Jackie McNamara- This is your moment
10/02/2013 § Leave a comment
As Scottish football brought in what is hoped to be another prosperous new year in 2013, Jackie McNamara would have found himself sitting with a similar heir of optimism. At the start of January, McNamara’s Partick Thistle side sat at the top of Scottish Football League Division 1, looking odds on to gain promotion back to the SPL for the first time in 10 years. Thistle were scoring goals for fun under McNamara, in his first senior job in management, preaching an openly attractive attacking style of play. Indeed all things seemed rosy enough that on December 18, 2012, the former Celtic and Scotland star was given an early Christmas present with an improved contract deal offered to him by Thistle chairman David Beattie. However, at times in life, you have to seize the moment, and McNamara may well have done that just as the end of 2013’s first month was concluded.
The Glaswegian and former right back agreed to head north to Tannadice, and become the manager of SPL side Dundee United, taking his assistant at Thistle and also ex-Celt Simon Donnelly with him. McNamara’s appointment as top dog at United brought to an end a quite frantic and dramatic month for the Tayside club. On January 17, then manager Peter Houston told the world in a press conference that he would be leaving the club in the summer at the expiration of his contract. Yet a mere nine days later, Houston prompted to bring forward his pending departure and leave the club by mutual consent. He had been in charge since December 2009 after a previous stint as assistant to Craig Levein, who would leave the United hot seat for the Scotland national team.
So with Houston’s departure, came an accelerated interview process conducted by outspoken chairman Stephen Thompson, with United keen to get a manager in before the end of the month ahead of a February 1 Scottish Cup meeting with Rangers at home. That they did, with McNamara ousting the likes of Steven Pressley, Gary Bollan, Billy Dodds and my personal tip Derek McInnes to the post. I admit it, I had former Tannadice midfield stalwart McInnes down as my personal pick on who would suit the job the best, due to his impressive tenure at St Johnstone working within a very small budget year on year. International managers Mixu Paatelainen of Finland, and Michael O’Neill of Northern Ireland, both former SPL players, were also linked with the job. But Thompson chose to plump for McNamara, who fittingly ended his Partick Thistle regime four days before he was given the United job, with a 2-1 victory over Cowdenbeath at Firhill.
Prior to entering the doors at Tannadice, McNamara obviously had no SPL experience as a manager, whereas the likes of Pressley and McInnes have. Yet he brought with him a record at Thistle in which his Jags team won near enough half of its games with him at the helm. And what McNamara didn’t have in terms of top flight manager experience, he certainly made up for on his CV with that from his playing days. A total of 255 appearances for Glasgow Celtic, at which he enjoyed tremendous success notably during the Martin O’Neill days, not to mention 33 international caps for Scotland. His other clubs included Dunfermline Athletic (prior to joining Celtic), Wolves, Aberdeen and Falkirk. In his first season at Celtic, he was awarded Scottish PFA Young Player of the Year, following some textbook box-to-box outings as an old fashioned wing back, a theme that would continue throughout his playing career.
So as McNamara strolled through the doors at Tannadice in the orange half of the city of discovery, his first match would be against old rivals Rangers, after making himself a Scottish football legend during his time at Parkhead. The match was eagerly anticipated on Tayside, after a bitter war of words involving the club and Rangers chief executive Charles Green, resulted in the Ibrox away support boycotting the match. Green and Rangers chose to refuse ticket allocations after United were one of the clubs that refused ‘Gers access back into the SPL following administration and then liquidation. But that sideshow did not put off McNamara, as his troops went on to defeat Ally McCoist’s toothless bears and win the game 3-0, with United striker Johnny Russell scoring in the first minute of the match. Quite the start.
That win was then followed by another in McNamara’s second game, once again at home, with a 3-1 victory over John McGlynn’s Hearts side. The fiery Russell taking a tad longer to get on the score sheet this time, striking after just two minutes. McNamara has certainy seized the moment, stepping into the inevitable limelight of Scottish football’s top flight, after what must have been an undoubtedly difficult decision to leave high-flying Thistle. He had taken the Glasgow club, that had been meandering around in mid-table SFL 1 for quite some time since dropping down a division in the early part of the millennium, to become title contenders on the brink of the promised land again.
Nevertheless, by joining Dundee United, McNamara has accepted arguably now the biggest job in Scottish football outside of the Old Firm, with the club attracting an average of 10,000 loyal fans to every home game. The Arabs have a tremendous array of attacking talent in their ranks with the likes of deadly front duo Jon Daly and Russell, winger Gary Mackay-Steven, playmaker Stuart Armstrong, as well as seasoned pros like Willo Flood and John Rankin. Armstrong, Mackay-Steven and Russell are seen as three of the hottest talents and most exciting players in Scottish football these days. One of the key aspects to McNamara’s dream start on Tayside could well have been down to the club rejecting an eleventh hour transfer deadline day bid of £400,000 for Russell from English League One side Sheffield United. A move that was potentially welcomed by many a Scottish football fan, with the prospect and reality of moves to big-money England seeming the normality these days.
McNamara was quoted as saying that he hopes old club Thistle make it back up to the SPL and end up facing Dundee United next season. Notably, Alan Archibald, a former Tannadice defender who played under McNamara at Thistle, has now been made interim player-coach for the title run-in.
Whether McNamara’s exciting beginning to his tenure on Tayside continues remains to be seen. He will be envisioning a United team challenge on all domestic fronts, completing a top six finish every year at least, as well as writing himself quietly into Tannadice folklore. It is of no doubt that McNamara has seized the moment in the short term, and whether he does so long term, only time will tell. Good luck Jackie.