Euan McArthur: No doubting Stuart McCall’s success
As a player who helped Rangers to a memorable nine-in-a-row title feat, there weren’t many better competitors around than the red-haired midfield terrier whose renowned will-to-win was an infectious tool which spread like wildfire to those around him on the pitch.
In the dug-out, he brought those same admirable qualities to the Motherwell side which he managed with distinction during his near four-year stint at the helm, which came to an end at the weekend after what must have made for plenty soul-searching from the down-to-earth Yorkshireman.
Last night the 50-year-old former Rangers and Scotland star finally admitted defeat after the kind of start to the campaign which had clearly knocked the stuffing out of someone who was never one for accepting defeat easily.
Results had taken their toll. Friday night’s costly 2-1 defeat away to St Johnstone at McDiarmid Park – in front of the live cameras – proved the last straw in a period at the club which had been nothing but positive up the until events of recent weeks which ultimately led to his departure.
McCall cut a figure who’d taken his current side as far as he possibly could and his body language in Perth suggested strongly that he knew just that.
Only six months ago, though, McCall was riding high as the Steelmen continued their trend of punching above their weight in the domestic scene.
Craig Reid’s injury-time winner over Aberdeen at Pittdorie sealed Motherwell second place in the league table as well as their place in the Europa League qualifiers and, although their involvement there was somewhat short-lived, it was still another impressive feat from a side who had lost their best players the summer before but had managed to overcome the odds to reach the European stage amid yet more budge cuts.
Things recently, and in particular the cutting of resources, have been tough for McCall, who not long after replacing Craig Brown in the Fir Park hotseat had led his side to the final of the 2011 Scottish Cup, albeit ending in a 3-0 defeat from Celtic.
That was no disgrace, however, and neither was the rest of his record in charge of the Lanarkshire club who he led to three successive top-three finishes, as well as the Champions League qualifiers, before deciding to end his reign after almost four years, leaving Motherwell second bottom in the table.
The club released a statement which revealed McCall had told board members of his decision yesterday afternoon.
McCall goes down as Motherwell’s most successful league manager since the Second World War, having secured two runners-up spots, while he is one of only four men to lead them to a Scottish Cup final.
On reflection, the 50-year-old might well look back on his decision to reject an offer from Sheffield United in the summer of 2013 to become their new manager. On the other hand, it perhaps sums up what he was all about, wanting to see through a job which he’d taken on with such energy and enthusiasm, mirroring his days as a player.
In recent seasons, he has lost influential players such as former goalkeeper Darren Randolph, midfielder Nicky Law and prolific striker Michael Higdon. What other manager could cope with such losses and still see his side prosper in their wake?
But another flood of departures in the summer just past was asking too much of the ex-Ibrox player to work his magic all over again.
Motherwell took the lead in Perth on Friday night but missed a chance to score seconds before St Johnstone equalised and an unfortunate slip in defence saw them concede a late winner, and the rest is history.
McCall remains part of Scotland’s backroom staff and his trusted knowledge of the Scottish scene will remain invaluable for Gordon Strachan in their efforts to keep the international revival going as they aim to qualify for the Euroean Championships in 2016.
In the meantime, Motherwell’s board of directors face a tricky test trying to replace him, with whoever assuming the mantle facing as difficult a task as any in the Scottish game.