Dundee’s decision to dispense with the services of manager Barry Smith was based on a belief that the club’s season is not yet over, despite sitting 15 points adrift at the bottom of the Scottish Premier League.
The Dens Park side are generally thought to be destined to return to the First Division just a year after their unexpected promotion following the financial meltdown at Rangers.
Smith’s side were ill-equipped to make the step up but have made it through to the quarter-finals of the William Hill Scottish Cup, where they will face Dundee United at Dens Park next weekend.
Jimmy Calderwood, the former Dunfermline, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock manager, has been installed as an early favourite to succeed Smith, while Alloa Athletic manager Paul Hartley will be on the radar if the club decides to pursue the “promising young manager” route. Current Dunfermline manager Jim Jefferies, whose assistant is popular former Dundee player Neil
McCann, has also been linked to the vacant post.
Eyebrows were raised at the timing of Smith’s departure, which comes just 11 days before the cup clash with United and six weeks after the manager received a vote of confidence from the board of directors. He was promised further support at a time, a statement said, when everyone at Dens Park had to “stand up and be counted”.
However, without a league victory this year, the five-man board and chief executive Scot Gardiner met again on Tuesday night, after which a “full and frank discussion” was held with Smith. The directors then voted to make a change and Smith was informed of the decision yesterday morning by Gardiner, prior to training.
“The game is brutal, the game is cruel,” said the chief executive. “I have come to view Barry as a friend. It was very, very difficult. I have come to know, like and respect the man. It was very hard for the players. Every single
player in that dressing-room was brought to the club by Barry, and they all feel they owe him a debt of gratitude.”
“There are still 36 points to play for and a Scottish Cup final that can be won. We hope the change of manager can bringabout a change of fortune on the pitch. Sometimes that can happen with the same bunch of players after a new manager comes in. We want to stay in the SPL and progress in the cup. Both of these ambitions are very important to us.”
The decision was made with a view to the cup clash against Dundee United, although there is no guarantee that a new manager will have been appointed by then. Ray Farningham, Smith’s assistant, has agreed to take over on an interim basis ahead of this weekend’s league clash with Celtic at Parkhead, with goalkeeper Robert Douglas helping out, as he did when Smith was first appointed over two years ago. “I have spoken to Ray Farningham and told him we want him to stay in the long-term,” said Gardiner. “The new manager will be working with him.”
Gardiner added that he had already been “inundated” with applications for the post. An advertisement will be posted on the club’s official website today, but included among those who have already expressed interest are a manager with English Premier League experience and a former international manager.
Gardiner addressed the criticism that the Dens Park club have a history of dispensing with managers at unusual times and with undue haste, pointing out: “It’s easy for people to say what they have been saying. We were criticised by some fans for standing by Barry in January. Our league position hasn’t changed. Six weeks ago it was a different scenario. But football changes very quickly. People can change their minds and things can happen. There has been a transfer window, but the league position hasn’t changed. There are five on the board of directors and they made a decision.”
Smith, who joined Dundee as a player from Celtic in 1995, first took over as caretaker manager when the club lurched into a second spell of administration in 2010, landing a 25-point penalty.
A club record run of
23 games unbeaten saw the side escape relegation to the Second Division and earned him further acclaim in the eyes of supporters who had seen him give his all to the club in an 11-year playing career at Dens in which he made over 400 appearances.