Brian McClair has resigned as performance director of the Scottish FA after just 13 months in the role and has expressed his dismay at being unable to effect the changes he sought in the development of elite young players.
The former Celtic, Manchester United and Scotland forward took up the job in June 2015, replacing Mark Wotte after the Dutchman had stepped down the previous year. Wotte had become the inaugural performance director in 2011.
The creation of the position was one of the leading recommendations of former First Minister Henry McLeish’s Review of Scottish football and was enthusiastically backed by the then Scotland manager Craig Levein.
McClair was appointed last year with the backing of several Scottish football luminaries, including Sir Alex Ferguson, Andy Roxburgh, Walter Smith and current national team boss Gordon Strachan.
Along with Strachan, former Manchester United academy and reserve team coach McClair had formulated several proposals for change, including a radical reduction in the number of players in the elite club academy system and an American Football style draft system for loaning players between Premiership and lower division clubs.
But it appears McClair became exasperated at the difficulties he faced in persuading Scottish clubs to get fully behind his performance strategy.
“I can confirm that I will leave my position as performance director,” said McClair in a statement released by the SFA last night.
“I am deeply disappointed that I couldn’t make a significant difference, but I would like to thank my staff for the help they have given me and the board for the opportunity.
“I would also like to wish my successor all the best in the future in their efforts to develop the environment for the young talent that Scotland deserves.”
According to the SFA’s official statement yesterday, McClair’s departure is by mutual consent and it seems both parties reached the conclusion that his position had become untenable.
“I would like to thank Brian for his time as performance director,” said SFA chief executive Stewart Regan who was closely involved in both McClair’s recruitment last year and the initial creation of the role in 2011.
“I am really disappointed that we have parted company after a year, but the complexities of the role cannot be overestimated. While his experience of developing talent over a sustained period of time at Manchester United was a major attribute, being performance director requires a different style of leadership and focus.
“As performance director, he found himself spending more time lobbying and presenting in the boardroom. It became apparent that this was neither a comfortable nor tenable situation in the long term. I would like to reiterate my thanks to Brian for his efforts and wish him the best of luck in the future”.
Regan will now begin the search for a successor to McClair and the SFA were keen to stress that their desire to shake up youth development at the highest level in the Scottish game remains undiminished.
“The Performance Working Group has met in recent months to discuss and debate proposals and recommendations to improve elite talent development in Scottish football,” added their statement.
“This working group will remain in place and be chaired in the interim period by Alistair Gray, the founding director of strategic management consultants Renaissance and Co, who has been immersed in the performance strategy since its inception.
“The board of the Scottish FA is committed to implementing changes to enhance elite performance.”
There is little doubt, however, that McClair’s exit is a setback in that process. It is also a personal blow for McClair who was head-hunted by the SFA last year and took some time before being persuaded to give up his highly valued job at Manchester United.
“They [the SFA] asked me,” he said at the time of his appointment, when asked how the move came about.
“I didn’t apply for the job. I spent hours and days agonising about what to do about it. In the end, I got up at two o’clock one morning and sat down and did some scribbling about things. I decided I would go for it.
“I can look upon it as arriving somewhere else rather than leaving. I’m going to miss the young players and I’ll miss the staff (at Manchester United). That was the most difficult thing, telling them, it was probably the most difficult thing I’ve had to do. It was short and sweet and I know some of them are disappointed but we’ll celebrate the good times. We’ve had plenty.”
McClair also revealed at the time he had sought the advice of Sir Alex Ferguson, who signed him for United from Celtic in 1987, before leaving Old Trafford for Hampden.
“He is someone whose opinion I have always valued,” he added. “I didn’t always agree with his opinion. He was sometimes harsh and critical but he’s always been there to help me improve - particularly as a player under him but also as a coach and Academy manager.
“The only question I asked of him and a few other people was, ‘Do you think I could make a difference (at the SFA)?’ They all said ‘yes’.”.