As much as I admire Paul Hartley, who took me to Dens Park and installed me as skipper, I think it was the right decision by Dundee to make a change – though, like many, I am slightly surprised by my fellow Scotsman columnist Neil McCann’s appointment. But good luck to him.
It makes me think what might have happened if Hibs had been as bold in 2014, when we were on a similar spiral as Dundee in my second spell at Easter Road.
I genuinely believe if Rod Petrie, the then chairman, had sacked Terry Butcher just before the split and we had five games left, we’d have done enough to stay up. We only needed one win. If any other manager had come in they would have played the team that should have been playing.
Terry was too set in his ways. Nothing changed. He was the same as he was from day one to the last. When we were on the slippery slope he kept on saying “we only need to win one more game”. He was like that for 20 weeks. Nothing changed in training. He never changed in his attitude towards the players. He kept the same philosophy. If you were not involved in the squad you were not allowed to team meetings. He created a big divide in the dressing room.
I genuinely believe if Hibs had sacked him with five games to go and anyone took the job – me, or even one of the fans! – we would have survived. But it just never changed. You just hope for Dundee it will now they’ve given it a shake.
If there is anything about the Dens dressing room, there will be a reaction. Neil only needs to come in and remind them how they played against Rangers just a few short weeks ago. They need to reproduce that fight, wherever it came from.
Forget tactics, forget football, fight for the jersey – fight for your career. Who is going to take you after being relegated for Dundee?
It is a rut. Every other team will be saying Dundee are gone. Everyone will be raising their game to beat them. When you get into that rut you are looking for a reaction. The reaction comes from the characters in the changing room. The tactics go out the window. You just need 11 warriors on the pitch. It’s not even about a new manager coming in and giving players some confidence. How can you give players confidence in five weeks? It’s about coming in and making training short and sharp, making it enjoyable. Try to get people smiling and get them thinking “we can do this”. If it is the opposite way and you try and change too much you risk alienating the players. If they don’t buy into it, then there’s only one place the team are going – downwards.
But as I said, I feel sympathy for Paul. I liked him. Paul always professed to like passing football. When we were 2-0 up, he’d rather put on another attacker than a defender. He’d prefer to go for three or four goals rather than consolidate things. That attracted me in the first place. He told me everything would be played through me. I was the link, the talisman he wanted to build the team around. Perhaps they don’t have the type of player now to play that way. They have gone very direct. Is that because of pressure? Is he just trying to get back to basics to find a way of winning? Paul was hardworking – the first in and last out. But in modern day football all managers have to be like that. He is tactically aware and loves his football. But he is the first to admit he is unsociable. He is not the kind of manager who wants to be your pal. That doesn’t bother me so much. But it is harder for younger players or players who are new to the club, who maybe want a manager’s shoulder to cry on sometimes.
When things are going against the team or players are falling out of form, he can be quite ruthless. Players can find that quite difficult. But that’s modern day football.
I was a bit disappointed when he told the media I’d said I couldn’t cope with playing for a top-flight team. I never said that. We had agreed what we were going to say – that I’d had enough of travelling and I was getting frustrated with my body and I was potentially thinking about retiring. But I could certainly cope with playing Premier League football. I played it all my life.
But whenever I have bumped into him recently while I’ve been doing TV or radio work I’ve always shaken his hand and spoken to him. I genuinely like him as a man and I think he is a good manager. But, like any manager, eventually you get sacked.