OH, how it’s easy to talk a good game. Or maybe not that easy in my case. Pundits or ex-professionals, sitting in a warm studio, offering forth their opinions on how a manager got his tactics spectacularly wrong or shaking their heads in disbelief that a player missed an absolute sitter. Hindsight truly is a wonderful thing, is it not?
The best players or managers are always sitting in the stand or the studio aren’t they? Or in this day and age, it’s probably on social media. There are more than a few Mourinho’s on my timeline. The reality of actually doing it for real, out on the pitch, is far harder, especially nowadays when managers are two minutes into a job before getting the bullet.
When split-second decisions during a match can win or lose you a game. When you don’t get the benefit of a replay or a stats sheet. See Gary Neville at Valencia. Or even big Chris Sutton at Lincoln City. Unfortunately, that is what Neil McCann is finding out right now at my old club Dundee.
It was a brave – or some might now say crazy decision – by Neil to give up what was a fantastic job at Sky to put his head on the block as a manager in his own right. He was very well respected in the main as a pundit and for me always spoke really well. Clearly being a manager has been something that has been on his mind since he hung up his boots though.
There is no doubt that pundits who have either never been a manager, or better still, have been successful a one, carry a wee bit more credence. McCann had that at Sky. He didn’t have the stain of being an unsuccessful manager on his cv. But he has risked that too. How can you criticise a manager for his tactics or his team selection when you have had a go yourself and not been a success? Walk a mile in a man’s shoes and all that. Your credibility takes a dunt, there’s no doubt about it.
Neil took the plunge into management near the end of last season at a time when Dundee were hovering perilously around the Premiership drop zone and effectively kept them up. He lifted the players and got that new manager bounce, which trust me, isn’t always guaranteed.
The feeling of satisfaction he would have got from that would have been enormous. But he would also have felt relief. The feeling of immense pressure was maybe why he didn’t commit straight away to the job, full time, despite the pleas of the Dundee faithful and the squad he had left behind.
It was a huge decision to turn his back on a job at Sky that was relatively stress free and no doubt well paid. But like a moth to a flame, he just couldn’t stay away. Was it that feeling of pressure and having to win every week the very thing he missed most? Or the dressing room? He was undoubtedly a winner as a player. But as he trudged disconsolately towards the home dressing room at full-time on Saturday, after being well beaten by a 10-man Hamilton Accies side, and subsequently saw his Dundee side drop to the bottom of the Premiership table, maybe he wished he hadn’t scratched that particular itch.
Because judging by his team’s performance on Saturday, particularly defensively, they look in a bit of bother.
If it was a brave decision by McCann to give up his Sky gig; it was an even braver decision to set Dundee up to play the way they do. He has a clear philosophy in how he wants his teams to play and has steadfastly stuck by it so far. I must admit, in spells, I have enjoyed watching the way Dundee try and work the ball from the back and through the lines. The easy option is to lump it up to your strikers and to play off the second balls. Trust me that is not enjoyable for a player nor for a fan to watch.
Neil is trying to play the correct way, much in the same mould as Brendan Rodgers at Celtic. But the difference is Brendan is getting results. You need to get results alongside it. They buy you time. At the end of the day, it is about winning games and Neil will know that. He is not daft.
It was interesting watching his reaction to the supporters’ groans in the main stand at Dens Park on Saturday when they were patiently trying to build the game from deep. He was pleading for patience, but as the club slipped to the bottom of the pile, that is now in short supply. You can see what he is trying to do, and the punters can too. But they are getting nervous now.
The problem his side have is that all the good play is crashing down on the rocks in the final third. They don’t have enough quality in the top end of the pitch to finish off their good approach play. Plus, they defended like schoolkids on Saturday. That is a worrying combination.
Neil needs to find the right blend in attack and quickly to get his team out of trouble. Otherwise that cosy seat in the studio could be calling again.
And another thing . . .
Pedro Caixinha has left the building. Chris Burke’s last-minute goal for Killie could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. The Rangers board have finally bitten the bullet and pulled the plug on what turned out to be a very expensive Portuguese project.
But who now for the hottest of hotseats now? Pedro has left more baggage than a Glasgow Airport carousel for the next incumbent to wade through. How much money have Rangers actually got left to invest in the playing squad after paying off Caixinha and his staff?
Derek McInnes will surely be asking that very same question when, if as expected, his phone rings about the Rangers job. If it doesn’t ring then the board have failed the fans again. They cannot afford another gamble.