Derek McInnes is no-one’s idea of a fool. Fresh from his own disappointment at Bristol City, he has sympathy for Barry Smith, the Scottish Premier League’s first managerial casualty of the season.
Recently billed as Scottish football’s most promising young manager, the prospect of occupying the managerial seat at a club heading towards the First Division might not be expected to hold much allure.
However, McInnes did not rule himself out of contention yesterday, although he did also point out that he has not applied for the vacant post, one that Scot Gardiner, the Dundee chief executive, has already claimed has left him “inundated” with applications.
This news won’t come as a surprise to McInnes. “I am in a career where there is going to be 50 to 1,000 applicants going for every job,” he reflected yesterday. “There are too many managers out there, to be honest.” It is a valid point. Every player is encouraged to begin taking their coaching badges from almost the moment they break into first-team football. Once qualified, who wouldn’t believe they deserve a chance to start stepping up the managerial ladder?
McInnes was careful with his words yesterday. It is only five weeks since he left the manager’s position at Championship club Bristol City, having been unable to build on last season’s miracle escape from relegation. The game is strewn with managers of fine repute who are struggling to return to work after, perhaps, just one bad experience or perceived failure.
The former Dundee United player “feels for” Smith and believes he was handed a set of difficult circumstances at Dundee, who were promoted above their station to the Scottish Premier League because of events elsewhere. However, he also made the point that “30 or so managers have lost their jobs in England this season out of 92 clubs”. Smith, meanwhile, is the SPL’s first casualty.
“There has not been the same intensity of pressure because Celtic were always going to win the league and Dundee had become a bit detached at the bottom,” McInnes concludes.
“Barry had built a squad to cater for the demands of the First Division and it was always going to be a big ask for that to be turned round. As a manager, you are always looking for that level of understanding from people above you and, obviously, Dundee felt they had to make a change. Anyone who does come in has a difficult task of keeping them up.”
McInnes, who played with United between 2003 and 2006, did not firmly rule himself out of the running to take over at Dundee – though neither did he firmly rule himself in. “All I would say is there has been no approach from anybody and for me I am happy to meet a challenge head-on, whether it is Scotland, England or abroad, whether it is a team at the top end of the table or a team at the bottom end of the table,” he said. “You have to try to turn any negative into a positive,” he added. “I am enjoying spending time with the family. It’s a chance to catch up with things, because I have three young boys and that has been a real project for me, spending more time with my wife and family. I am just keeping myself fit, meeting up with other ex-players and playing five-a-sides a couple of times a week and trying to get out to games. You can still enjoy a game but you would rather be in the dugout.”
McInnes contends that out-of-work managers cannot afford to be overly selective. At the same time, of course, no-one wants to be viewed as desperate, so there is a fine-line to be trodden.
“I do not want to be linked with too many individual clubs,” said McInnes, who is content to bide his time for now. It is his first break from day-to-day involvement in football since he was a 16-year-old preparing to begin his career with Morton. While blessing him with further time to spend with his wife and three sons, the unexpected clearing of his schedule has also granted him an opportunity to fix up trips to see how other managers operate. He has already been invited to attend training by two English Premier League managers but it is a case of no names, no pack drill. “Two are Scottish, two are not Scottish,” he smiled. “There’s a few managers who have been kind enough to pick up the phone and invite me along.”
In the meantime, he enjoyed a return to Cappielow last weekend, for what many felt was Scotland’s game of the day as Morton hosted Partick Thistle in a top-of-the-table First Division clash. “It was the first time I’d seen Morton all season,” he said. “It was very nostalgic and it was great to see such an atmosphere back at Cappielow. Morton have as good a chance as anyone of getting up. It’s funny to think that the last time they were in the Premier Division it was 25 years ago and I was playing for them. If you’d thought back then it would be 25 years before Morton got back you’d have been surprised at that.”