Jim Duffy returns to Dens

PETER Marr, the Dundee chief executive, reacted with unmissable haste to the departure of Ivano Bonetti yesterday, swiftly facilitating a return to the helm for former manager Jim Duffy. But while supporters were slating him for a lack of foresight, Marr was chasing the tail of their former favourite with a forked-tongued assault.

Asked to comment on the success of Bonetti’s dramatic two-year tenure at Dens Park, which came to an end on Tuesday, Marr accused the Italian manager of showing disregard for the traditions of the Scottish game, and polluting the club with an Italian philosophy which could never have been successfully applied on Tayside.

To say this was a dubious climbdown would be a little too kind. Dundee’s three-year Italian experiment, which was cut short to two amid an opera of recrimination and counter-blame, was often referred to as “The Project”. In other words, it was designed to be a break from the norm.

Marr unwaveringly backed Bonetti’s every effort to alter the identity of the club, yet here he was criticising his former employee for being too revolutionary.

“It’s important we have somebody who respects the Scottish game. I felt sometimes Ivano didn’t respect the Scottish game. He played Serie A, and I think he thought Scots could be like Serie A. We know we’re not Serie A,” said Marr. “So it was important we brought somebody back in who can bring the club together. It was difficult sometimes with Ivano because he concentrated totally on the first team. You really need someone who is going to concentrate on the club.”

And so he turned, with astonishing spontaneity, to Duffy, the man who oversaw Dundee’s relegation in 1994, but took them to the Coca-Cola Cup final two seasons later, before leaving for Hibs, when he was famously ferried from Dens to Easter Road in a helicopter.

Yesterday’s return leg was orchestrated with rather less panache, but it wasn’t a pedestrian affair. Duffy, who lives in London, said he was first contacted on Wednesday night and asked if he was interested in the post, before meeting Marr at 7am yesterday to thrash out a three-year contract. Funny then, that the appointment of Duffy was reported without a hint of doubt in several of Wednesday morning’s newspapers. Persuading Duffy to pursue this agreeable homecoming was no arduous task. The former SPFA Player Of The Year served the club with great distinction in three spells as a player, and despite failing to return them to the top flight as manager, had to operate in penurious circumstances under the chairmanship of the elusive Ron Dixon.

“At times I didn’t know if I was a football manager or running a dog-track,” he said of his previous stint, which ended five-and-a-half years ago. “As far as I am concerned, I’m at a new club really. There are two new stands, a new board and a lot of new players, not to mention a proper training facility at Caird Park.”

Supporters who lament yesterday’s appointment fail to take into account the footballing enlightenment Duffy experienced during a spell as youth coach of Chelsea, and on observatory visits to Real and Atletico Madrid, Arsenal and Liverpool. This, at least, is what Dundee would have you believe.

There was certainly no readiness to endorse the suspicion that Duffy is primarily an inexpensive choice used to working in a climate of financial stringency. For this, surely, is what Dens Park followers will now be forced to endure, after the overspending and underachieving days of Bonetti.

But Marr dismissed the accuracy of reports that six leading players have been actively placed on to the transfer list, insisting that the club would be run on the same basis as ever – ie, that any cash offer for a player is worthy of consideration.

He also took issue with the suggestion that Duffy’s recruitment signified an automatic about-turn on the policy of signing foreign players more readily than homebred ones. Francisco Ocampo, the Paraguayan who brokered the deals that took Juan Sara and Fabian Caballero to Dens two years ago, will continue to work as a regular sourcer of talent.

Late last night, the club issued a statement saying Ocampo and his team were offered an unspecified contract on Wednesday evening, which was rejected.

“We remain confident the links which have been established will prove rewarding for both Dundee FC and Mr Ocampo in the future,” said the statement. It was not clear – as is often the case at Dens – whether the offer was to take over the vacant manager’s job or as part of a two-man management team with Duffy.

It may be that the former Celtic and Morton player will not have to consciously alter the nature of the squad. He has already been spared the unremarkable contributions of Walter del Rio, Massimo Beghetto and Alessandro Romano, to name but three, and is predominantly left with players of wholesome intent.

One of Duffy’s first duties will be to appoint an assistant, and Temuri Ketsbaia is still mulling over his offer of a new contract with coaching responsibilities. Then he must decide what to do with the two players who became outcasts under Bonetti and got embroiled in an alleged assault case from which Dundee’s director of football, Paul Marr, was acquitted of all charges last week. Or, at least, one of the players.

“Marco de Marchi has not returned to training, and we will write to him,” commented Marr, stating perhaps once and for all that the defender will never again don the dark blue shirt. “Patrizio, however, is here. Jim doesn’t know him, but at the end of the day, if he decides he would like to include him and Patrizio commits himself, then there might be a possibility.”

Pleasant resolutions to such problems will give Duffy a head-start in endearing himself to the fans, 50 per cent of whom, he was honest enough to admit, are probably against his return. But half-and-half probably isn’t quite the true ratio. This may have been a whirlwind appointment, but it has given many people the feeling of being trapped in a timewarp.