Alan Pattullo: Ray McKinnon the latest undignified Dundee United dismissal

When, or even if, Dundee United ever get round to confirming Ray McKinnon has left the club, chairman Stephen Thompson will surely think long and hard about appointing another former Tannadice player as manager.

Ray McKinnon is a Dundee United fan and played for the club with distinction. He deserved better treatment. Picture: SNS

Few clubs have turned so often – and with less success – to popular ex-players, hoping they might transfer their on-field success to the dugout. When the time has come to discard them, after the perhaps inevitable failure to live up to these glory days, few clubs seem so incapable of doing so with the dignity such individuals deserve.

If United do decide to ignore the lessons of their recent history and turn to Jim McIntyre, another former player, he might be advised to give careful consideration to the offer. It tends not to end well.

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McIntyre, who comes across as a man of principles, might also feel uncomfortable about the treatment of McKinnon, who at the time of writing last night, more than 24 hours after reports first surfaced he was being sacked, was still apparently in limbo.

On the club’s official website, as of 9pm yesterday, the only fresh “news” was a preview of this Saturday’s fixture at Dumbarton.

“United come into the game on the back of two disappointing defeats and will be determined to show the travelling Tangerine Army that they are still right in the mix at the top of the table despite trailing league leaders St Mirren by five points,” read a paragraph of text.

Fans are also reminded not to conduct themselves in a manner that might bring the club into disrepute when inside the ground. To which they would be within their rights to reply, what about the club? Does it not have to comply with such a strict moral code?

Because leaving a manager dangling – or at least not informing these supporters whether he has left his post or not – seems to fall outwith the guidelines of how a properly functioning club should operate.

It has been a calamitous two years for Dundee United since Jackie McNarmara’s also drawn-out sacking. It’s understood assistant manager Laurie Ellis took training at the club’s base in St Andrews yesterday. A statement outlining McKinnon’s fate is expected today – three days after Saturday’s 2-0 home defeat to Inverness Caledonian Thistle and with debate about his successor already well under way.

Everton were trounced 5-2 by Arsenal 24 hours later. But Ronald Koeman already knows exactly what the situation is, along with Everton fans.

The poor treatment of managers and coaching staff has been a mark of Dundee United going back at least 15 years. There should be no difference in the quality of conduct towards an employee whether they once played for the club or not.

But McKinnon is a local boy and fan. He played for the club with distinction, earning United £750,000 when transferring to Nottingham Forest in 1992. He has a right to expect better.

It’s hard not to be reminded of assistant manager Maurice Malpas [830 appearances] stuffing his belongings into a black bin bag after being summarily sacked in 2002. Or Paul Hegarty, the then manager, being summoned from a press conference he was holding to be given his marching orders. He then returned to break the news of his own dismissal to journalists – this, remember, was the club’s most decorated captain, who had made 707 appearances.

Craig Brewster fared little better. The club’s 1994 Scottish Cup goalscoring hero was sacked soon after then chairman, the late Eddie Thompson, was woefully indiscreet while making a phone call. Journalists gathered in the club’s media room next door could not fail to overhear him criticising the manager’s tactics.

McKinnon is the sixth former player to be appointed permanent Dundee United manager since Jim McLean stepped away in 1993. Not one has been a conspicuous success.

Billy Kirkwood did at least complete his first objective, which was to take the club back into the top flight in 1996. McKinnon was a member of the squad after returning to the club for a second spell as a player.

His bid to repeat this success has foundered. McKinnon was permitted a season’s grace in his first campaign. Hibs were always favourites to secure promotion at the third time of asking. But after United assumed Hibs’ mantle of being the team to beat, there was less room for error. They were required to hit the ground running. They haven’t done that, although remain very much in touch with the pace-
setters.

McKinnon can have few complaints about not being backed. Each major summer recruit seemed to answer in the affirmative the key question: will they improve the team? Yes, surely, in the case of Sam Stanton, Scott McDonald, Paul McMullan, James Keatings and Fraser Fyvie. They can’t have come cheaply.

McKinnon’s pay-off – he signed a three-year deal 16 months ago – serves only to ratchet up the pressure on his successor. Failure to take United back up can’t be countenanced for financial reasons. Fortunately for whoever accepts the challenge, whether another old boy not, the situation remains salvageable.