MARK McGhee has never lacked self-confidence. After agreeing an 18-month deal to return as Motherwell manager yesterday he promised to win the fans over while also dismissing fears about the folly of going back.
McGhee already deserves to be remembered as a successful Motherwell manager. He led them to third place in the Scottish Premier League in 2007-08, securing European football for the club for the first time in 13 years. He also helped steer the club through the difficult days following skipper Phil O’Donnell’s death in 2007.
But it was the manner of McGhee’s departure that angered the fans of the Fir Park club. Despite the fact he had already turned down the opportunity to go to Hearts, McGhee was lambasted by a section of the Motherwell support after leaving to return to Aberdeen, where he enjoyed such a successful spell as a player.
It didn’t work out for him at Pittodrie second time around. Results such as a 9-0 mauling by Celtic seemed to underline the truth in the maxim that it is foolish to return to a place of former glories. But McGhee is adamant this does not always have to be the case. He recalled his return to Newcastle United in the late 1980s after a short spell at St James’ Park early in his career – both experiences were positive ones, he recalled. “I have been back before,” he said. “I went back to Newcastle as a player. I knew the place, I wanted to be there and I had an enjoyable experience the second time around.
“It’s the same club but different circumstances and different people from executive to player level so it’s a completely different challenge. That sort of thing doesn’t worry me.”
In any case, despite a near-three-year break from club football since being sacked by Bristol Rovers, he believes he is better equipped to succeed now.
“Every day you become a better manager,” he said. “The experience I have had since leaving Motherwell in terms of what happened to me at Aberdeen and Bristol Rovers and what has happened to me in my time with Gordon [Strachan, at Scotland].”
He was bullish about the task of winning over those fans who have not forgiven him for leaving Fir Park for Aberdeen six years ago. Time, McGhee suggested, has blurred what actually happened.
“I saw me leaving here as a positive for Motherwell,” he explained. “At the time they were having such financial problems and me leaving here, trust me, helped them out big time [in terms of compensation]. I still get thanks from [then owner] John Boyle for that.
“Sometimes the fans don’t get the whole story. I didn’t leave here to go to Aberdeen, I left here thinking I was probably going to Celtic and ended up at Aberdeen, which was part of the problem which I eventually had.”
He recalled how some fans were not exactly overjoyed when he arrived first time around at Motherwell after a spell out of the game following a three-year stint with Brighton & Hove Albion.
“I remember when I came here the first time it was the exact same, there was those that said ‘why are they getting him? Who wants him?’ ” he said.
“I improved the team drastically over the first year. We were decent and we played football at times, particularly during that first year, that was off the scale.
“One of the guys described a performance we had at Easter Road as ‘footballing pyrotechnics’. It was round about Guy Fawkes night and I thought that was just great.
“I think I proved myself to the fans here that I could do that with a team. I’ll have to prove that again and I’m up for that, otherwise I wouldn’t be here. I don’t expect anything I did then to count for anything now, other than giving me an opportunity,” he added.
“That’s all I ask, is that they give me an opportunity, and we’ll see if I can create some fireworks again. Hopefully it won’t be a damp squib!”
McGhee will combine Motherwell and SFA jobs
MCGHEE is so optimistic Gordon Strachan will stay with Scotland that he has struck an agreement with the Fir Park club to continue as national team assistant.
McGhee, 58, has never hidden his desire to return to club management.
He has recently had to deal with the disappointment of Scotland’s exit from Euro 2016 and said last night: “I am very disappointed and in some ways a little bit embarrassed by that but this is different, this is Motherwell.
“And it is a different challenge in something that gets me away from the dark place.”
McGhee, who has signed a deal until 2017, intends to continue with Scotland should Strachan decide to stay. “I will continue to be the assistant manager there if the manager continues to be the manager there,” he said.
“We are all waiting to hear how that is going to fall. If Gordon continues as manager then yes, he has made it clear that he would like me to continue and the club here, particularly the owner, Les [Hutchison], is more than happy for me to continue.
“He [Strachan] was enthusiastic about me coming back here,” he added.