Mark McGhee is certainly not the first to discover that supporters can play just as big a part in determining a manager’s future as a club’s directors.
In the new ownership model at Motherwell, however, McGhee has fallen victim to the influence of both simultaneously. The Well Society fans group, who acquired a 76 per cent stake at Fir Park from businessman Les Hutchison last year, were directly involved in the decision to sack McGhee yesterday morning.
Would the 59-year-old have been afforded any greater leeway or patience under a more traditional boardroom set-up? Given the chronic run of four successive Premiership defeats he oversaw in February, including a 7-2 drubbing at Aberdeen and Saturday’s humiliating 5-1 loss at home to Dundee, perhaps not.
Motherwell’s top flight status, which they have retained for the past 32 years, is under genuine threat in a season which continues to see a gaggle of clubs embroiled in a claustrophobic battle to avoid finishing in the bottom two. So the first high-profile call since the club went into fan ownership can hardly be described as a knee-jerk reaction. It is an unfortunate, but perhaps inevitable end to McGhee’s second spell in charge of Motherwell.
His first, when he succeeded the sacked Maurice Malpas in 2007, was a conspicuous success. Having inherited a side which escaped relegation by just six points, McGhee led Motherwell to a third-place finish in the Scottish Premier League and into Europe for the first time in 13 years.
His stock remained high among the Motherwell support, despite his departure to take charge of Aberdeen in the summer of 2009, and most of them welcomed his return in October 2015 when he replaced Ian Baraclough.
As McGhee guided them out of relegation trouble to a creditable fifth-place finish in the Premiership, picking up Manager of the Month awards in December 2015 and March 2016 along the way, he once again appeared like an ideal fit for the Motherwell job.
That impression, though, has evaporated this season.
There have been fits and starts of decent performances, but the overall picture has been grim.
No team in the Premiership has suffered more defeats than the 14 recorded by Motherwell in their 26 league fixtures so far. Their goal difference of -23 is also, by some distance, the worst in the division.
For McGhee, the strain often appeared to be taking its toll. He picked up a two-match SFA suspension for abusing a match official and steward during a 2-0 defeat at Dundee in November and was also involved in a spat with Celtic assistant manager Chris Davies after the champions’ 4-3 win at Fir Park in December.
He is scheduled to face another disciplinary hearing at Hampden on 16 March when he faces a charge of offensive and abusive conduct towards fourth official John McKendrick during that heavy defeat at Pittodrie last month, an outburst which saw him sent to the stand where he reacted with understandable but unedifying contempt towards Aberdeen supporters who were filming him as they abusively taunted him.
Given his part-time role as assistant to Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, McGhee’s rap sheet with the SFA is even more unfortunate. He will remain by his close friend Strachan’s side for the friendly against Canada at Easter Road and the crucial World Cup qualifier against Slovenia at Hampden later this month.
It remains to be seen where his future lies in club management. As McGhee carries the can for Motherwell’s slump in form, club captain Keith Lasley expressed his sympathy for the man who said his farewells to the playing staff before clearing out his office yesterday.
“I feel as if, as a group, we’ve let the manager down,” said Lasley. “It’s our responsibility now and we have to move on. The players take responsibility, we have not been playing to a level that has been enough to compete in this league.
“If you’re not quite at it other teams will take advantage of that and that’s what’s been happening these last few weeks. The players who are fortunate enough to get out there on Saturday need to roll their sleeves up and put a performance in that’s worthy of the shirt and obviously not what we’ve been getting these last few weeks The blame for that lies solely with the players in my opinion.”