When news broke that Ray McKinnon had been sacked as Dundee United manager earlier this week, opinion was divided between people thinking it was ridiculously harsh or an unfortunate necessity.
As it happens, you could divide the people who had those opinions into two distinct categories: those who hadn’t seen Dundee United play regularly, and those who had.
On paper, McKinnon’s stats from his time at Tannadice read quite well. He narrowly missed getting The Terrors back to the top flight via the playoffs in a league where a strong Hibs side reached their expected automatic promotion target. He had a win ratio of around 52% and only lost two home league games in his entire run. Now, just over a quarter of the way through this season, United sit a mere five points off the top of the league, with twenty five games left to play. Surely he could have clawed that back?
Once again, on paper it looks like mean old Dundee United – described by David Tanner as a “perma shambles” – have jumped the gun and done wrong by another fine manager.
The reality though is something different.
If you ask any Dundee United fan to assess McKinnon’s time in charge then they’ll say the same things. Recruitment has been poor in spite of being backed pretty well by our unpopular chairman; the win percentage masks an away record that is completely unacceptable, and perhaps most importantly, even the games we have won have largely been awful to watch. People sometimes forget that football is a form of entertainment, and there’s barely been an ounce of that from United under McKinnon. Going to see Ray McKinnon’s United was a chore. Those last two matches against Livingston and ICT honestly rank among the two worst performances I have ever seen from a Dundee United side.
At this point in the season, of course McKinnon could have caught St Mirren and reclaimed the automatic promotion place, but it seemed highly unlikely. So the United board were faced with a choice; stick with him and find that the most likely outcome was a playoff finish at best, or try someone new and hope that he can make a difference.
It’s imperative that United get back into the top flight as soon as possible, so the change had to be made. There’s no question in my mind or in the mind of any Dundee United fan.
But then that leads us to the question of who should take over, and this is where I get really depressed.
The candidates suggested by pundits leave a lot to be desired. They are lazy, uninspiring and sometimes baffling. It’s very easy to tout Jim McIntyre or John Hughes because they are available, looking for work and remain in the public eye thanks to their friendships with the guys on Sportsound, but both men are out of work for valid reasons. Meanwhile, some suggestions show a shocking lack of research from people who should know better. My personal favourite was one reporter touting Jim McInally for the job because he’s “done wonders at Peterhead on a very tight budget”. Seriously? Peterhead probably had the highest budget of any part-time team in League One last season and still got relegated. But then these are the same pundits who thought Barry Ferguson was doing a good job at Clyde without once looking at the league table because he’s Barry Ferguson.
Fans, meanwhile, come away with some equally bizarre suggestions. I’ve read many an Arab proclaim that we shouldn’t go for an inexperienced manager because it’s proven that they don’t work for us. At the same time, these same fans would love a guy like Alex Neil, Owen Coyle or Derek McInnes, forgetting that all three were given their first jobs at a similar level and to great success.
I suppose I’m guilty of sweeping statements like that myself though, as I’ve said that I don’t want a failed, out-of-work manager, without giving due consideration to the candidates.
It’s the individual that counts though, not the category they fit into.
The point is that ultimately pundits and fans will only go with who they can immediately think of, and often those are just the most glaringly obvious candidates. It’s not our job to hire the new manager, it’s that of the Dundee United board.
And unlike us, they’ve got to do their job with a bit more care. The fact that neither Hughes nor McIntyre are already in the job at the time of writing suggests that unlike when they appointed McKinnon – the only candidate considered for the job last time around – they might actually be putting some thought into it.
Maybe it’ll turn out that Hughes or McIntyre is the best man for the job. I hope not, though. In the last few weeks, both Ross County and Kilmarnock have appointed good managers and though United are a division below them, I think that objectively it’s still a bigger and more attractive job.
But this is a decision the board simply cannot get wrong. Let’s hope they don’t.
Written by Stuart Milne (@SGMilne)