Mark Ogren’s biggest surprise while attending his first Dundee United game since taking ownership of the club was not the atmosphere created by one of their biggest crowds of the season, but the anxious hush.
This changed after United scored late on to defeat Dunfermline on Saturday and ensure the new owners’ ambition of reaching the top flight this season remains achievable. Ogren was impressed by the passion shown once United went in front. But the earlier trepidation he knows is a product of recent bleak times. It’s time to bring back the good old days. But then haven’t we heard that before?
The 56-year-old businessman from Stillwater, Minnesota understands the scepticism surrounding his arrival. Soberly dressed and measured in his responses at his first official press briefing, he is no-one’s idea of a white knight riding in on a horse. He described himself as a “low-key owner” who “won’t be here enough to be high profile”. He plans to visit the club he paid around £1 million for once every two months or so.
“We need boots on the ground here and that’s why we have gone to get the people we have in place,” he said. New managing director Mal Brannigan, whose last club was Dundalk, and sporting director Tony Asghar were also introduced to reporters yesterday. “I don’t micro-manage,” insisted Ogren. “I am hands-on in that I’m very interested and engaged in what we’re doing.”
Ogren, in tandem with his son Scott, a Newcastle United fan, is clearly committed to the task of re-igniting Dundee United. Both were at Tannadice yesterday having met fans at a supporters’ meeting on Monday night. Ogren Senior appreciates why one of the first questions concerned their intentions. More specifically, what dealings, if any, they had had with the club on the opposite side of the street, one also owned by Americans.
“I’ve gotten that question more than any other question, which is fine,” said Ogren, with reference to the seemingly eternal issue of whether Dundee’s two professional clubs might merge.
“I understand the concern. In the fans’ forum last night someone said: ‘We are passionate. Just so you know, it’s not like our favourite pub is going out of business, or our favourite grocery store. You can go to another pub or another grocery story. This is our lifestyle. We have grown up with Dundee United. This is very important to us. So if we ask some specific questions about the debt you are going to have or any other specific, personal questions, it is not that we are trying to be nosey, it is because we are interested – we want to make sure the team remains viable’.
“I get that,” added Ogren. “I like that.”
Ogren is not unaccustomed to running sports teams. He is currently the owner of one baseball club, the Sioux Falls Canaries, having also held a stake in an ice hockey club. The family’s fortune was initially made from a chain of grocery stores. This and a wholesale fuel business were sold to facilitate Ogren’s wish to move into the European sports arena.
Ogren contacted former agent Asghar to investigate some possibilities. Dundee United fitted the desired profile: a club with huge potential but currently underachieving and therefore – Ogren made no bones about this – within their prize range.
“We looked at different opportunities throughout Europe and actually kept coming back to Dundee United,” the American explained.
“It just felt right. It has a rich history but had fallen back from where they had been and where the expectation is for this club. So we just felt like we could come in, make a difference to get the team promoted and be successful.”
“We expect to make money,” he added. “But we are not going to make money with this size club in the Championship. So we need to spend money in order to get promoted.
“Equally important, or more important, we need to stay up in the Premiership. We need sustained success here in the long term in order to be profitable.”
One way of creating income is player sales. They aim to revamp the academy and format a new player recruitment strategy.
Asghar, a former police officer, will take control of this area with manager Robbie Neilson’s blessing. He recently graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a master’s degree in sport directorship. Among his colleagues on the course was Ashley Giles, who was appointed Andrew Straus’ successor as managing director of England men’s cricket last month.
One of the likely results of Asghar’s appointment is the termination of club legend Paul Sturrock’s role as Dundee United’s chief scout, based in England. “There will be changes made regarding the recruitment process and they will probably be announced very shortly,” he said.
Once in charge of his own sports management firm, Asghar has given this up as well as various consultancy roles to concentrate on his new position at United. Helpfully, he already had a relationship with Neilson.
“I’ve known Robbie since he was a coach at Hearts,” he said. “We’ve got to know each other even more over the last few weeks, I’ve got his number on speed-dial.
“I’ll be based here [Tannadice] and at the training ground,” he added. “Part of my remit is to carry out recruitment. But I wasn’t a professional player, I wasn’t a manager. I won’t be standing on the touchline all the time.”
It all seems a very modern structure, one dependent on individuals carrying out specific duties and ultimately reporting to Ogren. Another sign of a club moving forward in a bid to replicate the successes of the past concerns the old policy of players having to stay within a certain radius of Dundee.
This was imposed in Jim McLean’s days as manager and was recently reinstated by Mike Martin during his brief tenure as chairman. Asghar suggested such a decree was unworkable in this day and age but then developing local talent, which the club once excelled at, is the ultimate aim – and answer.
“It’s funny – we were talking about that last night,” he said. “A lot of things are under review. That’s one of them. We want to recruit local players, like we did before, so that would negate that (rule).”