. As Head of Science at Chelsea and Performance Manager at Paris Saint-Germain, the Englishman was at the vanguard of a new industry. This is his story, told by those who shared his footballing journey:
- Andy Cole: Striker worked with Broad at Blackburn from 2001-2004.
- Mike Forde: Former Director of Football Operations at Chelsea. Now runs consultancy in US.
- Carlo Ancelotti: Legendary manager worked with Broad at Chelsea & PSG.
- Jack Nayler: Celtic Head of Sport Science. Formerly at Chelsea & PSG.
- Jo Clubb: Sport scientist with Buffalo Bills & Sabres. Mentored by Broad at Chelsea.
Andy Cole: I worked with Nick for the whole time I was at Blackburn [2001 to 2004]. He was a lovely person, very generous, and I really got on well with him. As soon as we saw each other at training, the banter would start.
I used to hammer him about sports science, saying it was all rubbish. That wasn't true of course - I had a lot of respect for Nick and his work and he knew that. He was a smart guy and extremely good at his job.
I’d come from Manchester United, which was the pinnacle, but a lot of what Nick was doing at Blackburn was new to me - what to eat, when to eat and how to adapt depending on where you were in the week.
As a player, you have to take new things on board and have an open mind about them, just like Sir Alex Ferguson always did.
We didn’t regularly keep in touch after I left, which is often the way in football, but I did keep tabs on Nick’s career. He was at the forefront of new developments in football, you could tell that even when he was at Blackburn. You don't get a job at Chelsea if you’re a ham and egger.
Mike Forde: I first met Nick in 2001, when he was working at Blackburn Rovers as a nutritionist and I was a Performance Director at Bolton Wanderers. We were both young guys who were part of this new wave of performance practitioners.
We had done sports science-related courses and were the first generation to find full-time jobs with teams. Nick had been a real pioneer in nutrition. We had a couple of mutual friends and soon became friends ourselves.
Mike Forde: Nick was very successful at Blackburn and made a name for himself, which led to the job at Chelsea. It was the right opportunity at the right time - you had an ambitious guy arriving at a club that wanted to be the best in every field.
Nick worked very closely with [medical director] Bryan English. Then, in 2007, I got the opportunity to go to Chelsea as well, as Director of Football Operations.
It was just one of those perfect storms. Nick was extremely bright, pioneering, professional. We were trying to change the business and you’re looking for people to help you sprint with the process. Nick and Bryan were the two I leant on quite significantly as we went about trying to change the culture.
As the performance side of football was growing, it was a great opportunity for smart and well-educated people to thrive. But these aren't two qualities that guarantee success – you have to have a certain degree of drive too, and Nick had that in spades.
He saw a gap in Chelsea, and in the Premier League as a whole, to develop this burgeoning field of sport science and threw himself into it. All the things around GPS, all the things around saliva testing – all the areas people talked about - Nick was straight in there, he was brave enough to do it.
In 2008, Broad was promoted to the newly-created role of Head of Science by Chelsea.
Mike Forde: It wasn’t a case of one day someone telling Nick, ‘this is your role,’ it was a case of a smart, driven guy evolving and almost creating this role. And he didn’t do it at the expense of anyone else, he very much did it in an inclusive way, which I always appreciated.
Carlo Ancelotti: I wanted to bring my own staff with me when I arrived at Chelsea in 2009, but the club said 'before you make a decision, check the staff and tell us if everything is ok and if you want to change something'. So I used the first two months to understand the staff who were there, including Nick.
He was working there doing a lot of things - checking the training sessions, collecting data with GPS and cardio, doing nutrition for the players. He was working with [fitness coach] Glen Driscoll. I was impressed, because he was young but really experienced with a lot of knowledge and motivation. I was surprised.
Chelsea were better organised [than AC Milan]. They were used to collecting data in Milan, but not in this specific situation. We were used to collecting data from cardio but not from GPS. Nick had experience with that.
Of course you have to delegate, so it is important to have people around you that you trust. I had total trust in Nick, because he was really, really focused on his job. He was really concentrated and for 24 hours a day he was always available.
He was trying to find something new, because he was young and young people want to know. Every day is an important experience for them to improve.
Jack Nayler: Chelsea did some placements and I was lucky enough to get through the shortlisting process.
Nick was demanding, because his standards were so high, but at the same time he was a very caring person, you could see that straight away. Even as an intern, I was made to feel valued.
I was in charge of data collection, doing GPS tests, downloading data, making up recovery drinks - all the things that need to happen to make a sport science department function.
He talked to me about where I wanted to go and how to get there. When you do the undergraduate degree, you don’t really understand the depths you can go to in certain areas, you don’t really understand how your studies will apply in the world of work.
Nick was aiming very high and wanted both himself and his team to be the best they could be. Part of that was learning from the best. He was visionary and cutting edge. All the players loved him, too. He got them on side and really had a good relationship with them. A lot of the players we had were the biggest in the world, but there was mutual respect there.
At the end of the internship he offered me a job. Meeting him did genuinely change my life.
Mike Forde: As much as Nick knew what he could offer, he knew what he couldn’t offer too. So he allowed everyone to do the job and grow and wasn’t afraid of bringing in new ideas and not owning them. People at all levels saw him as a great ally.
