IN APRIL last year, Motherwell beat Celtic 3-1 in an SPL match at Fir Park. In Stuart McCall’s team that day were Darren Randolph, Nicky Law, Michael Higdon, Henrik Ojamaa, Tom Hateley and Chris Humphrey – none of whom are still at the club.
That’s more than half a team that McCall had to find in the summer with the sum total of zero pounds to spend in the transfer market and minimal wages with which to lure in new players.
And yet the Motherwell manager has done it. Again.
This is not the first time he has had to replace important cogs in his starting team. Previously he had lost Mark Reynolds, John Sutton (only to get him back again), Steve Jennings and the hugely influential Jamie Murphy. He also lost a leader when Stephen Craigan retired.
The reinvention at Motherwell has been one of the most impressive features of the season. Sure, they’ve had their grim moments, the back-to-back torment of being knocked out of the Scottish Cup by Albion Rovers and the pummelling by Celtic among them, but they responded brilliantly to those setbacks, winning their next six matches.
Before yesterday, they were in third place in the Premiership with a game in hand over Aberdeen in second. If they keep up their current pace, they are going to score more goals and finish with as many, if not more, points than they did last season despite having lost half their team. This is excellent management by McCall.
As observers, we see what happens during the 90 minutes of a game but in the rebuilding of a team we don’t get to witness the endless scouting hours that are put in by McCall and his staff. It’s all very well to be a good coach, but when you’ve got little money to play with and are on the lookout for players you need other things in your armoury. To initially find and then convince the likes of Lionel Ainsworth and Henri Anier to join on loan takes a lot of work. They are only a temporary fix until, presumably, they return to their parent clubs and McCall has to venture out again to find replacements for the replacements for the replacements.
Neil Lennon, Derek McInnes, Jackie MacNamara and Terry Butcher have won many plaudits this season and rightly so. McCall tends to be shoved into the background somewhat when praise is being dished out. It is not intended as a slight. Far from it. It’s a compliment, albeit a bit back-handed. We tend to assume that he will do a fine job at Fir Park. Good results have lost their novelty value at Motherwell, which is a fair old tribute to McCall.
There is a danger, of course, of taking him for granted. That shouldn’t happen. For all the advances made by McInnes and company, McCall remains the standard-bearer for SPFL managers outside of the east end of Glasgow.