Brave. It’s a word we associate with Scottish football heroes of the past. The Dave Mackay kind, the Jim Holton kind, the filling-in-at-full-back kind when Eric Caldow breaks his leg.
Brave was never a “buzzword” – the term didn’t exist back then – but that’s what it is now. Brave gets battened onto the front page of the blueprint for football’s future Project Brave. Crikey, with a title like that, this grand plan had better work.
And maybe the SFA will be thinking themselves brave by, as seems certain, recruiting Malky Mackay as the new performance director. Brave, or what’s that other one again? Yes – foolish.
A heck of a lot is riding on this appointment before it’s been confirmed. There’s the reputations of the No 1 and No 2 club managers in the land, Brendan Rodgers and Mark Warburton, who’ve declared Mackay to be the best man for the job, a view echoed by others in the game. There’s the reputation of Mackay himself, who promises he’s learned from the text-message scandal which brought him down as Cardiff manager. There’s the reputation of the SFA, who need to get something right after years of getting things wrong. And there’s the reputation of Scottish football, currently at its lowest ebb. If Mackay fails, hell mend everyone. There will be those who will say the appointment was always doomed to failure. In too important a post, Mackay was too much of a risk, carrying too much baggage. How was it ever going to work?
The only way it was going to be deemed a success was if the Class of Mackay was going to win us the 2026 World Cup which of course is too much pressure to be placed on anyone. But this is the kind of scrutiny, and scepticism and cynicism, the man brings with him.
If the SFA had managed to land Austin MacPhee then they would have fancied themselves as brave, but MacPhee sauntered into Tynecastle last week, one step behind Ian Cathro, to form the new Hearts coaching partnership.
Now it’s possible that the beaks will still fancy being viewed as brave for believing that everyone deserves a second chance – and it’s true, they do. But here? In this role? Won’t the task be tough enough without having to be burdened by a murky past?
“I’m no racist. I’m no sexist. I’m no homophobe. I’m not anti-semitic.” Mackay has gone on TV and said these things. The people who know him, know this to be true, he claims. It’s those who don’t know him who may need convincing.
But performance director will be a challenge in itself. It is too crucial a post to be a vehicle for restoring reputations. It doesn’t need, won’t benefit from, such distractions.
The future or the past? It’s easy to portray McPhee as the future - too easy, argue some pundits, who feel there’s been too much swooning at Cathro’s laptop and his sidekick’s hairstyle. But it’s also easy to portray Mackay as the past - part of the old boys’ network with Old Firm connections which, its critics argue, self-perpetuates through mutual admiration and helping keep one another in employment.
Football has had a helluva job dragging itself into the modern world with its wacky enlightened attitudes. Mackay says that of the 10,000 texts swilling around Cardiff City when he was manager, there were just three posted by him which were “completely unacceptable” and for which he’s sincerely apologised. But the conversations were hideous. “Dinosaur” is what you are right now, apparently, if questioning the Cathro revolution. The term better applies those in the game who talk of “fkn chinkys” and remark of a female agent: “Bet you’d love a bounce on her falsies”.
The part played in this tawdriness by Mackay’s former head of recruitment Ian Moody – rather significant if Mackay fired off only three offensive texts – seems reminiscent of Richard Keys’ involvement in the scandal which ended the presenter’s career and that of Andy Gray at Sky. Ex-footballers from the determinedly macho era seem to attract camp-followers who love to make them laugh.
Mackay is trying to move on from the events of 2014 which, it should be said, didn’t lead to any charges being brought against him. He doesn’t deserve complete banishment from football but this doesn’t seem like the best way back for him, or the future of Scottish football. Would young players look up to him? Would those eligible for a number of countries choose Scotland? Even without the controversy, he doesn’t seem like the ideal fit. His career thus far has not pointed to him taking a post like this. And it’s far from just another job.