ALREADY in danger of becoming detached at the bottom of the league, Dundee United’s next assignment could hardly be less welcome. But John Rankin insists the prospect of facing an unimpressed Mixu Paatelainen holds more reason for anxiety than this Sunday’s away clash at leaders Celtic.
Rankin was surprisingly bullish. “We don’t fear anyone,” he said. Except, perhaps, a head coach with an axe to grind after his coronation ended in a defeat that contained little to be positive about.
Rankin expects Paatelainen will succeed in concentrating minds long before Sunday’s game after watching United slip to their latest defeat by Hearts two days ago.
United fans hoped for a little more from Paatelainen’s first game in charge than a 1-0 home loss, with even the new head coach admitting he was “surprised” by the lack of quality displayed by his team. But the Finn was also adamant that another week’s work with his new players will bring about improvement. Rankin doesn’t doubt it.
“There is an aura about him,” said the midfielder, who played under Paatelainen for Hibs and has at least some idea about the Finn’s methods.
“He is a big man,” he also pointed out. “He has that fear factor just by looking at him. He has that great presence and the way he speaks and everything. He is also very knowledgeable about the game and I know that from my time with him before.
“He is also very passionate and he doesn’t suffer fools gladly. To be fair, I don’t think we demand enough off each other on the pitch as a group. So to have the manager demanding that off us from the sidelines will most certainly ruffle a few feathers. But when you are at the bottom of the league, you need that.”
Paatelainen’s so-called aura is helped by the fact he accomplished so much as a player, at Tannadice as well as elsewhere. In what way, Rankin was asked, is he different to Jackie McNamara, his predecessor at United and who, if anything, had an even more successful playing career?
“It depends what you mean by different,” said Rankin, who was fortunate to escape a red card on Sunday after a high challenge on Juanma, the Hearts striker.
“I have played under the manager before and know how he goes about things. First and foremost, you are hard to beat and then you can play an attractive style of football. At Hibs there were a few people who thought his style of play was more direct than it actually was. You saw at Kilmarnock the fantastic style of football that won his manager of the year.
“He is very much hands-on on the training field and we saw that on the couple of days he had with us. He gets his point across and we have boys here still learning the game so hopefully that can rub off on them.
“In fact, we are all still learning. There is a mountain to climb for the club at the moment but we can see ourselves climbing it. We are positive about that and intend to do so.”