BRIAN McClair felt part of the furniture at Manchester United. He made almost 500 appearances for the club after joining them from Celtic in 1987, winning ten major honours in 11 years under Sir Alex Ferguson.
He became part of the club’s coaching staff in 1999, specifically tasked with helping to develop the players coming through the ranks at Old Trafford.
Capped 30 times by Scotland, the 51-year-old would appear to be a perfect fit for the post of the Scottish Football Association’s performance director yet, when he was unveiled as Mark Wotte’s successor at Hampden yesterday, he revealed that he had to persuade the powers that be that he was the right man for the job.
“I was told that Gordon Strachan was looking for my ‘phone number,” he said. “I passed it on and, a couple of weeks later, got a call from him.
“He was wanting to talk to me about my experiences of youth development at Manchester United. Then, towards the end of the call, he asked me if I knew anyone else he should be speaking to or if I knew anyone I could recommend who had the qualities to be considered for the position – and I said: ‘Me!’
“Gordon assumed I was being sarcastic but I think he mulled it over and thought: ‘Maybe he was being serious’. Anyway, the next thing I know I got a call from Stewart Regan saying he had been given permission to speak to me by my employers.
“I came up here and I did an interview with Stewart, Gordon and Walter Smith and they offered me the job.”
Apart from a brief, ill-fated return to first senior club Motherwell in 1998, McClair has spent 28 years down south but he admitted the call of Caledonia was too strong to ignore when the opportunity arose to help nurture Scotland’s nascent talent. “There was an emotional element to my decision to return, in the sense that I felt I wanted to give something back: that was part of it,” he said. “The attraction is that it’s Scotland. I want to make a difference and I think I can, although I don’t know what that difference is going to be yet.
“It will take me time to learn exactly everything that’s involved, the role and the responsibilities. But it’s a great opportunity for me.”
He was also encouraged by Ferguson’s response when he sought his advice on the SFA’s offer. “He said I had the intelligence for it: that was it,” he claimed. The closest he came to working with senior players was when he was assistant-manager to Brian Kidd during a brief, unsuccessful spell at Blackburn Rovers but McClair believes he has sufficient experience for his new challenge.
“It’s always irritated me when people ask if I ever want to be a manager,” he said. “I’ve been a manager for ten years at the Academy. That comes with its own responsibilities. I thoroughly enjoy being a manager at academy level and I intend to be at this level for as long as I can.”
McClair rebuffed a suggestion that his return to Scotland was partially due to the retiral of his mentor, Ferguson, in 2013.
“I haven’t been pushed out by United,” he said. “There was no pressure whatsoever put on me to leave. When someone as supportive as Sir Alex leaves then there will be a big change. The chief executive, David Gill, also decided to leave at the same time and his replacement, Ed Woodward, is having to learn about the whole business and decide what to do with the Academy.”
McClair will assert himself more once his feet are under the table but he already recognises there is room for improvement. “What can the SFA do better?” he asked. “Well, they have access to nearly all of the kids in Scotland, I suppose.
“With United, we were involved in a competitive market with other clubs. But the SFA can have one collective view, one philosophy, on how you want to approach this.”
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