Derek McInnes on his break from football, Kilmarnock's Tommy Burns era and how Sir Alex Ferguson ‘is now a Killie fan'

Derek McInnes has joined a Championship title race that has even left the famously decisive Sir Alex Ferguson in a quandary.

New Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)
New Kilmarnock manager Derek McInnes. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

One minute the former Manchester United manager is sending messages to Dick Campbell urging him and his Arbroath side to keep their pacesetting going, the next he’s proclaiming he is a Kilmarnock fan to McInnes.

Ferguson is clearly keeping his options open. That is something that can no longer be said about McInnes, who took over at Rugby Park last week after nine months out of the game.

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He has not been idle. As well as reminding viewers what an insightful television analyst he is, he has visited old and new football contacts in the recent tradition of an out-of-work football manager.

Given the pace of change in the modern game, this breed can no longer be perceived to be letting the grass grow around their feet – which is ironic given McInnes’ new home.

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The new manager won’t make his bow on the artificial pitch at Rugby Park until Kilmarnock host Dundee United in the Scottish Cup a week on Saturday.

McInnes, who took charge of his new team for the first time at Queen of the South yesterday, has pronounced himself refreshed and raring to go.

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“I see myself as a manager but I was a manager who was determined to enjoy his break,” he said. “I wanted to take that time and make the most of it and I feel that I managed to do that. I really enjoyed the TV work. I was grateful for the opportunities from different people to ask if I wanted to do the work.

“I’ve been to loads of games whether to watch players for managers down south or to help friends throughout the leagues in Scotland to give my opinions on their teams. It's good to go to games with some kind of purpose.

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“The media stuff was good as I do enjoy it,” he added. “But it was always just about the right opportunity to get back in. But I need to make clear that I enjoyed my time out, spending time with the family and the freedom of being able to be a bit more spontaneous and have options to do things. As once you’re involved in management, you don’t always get that.”

McInnes has kept in touch with many of his adversaries in the dugout, including Steven Gerrard and Brendan Rodgers, former managers at Rangers and Celtic respectively. These were sides McInnes was once accustomed to challenging in a league setting. Although he has chosen to drop a division he remains very much on the radar.

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Naturally Steve Clarke, a former Rugby Park manager, has sent his best wishes. Even Sir Alex was quick to get in touch with one of his successors at Aberdeen.

Ferguson was last in the news in Scotland when Campbell revealed he had been contacted by his old mate after Arbroath, the only part-time side in the Championship, hit the top of the league last month.

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“I don’t know how you are doing it but you are achieving miracles,” wrote Ferguson, who urged Campbell and his Arbroath team to keep it up. Now he’s contacted McInnes to say he’s keeping his fingers crossed for him at his new post. Ferguson of course finished his playing career at Ayrshire rivals Ayr United.

“Any way you can try and lean on people you should try to utilise,” said McInnes. “I had a text from Stevie, I speak to Brendan regularly and Sir Alex text me to say he’s now a Killie fan which was nice!

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“So, you have to use these connections in any way that it might help. Ultimately you want to get the strongest team and squad together. I’m just delighted to be in here and accepting the challenge of getting the club back into the Premiership.”

The last man to deposit Kilmarnock back in the top flight was a certain Tommy Burns, who McInnes recalled “lighting a fire” under the Rugby Park side in the early 1990s. The player-manager secured promotion in 1992-93 after the club had spent far too long in the wilderness. There were always good crowds at Rugby Park and McInnes recalled shining in a match there for Morton and still managing to get trumped by the wily Burns, his opposite man.

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“I remember playing against him directly, man marking him, Allan McGraw gave me a job to do on him,” he said.

“I picked up the man-of-the-match award and he still scored against me after it had been announced! It was a learning curve. Morton fans used to come here in good numbers, the club was on the up.”

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McInnes later joined Rangers and watched as Ibrox teammates migrated down the M77 to join Bobby Williamson’s successful team of the late 1990s.

“I had a lot of friends in Bobby’s team, it was a winning team and boys like McCoist and Durrant joined it,” he recalled. “So Kilmarnock was always a club we would come down and watch play.

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“I do think there has been some real good highlights for Kilmarnock over the years, a couple of cup successes and, more consistently over a period of time, the work that Stevie (Clarke) done.

"As a player I always remember, whether I was playing for Morton, Rangers and Dundee United, they had quite a big travelling support. When things were right here, you felt it.”

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Clarke was the last manager to make things click and he was rewarded with three full stands for his efforts. McInnes knows the pressure is on a side who have so far failed to live up to the tag of title favourites.

“The demand for everybody at this club, the responsibility for everyone at this club, including myself now, is to win a title,” he said. “And that is what we will try and do.”

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