KENNY Shiels was a master of illusion. Perhaps even a bit of a hypnotist. You could stare at a dull object for an hour and a half – an SPL match, for example – and presume it was nothing out of the ordinary.
Then you would listen to the Kilmarnock manager for a few minutes, and be convinced you had actually seen a thing of beauty.
There was a game at Easter Road, for instance, in which Kilmarnock lost narrowly to Hibernian. The standard of play had not been great, but Shiels came into the press conference and rhapsodised. Of course he would rather have won, he said, but wasn’t it good to see Hibs adopting the passing game which Kilmarnock had been pioneering?
And so on in similar vein, until you half believed it was all true. That never mind Hibs, no-one else had attempted the passing game until Kenny bowled into Rugby Park and started spreading the gospel.
Granted, there was a self-serving element in this. It painted Kilmarnock’s efforts in a better light, and took our minds off their shortcomings. But it was also of service to those of us who were looking for something interesting to write about another humdrum match; and it served Scottish football well too.
Ideally, of course, we would like the standard of play to become so good that nobody needs to talk it up. But while we’re waiting for that drastic improvement to occur, let’s have a good time watching the product we’ve got.
Shiels ensured that we had that good time. We might have been sceptical about what he said, or simply disagreed with him entirely, but we enjoyed listening to him. Or at least journalists did. In other sections of the game his popularity was not quite so high.
Fans of other clubs sometimes took exception to his remarks – his characterisation of Celtic as “Paranoid FC”, for instance, did not go down well with some supporters of the champions. And in early 2012, then Hearts boss Paulo Sergio was less than enchanted by the Northern Irishman’s provocative claim that he would resign if his club had told him not to play a goalkeeper. Hearts ’keeper Marion Kello had been dropped on club orders, andShiels was suggesting that a manager should have autonomy when it came to picking his team.
But Sergio countered: “Now I know why everybody in the game is speaking so badly about him,” the Portuguese boss said. “He should listen to what his own players say about him.” With Hearts due to visit Rugby Park on league duty that weekend, Sergio was asked if he would shake Shiels’ hand. “His hand. His neck. Everything,” he replied.
While at his best riling others, Shiels could at times be guilty of taking himself too seriously. That certainly seemed to be the case last season when he accused Hibs’ Paul Cairney of deliberately playing for a penalty by making contact with Ryan O’Leary’s leg, Television footage suggested that the referee had been correct to award the spot-kick, but rather than admit he had got it wrong, Shiels used his newspaper column to insist he was right.
In response, Hibs took the unusual step of condemning Shiels on their website. “It is particularly disappointing that Mr Shiels chooses to use his national newspaper column to further imply cheating by a Hibernian player when the video and photographic evidence is absolutely clear and demonstrates that the referee made the correct decision,” the statement read.
“The incident has been fully exposed by the television coverage. Everyone connected with Kilmarnock FC should be embarrassed that their manager continues to draw attention to the fundamental flaws in his observation of what happened.”
Hibs manager Pat Fenlon struck a note of conciliation, implying that everyone makes mistakes. “As managers we tend to at times say stupid things in quick reaction to things without thinking about it,” he said. “We’ve all done it.”
In his lighter moments Shiels might well agree with that assessment, but there were other times when his earnest approach let him down. His former employers said as much yesterday in their statement announcing his departure. “A difficult relationship with the Scottish FA resulted in several touchline bans,” it read.
“And recent comments regarding a fellow SPL club and the Scottish FA judicial panel incurred a further suspension which would have seen Kenny commence next season in the stand, rather than the dug-out. As a result, the club was also prosecuted by the judicial panel’s compliance officer.”
Kilmarnock said they had two main reasons for ending Shiels’ term – “footballing and regulatory”. They thanked him for bringing the League Cup to the club in 2012, but pointed out that the season just ended was altogether poorer: the defence of the League Cup lasted just one match, the team suffered an extremely disappointing defeat at home to Hibs in the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup, and they ended up ninth in the SPL.
