IT’S PERHAPS just as well Mixu Paatelainen, Dundee United’s new manager, is under no illusions. On top of acknowledging his side face a battle against relegation should results fail to pick up, he also knows his more talented players will continue to be sold along the way.
Months on, the hurt remains from the joint sale of influential duo, Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven, to Celtic in January when United were firmly in contention for all domestic honours, before Nadir Ciftci followed them to Parkhead in the summer to make matters worse.
Chairman Stephen Thompson has since admitted that the decision to sell, which provoked uproar among supporters, was something which directly affected his relationship with Jackie McNamara, Paatelainen’s predecessor, prior to his departure recently in the wake of a horrid run of results which leaves them at the foot of the Premiership table.
Now, former Hibs, Kilmarnock and Finland manager Paatelainen’s immediate remit is to ensure the Tayside club climb the table, while still realising the harsh reality that their better performers are always liable to end up moving on.
“I believe Dundee United, like other Scottish clubs, is a selling club. I really do,” said Paatelainen ahead of his first game in charge which sees the visit of Hearts to Tayside today. “The clubs are in a footballing hierarchy. There are plenty of clubs above you.
“We all love this club, so do the supporters, but you have to be realistic. When a young player breaks through and does well, the big clubs come and offer the player an opportunity to progress and offer the club what it takes.
“What the club then has to do is make sure there are other players coming to replace the one who goes, so there’s no gap in quality.
“Of course, if many influential players leave that affects performances, which you have to avoid, but I’m not against selling players. It happens, and it will never stop.
“If everything was as we wanted we’d have 50 wonderful players but we need to be realistic. We didn’t talk about it too much, but I did say my coaching philosophy is I want to develop players.
“If I develop one player, we have a better team. If I develop all of them, we have a much better team. Once you develop players and they know their roles, their confidence is higher and they play better.”
Paatelainen isn’t what you would call a managerial novice. After retiring as a player ten years ago, the former Finnish international has cut his teeth in management at Cowdenbeath, Fiinish side TPS, Hibs, Kilmarnock, Finland and now United, where he made a name for himself as a fearsome striker between 1987 and 1992.
The 48-year-old concedes he has not always called things right along the way, but hopes past experiences of life in the dug-out can strengthen him in his efforts to lead a revival. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes,” said Paatelainen. “At every club I’ve learned but possibly at Hibs I learned the most. I don’t want to go into details but there were a few things. I don’t think there was a real clarity to how I wanted the team to play. I have that now.
“And you have to look at the players you have and how they can play, and the way you want to play, rather than impose your game on them. You have to look at their attributes and then decide how you go.
“It’s afterwards you learn these things from your mistakes. Same with Kilmarnock, with TPS, Cowdenbeath and Finland. You always think back and learn.
“If you’re honest with yourself and can look in the mirror, you always realise there are areas you weren’t strong enough or too hesitant or whatever. I believe in learning but that means you have to be critical of yourself and not just blank the things you’ve done wrong.”
Meanwhile, United midfielder Charlie Telfer has welcomed Paatelainen’s appointment.
Telfer was brought to Tannadice from Rangers in the summer of 2014 and the Scotland Under-21 international is relishing working for his new manager who, he’s sure, will add a much-needed different dimension.
“After Jackie McNamara’s departure there was a need for someone to take us forward and I think he is the right person,” said Telfer. “Jackie signed me. With him giving me the chance it was a wrench to see him go. But with the results going the way they were, I think a change was needed.”
He added: “Everyone knows we need to add the desire part of the game because it can’t all be beautiful football. Sometimes we are going to have to show a bit of grit and grind out results.
“If we are up for it, we will get a good result against Hearts.”