Jo Clubb: I did an internship with Nick in 2009/10. At that stage they were taking on two interns a year from Loughborough. It was credit to Nick that he took on a woman, because there weren't too many on the backroom staff at clubs at that time.
That season we won the Double under Carlo and it was an incredible start to my career. At the end of the year, Nick gave me a contract to stay on as a sport science intern. He pushed you hard but always had time to listen to you. He wanted us to progress as a team.
Nick was visionary. GPS is commonplace now, but he was one of the first to implement it and develop it. He was always thinking how he could develop what we were doing and was open to insights. He had so much energy and I did used to wonder when he slept!
He took an interest in what you wanted to do and how you wanted to develop your career. I remember him saying, ‘whatever you want to specialise in, identify the best person in the world in the area, find out as much as you can about them and then get in touch.’
I did a Masters in high performance sport at ACU in Australia - because it was the best. It didn’t matter that it was on the other side of the world, Nick encouraged me to do it.
That internship scheme Nick ran was a conveyor belt of talent - Jack went on to PSG, Real Madrid and Celtic, I now work in the NFL and NHL, Gareth Sandford works for High Performance Sport New Zealand and there are many others too. That can't be a coincidence.
Developing people, and especially young people, was something he was very passionate about.
Carlo Ancelotti: Paris Saint-Germain wanted to build a top team, but didn’t have experience of this. They were different to Chelsea, because they didn’t have the same experience as a club.
The fact Nick was there was really helpful for the club. The training ground was really small and we worked to adjust it. We put a restaurant in the training ground to involve the players so they could eat there before after training. We also built a new gym and Nick was involved in all of this. Even GPS, which Nick was expert in – everything was new for them.
We met each other a lot of times after training, because Nick was far from his home and his friends.
Jack Nayler: I left Chelsea in the summer and enrolled on a Masters course. Then Nick called me: “I’m going to Paris with Carlo. Do you want to come for a month and help me get set up?”
Perfect. Linking up with Nick again was a big draw. Pretty soon after I was there it became apparent there was a long way to go for the club to become what it is now. It was only a few months after the takeover [by Qatar Sports Investments]. Nick asked me to stay longer so I ended up being there for 18 months.
Paris was really exciting. The owners said, 'we know where we want to be and want you to help us get there'. Carlo, Paul [Clement] and Nick were the drivers of this massive change and I was just along for the ride really. They wanted to do everything right - the restaurant, changes to the training ground, designing a new team bus - and be the best possible in every area.
That’s one of Carlo's biggest strengths - he implicitly trusts the staff around him to do their jobs.
He wasn’t just my mentor and boss, he was a really good friend. We were all very close.
I remember one time I got locked out of my flat and had to call Nick at 9pm asking if I could stay. "Course, come over." When I got round, his wife Paula was hoovering and he was making up the bed. I later found out they both had the flu and had been in bed all day, but they were just thinking about making me comfortable.
Carlo Ancelotti: I was in a restaurant and Paul [Clement] called me and told me Nick had had an accident. I stopped eating and went immediately to the hospital and stayed there.
Jack Nayler: I had gone to bed really early and was woken by my phone ringing. It was my girlfriend. She said, "you need to ring Paul, Nick’s been in an accident." She was crying. I called Paul and he was already at the hospital.
Mike Forde: I woke up at about 5am and there was a text on my phone from Bryan English telling me Nick had been in a serious accident. Can you imagine waking up to a text like that? I went into work at Chelsea in a complete daze.
Jack Nayler: Paul and Carlo had been at the hospital all night. They came back to the training ground that morning to explain to everyone what was going on. I went back to the hospital with them that afternoon after training.
It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to go through, so I can’t imagine what it was like for his family. The whole thing, from beginning to end, was horrendously difficult.
Carlo Ancelotti: That day, the players and staff were really affected. They couldn't think about football. We tried to stop the game but it was not possible. It was really difficult to train and to play. We played in Bordeaux and won 1-0 but the situation was very terrible.
After that, we went to the funeral in London. The club organised a flight and the staff and players attended. PSG was really correct to help Paula to organise everything.
Carlo Ancelotti: We worked together, yes, but in the end Nick became a really good friend. We spent time together and had fun together. He is a big loss for us as a family.
He was really, really humble. He could speak with everyone to explain his philosophy. He was really focused on his job and really loved his job. We still stay in touch with Paula and we still think about Nick a lot.
Jack Nayler: Nick was in the ascendancy. The level he was working at would have been anyone else in their prime, but with him you felt he was getting better and better the whole time.
Every day, as I'm doing my job, I instinctively think, "what would Nick do in this situation?" And I wonder what he would be doing now.
Jo Clubb: I haven’t had another mentor like Nick. Above all, I just feel very fortunate to have worked with him.
We started the Sports Discovery website to continue Nick’s legacy and ideas. He was so passionate about educating students and giving opportunities and that’s central to the blog.
One thing I always think is, ‘what would Nick be doing now?’ I have no doubt he could have been in a Performance Director role at a big outfit over here in the States, if that had been what he wanted. I look around the world and I see his mentees in big roles. His legacy lives on.