No crisis at Dundee United, insists chairman as Peter Houston departs

Peter Houston had turned down a renewed contract on reduced terms
Peter Houston had turned down a renewed contract on reduced terms
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DUNDEE UNITED chairman Stephen Thompson has dismissed suggestions the Tannadice club are in financial peril as they embark on a cost-cutting programme, which prompted manager Peter Houston to announce his departure from the club.

Houston will step down at the end of the season, when his current contract is due to expire, after turning down a renewal offer on reduced terms.

The former Scotland assistant manager insisted that his personal income was not an issue in his decision, instead citing the lowering of the playing budget at the club, which he feels will limit his ability to build on the relative success he has enjoyed in the post. Since succeeding Craig Levein in December 2009, Houston has led United to a Scottish Cup final triumph and European qualification for three successive seasons.

Thompson, who anticipates no shortage of high calibre applications for the imminent vacancy, believes Houston’s assessment of the club’s financial situation is unduly pessimistic.

“It’s a bit overly bleak,” said Thompson. “What I don’t want is the message to go out that we are going to be the next club to go under. That is so far from the truth, it’s incredible. Our debt has come down enormously. We have a good working relationship with the bank. They put us under a bit of pressure but you would expect that. That’s what banks do these days. There will be another substantial six-figure sum going in from the Thompson family this season, the way things are going.

“We are committed to the club but we don’t have the money to spend millions. No club has people putting millions in anymore.

“Our overheads are too high, as far as the board is concerned, and we are trying to trim our costs so that this club is here for many, many years to come.”

United’s debt was just below £4 million in their most recent annual accounts and the club are continuing to reduce it as Thompson deals with a drastically different financial environment to the one which saw his father Eddie invest so heavily before his death over four years ago.

Despite the cuts, Thompson contends that United are still one of the biggest spenders in Scottish football.

“It has been an amicable discussion with Peter but the one area I don’t agree with him on is the budget,” added Thompson. “Our top wage is still a wee bit too high but it’s still more than a lot of clubs are paying.

“Financially, we are around the sixth biggest club in the league and our budget is probably sitting around there.

“At one point, it was way, way further up when my father was here and throwing money at it. But it’s just totally unsustainable.

“We sold two players in summer 2012 [David Goodwillie and Scott Allan], took in £2.3m for them, and only made a profit for the year of under £1.5m. That gives you an idea of the underlying loss.

“As a board, we haven’t set a budget playing-wise for next season. Most of the players are under contract, there are only a few out of contract at the end of this season.

“People talk about the manager working under restrictions here but it’s still a bloody healthy budget. It was previously up at an inflated level, that’s the problem.

“I think there will be many people interested in the job. It’s a great opportunity for someone. We have a good club here. We have fantastic training facilities at St Andrews, a great youth policy and fantastic supporters. We have 5000 season ticket holders at the moment – only once in recent years have we had more than that.

“They want success, I want success. But not at any cost. Companies are going to the wall right, left and centre in business at the moment.

“This is a proactive move as far as we are concerned. The salary we offered Peter was still a good salary, as he has admitted, but he has decided for his own reasons that he has maybe taken the club as far as he can.”

Thompson has no concerns over announcing Houston’s departure with four months of the season remaining and is confident both the manager and the playing squad will not be distracted by the development.

But he knows Houston could be lured away sooner, should another opportunity come up after the interest expressed by Blackpool chairman Karl Oyston earlier this week was not pursued.

“Peter still wants to be successful and improve his CV further before the end of the season,” added Thompson. “I don’t question his professionalism from that point of view. The players we have here will want to go out and win every game as always.

“Apparently this is quite common in Germany. They announce it three or four months before the end of the season when a coach is leaving. It gives the board a chance to sit down properly and assess what they are looking for. The biggest problem normally when you sack a manager is that your are looking to find a replacement within a couple of days. You don’t get proper time to think things through.

“It’s not our plan at the moment to bring someone in before the end of the season. It might be two weeks, it might take us two months before we find the right person.

“We’re certainly not going to rush into it.

“It’s also possible Peter could move before the end of the season if someone comes for him. His profile is out there now. If that happens, it happens.

“It could have happened earlier in the week with Blackpool. That was bizarre, to say the least. I just do not understand one chairman phoning another chairman to ask permission to speak to his manager, then not speaking to that manager.

“He obviously had second thoughts about it.”