IF THEY dished out managerial awards for being understated, Jackie McNamara would have a lot of acceptance speeches to prepare.
Just as he did so effectively in a highly decorated playing career, McNamara prefers to let actions speak louder than words as a manager.
But, however he chooses to get his message across to his Dundee United squad, there is little doubt it has been received loud and clear this season. They have produced some of the most attractive football witnessed in the Scottish game and tomorrow have the chance to earn a tangible reward for their aesthetically-pleasing efforts.
McNamara has attempted to keep United’s preparations as low key as possible, straying little from their normal routine, ahead of the William Hill Scottish Cup Final against St Johnstone at Celtic Park.
When he gathers his players around him just before kick-off tomorrow, in the dressing room at a stadium he knows so well, the former Celtic captain will be giving the most important team talk of his brief managerial career so far.
“I won’t prepare it,” he says. “It will be done on the spur of the moment as always. I never prepare anything or write anything down. I usually talk some guff at the last minute!
“It’s the same at half-time. I don’t carry a filofax with me at the games, writing stuff down as play goes on. If someone makes a mistake, then it should be important enough for me to remember and not have to write it down. If I don’t remember it, then it’s not worth digging somebody up about it.
“Speeches should come from the heart as well as the head. I worked with managers, such as Martin O’Neill and Tommy Burns, who could inspire you and make you feel ten feet tall. I’ve taken something from every manager I worked under but, ultimately, it’s all about what the lads do once the game starts. That’s part of the mental aspect – how they prepare and how they go out and enjoy it.
“Players have a short career and you want to be remembered as a winner, to say you’ve lifted a trophy and have the medal to show for it. It hasn’t happened too often in United’s history and we’re taking down more fans to a final than ever before. It’s special to the supporters and we want to win it for them. We’ll speak to the players about the importance of that support but I’ve always said that football is about providing enjoyment and entertainment and, most importantly, about winning.
“I want everyone to be happy. I know how hard these players have worked and this is the culmination of all that. I want them to take something from it.”
When it comes to the Scottish Cup, McNamara has been there, done that and got the T-shirts. He lifted the trophy three times as a player with Celtic – in 2001, 2004 and 2005. He also lost two, both to Rangers, with Celtic in 2002 and Falkirk in 2009. “It’s totally different as a player as you are only preparing yourself for the game,” he added. “For my first final in 2001, Martin O’Neill only named the Celtic team an hour-and-a-half before kick-off. I was disappointed to be on the bench, but went on after half an hour when Lubo Moravcik got injured and managed to score our first goal in the 3-0 win over Hibs.
“It was a great feeling. The defeats are sore, of course, but they were not something I would dwell on over the close season. It was a bit different in 2005 when I was Celtic captain and we beat United in the final. It was Martin’s last game as manager but I didn’t realise at the time it would also be my last game as a Celtic player. I wished I’d known that beforehand.
“That just shows the other side of football, whether it’s managers or players. When you are wanted, you’re wanted and when you’re not, your time is up and you have to do something else. At that point, that was the case for me – I had to leave and join Wolves.
“In football you never know what’s round the corner. Danny Lennon won the League Cup for St Mirren and a year later he’s out of a job, that’s the sad part of football. Football can be savage, either as a manager or a player. We’ve seen that with Danny and Gary Locke this week.
“You are only important if you are wanted and a part of the picture. If results are not good or things change at the club then you can find yourself out of a job.
“But I don’t like to think negatively. I am a lot happier being in the Scottish Cup final than being on holiday now. You want to be involved in this and part of the occasion.
“I am like the players just now. I’m looking forward to it, both excited and nervous and I wish the game would start now.
“As manager leading the players out, the main emotion will be pride, but they are the ones who have to go out there and get the job done, although I’d love to be on the park with them.”
United are favourites with the bookmakers this weekend, despite having lost their last three games against St Johnstone without scoring a goal.
“It’s all about people’s perceptions,” shrugged McNamara. “We were favourites against Rangers in the semi-final at Ibrox, but it wouldn’t have changed my approach if we were underdogs. It’s about how you handle it on the day.
“I’ve been disappointed at the way we have lost the league games against St Johnstone. We have been punished for a lack of concentration at the back, not just against Saints but in other games this season, and that’s something we need to eradicate. But I’ve got a lot of faith in my players. I know what they are capable of and, hopefully, they will produce it on Saturday.”