Shiels’ departure means that only two of the bottom-six clubs have the same man in charge now as they did at the start of season 2012-13. : Fenlon at Hibs, and Danny Lennon at St Mirren. John McGlynn left Hearts, Dundee said goodbye to Barry Smith, and Craig Brown moved upstairs at Aberdeen. Throw in Steve Lomas’s graduation from St Johnstone to Millwall and Peter Houston’s farewell to Dundee United, and you have the alarming statistic that half the SPL has changed manager since last August.
It remains to be seen whether the replacements for those six will do any better, but whoever comes in at Kilmarnock will be doing well to be more entertaining than Shiels. Improving on his footballing achievements will be no simple matter either, and we can only hope he will not be lost to the game altogether.
THOUGHTS AND WORDS OF AN ‘UNCONSCIOUS COMEDIAN’
September 27, 2011: Shiels hit out at Rangers defender Kirk Broadfoot, who had been involved in a tunnel bust-up following a 2-0 defeat for Kilmarnock at Ibrox.
“It was the ugly boy from Rangers – the male model from Ayrshire,” he said. “I think his mascara was running. Pasquale only responded like a captain would do.”
December 3, 2011: Despite a 2-0 home win over Aberdeen, Sheils wasn’t happy. “I feel hollow inside,” he said. “We dominated here against St Johnstone and lost the game and then we played really well against St Mirren but they beat us 3-0. We didn’t play nearly as well today but the outcome was good. Maybe my expectations are too high.”
January 10, 2012: Shiels compares son Dean Shiels and prospective signing Derek Riordan with Finland midfielder (and former Killie player) Alexei Eremenko.
“Eremenko has sensory acuity on a football pitch,” he said. “Dean has it and so does Derek. There are not many SPL players who can see these things.”
January 29, 2012: After his side’s 1-0 extra-time League Cup semi-final win over yellow-shirted derby rivals Ayr United, Shiels blasted his opponents’ negative tactics.
“I thought the teams would show each other respect, come out and attack each other – but they didn’t,” he said. “Ayr United wouldn’t come out and I don’t know why, because they have good players. Maybe they used the same coach company they used at St Mirren? Their players’ work ethic and endeavour was magnificent but it was a negative approach. At times they were like a bunch of daffodils round the penalty box.”
November 4, 2012: Shiels blasted referee Euan Norris after he had sent off goalkeeper Cammy Bell but denied Kilmarnock a penalty during a 2-1 home defeat by Inverness.
“I went to shake the hand of the ref at the end and didn’t say a word,” he said. “I kept my emotions inside as much as I could. He then said something sarcastic so I reported him to [SPL delegate] John Connolly. I don’t know what exactly it was he said but it was something flippant. I will also be reporting him to [referee supervisor] John Fleming as well because I’m not happy about it.”
December 14, 2012: Shiels accuses fourth official Andrew Dallas of making up an offence he had committed in order to have him sent to the stand during a game against St Johnstone.
“I brought in evidence to disprove the fourth official, who fabricated stuff to try and incriminate me,” he said. “I don’t like that. I’m not going to lie down to these people. The fabrication was outrageous – at least four different things that were said about me – but he wasn’t aware I had visual evidence on my laptop.”
Shiels was given a four-match ban for his comments.
December 31, 2012: Kenny offers the SFA some cost-cutting advice. “Fourth officials don’t serve any purpose at all,” he said. “Football would be better without them to be perfectly honest. It’d be good if we could have a bit of peace to do our job. That would be a positive step forward. The dug-out would be a better place to be. And then there’s the referee’s observer. A good plan for the new year could be to introduce a referee’s observer observer!”
April 26, 2013: Shiels responded to Neil Lennon’s complaints that no-one from Celtic made the short list of four for PFA Scotland’s Player of the Year award. “Celtic make a song and dance about everything, don’t they? Paranoid FC,”
he said. To which Lennon replied: “Kenny has always had plenty to say about our club. He just likes to ramble on in little monologues. He’s a bit like David Brent sometimes. He’s an unconscious comedian.”
April 30, 2013: More hot water for Shiels when he complains about the influence Celtic have on the SFA’s appeals process in a radio interview. “Celtic have massive influence on the judicial panel when decisions are made,” he said. “Celtic are the monsters of Scottish football.” Outcome? A four-match suspension (with half of it suspended).