Ian Maxwell: I'll be no-one's puppet as SFA chief

Ian Maxwell's CV covers just about every possible base in Scottish football. Player, coach, assistant manager, general manager, managing director and now chief executive.

New SFA chief Ian Maxwell at Hampden yesterday. Picture: SNS Group
New SFA chief Ian Maxwell at Hampden yesterday. Picture: SNS Group

Yet before he even settled into his new office on Hampden’s sixth floor this week, he faced sniping accusations from the sceptics that another title should be added to the list – that of placeman.

Maxwell is as unfazed by that perception as he is dismissive of it. In a sure-footed debut performance in front of the media, the new Scottish FA chief executive was happy to address suggestions his appointment has been unduly influenced by leading figures at the bigger clubs and within the Scottish Professional Football League.

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Public praise of Maxwell from Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell, pictured, who called for a restructuring of the Scottish FA following Stewart Regan’s departure from the top job earlier this year, was seized upon by the conspiracy theorists as evidence the new man would be dancing to the tune of those seeking a power shift in the administration of the game in this country.

Maxwell makes no secret of his desire for the Scottish FA and SPFL to work together in greater harmony. But the former Partick Thistle managing director insists it won’t compromise his ability to defy the will of the bigger clubs whenever he feels it is necessary.

“I said that to Celtic and Rangers when I was on the SPFL board or in Premiership meetings in the past,” said Maxwell. “I have never been shy to say what I think. I know that won’t change now.

“It’s not as if I felt they had undue influence. They are big clubs. Scottish football is what it is and the likes of Rangers, Celtic, Aberdeen, Hibs and Hearts are all big clubs. But at Premiership level everything is done by vote, so the will of the group normally comes through. Every chairman or chief executive is making those decisions and everybody tends to do it for the right reasons. I have never seen any examples within Premiership meetings of undue influence. There has been a real feeling of goodwill and a feeling that everybody needs to look after each other.

“I don’t think (I will be seen as anyone’s puppet). Stewart Robertson at Rangers is absolutely delighted I’ve got the job as well. Whether he chose to be as vocal as Peter about it is down to him. But it’s not about Rangers or Celtic. The vast majority of clubs have an idea of who they want in charge. If they think I’m the guy, then that’s great.

“Ultimately I’ll be judged on what I do. There will be a bit of, ‘Well, this one said this and that one said that’, because that’s Scottish football. But it’s down to me, when the decisions are made in the coming weeks, months and years that people stand back and say, ‘Well do you know what, I can kind of see why he’s done that. He’s done it for the right reasons’.

“The Scottish FA has a membership, a lot of which are professional clubs. The SPFL is made up of professional clubs. I have a relationship with SPFL clubs, whether it is Premiership or League 2. I’ve played in every division and I’ve scored in every division. There’s not many who have done that – I think it’s me and Martin Hardie!

“Seriously, if the SPFL clubs have an idea of the skill set and abilities they think the chief executive of the SFA should have, and think I’ve got them, I don’t see how that can be a negative. I can’t get my head round how that can be a bad thing. It’s got to be a good thing that they know the guy running the association can see it from their point of view.

“There are perceptions about the SFA because, a lot of times, when people aren’t entirely sure how things work, what they don’t know, they just make up. We have to change that mindset and let people understand about the good work that we do.”

Maxwell signed off at Partick Thistle in wretched circumstances on Sunday as the Firhill club were relegated after losing the Premiership play-off final against Livingston. The 43-year-old appreciates it wasn’t the most propitious way to change jobs.

“The timing couldn’t be helped,” he said. “If it had gone the other way, it would have been the perfect way for me to leave. As it turned out, it was the worst way. It was horrible. It was the only real low point Thistle had in my time there.

“I get that (some people say it tarnishes my reputation). If you are involved in football, if you’re managing director at that level, then performance on the park is a big part of it.

“You have to take that responsibility and say ‘I don’t have any regrets’. We made decisions we made for the right reasons at those times. If I had to do it again, I would make them again.”

Maxwell’s decisions will now come under the most unforgiving scrutiny imaginable but he is confident he can cope with a job he decided to pursue soon after Regan’s departure.

“It probably took me a day or two to realise there was a real opportunity there,” he added. “I spoke to my wife, kids, family and a couple of people I trust within the game. Everybody was really positive and said it was a fantastic opportunity.

“Was I sitting here a year ago thinking my next job would be chief executive of the SFA? No, because the job wasn’t available and I was only thinking about Partick Thistle. But these jobs don’t come up often. When the opportunity arises you need to go and 
grasp it.

“I must have shaken a thousand hands over the past week and everyone says ‘Congratulations?’ in that questioning tone! Listen, it’s a big job, I’m under no illusions. You can be as prepared as you can be, I don’t think you’re really going to understand the level until you’ve been doing it for 18 months or two years.

“I can’t sit here and say I can handle everything thrown at me, I’m not naive enough to say that. But I’m as prepared as I can be and we’ll see how the next few years unfurl.

“I think I’m a leader. I’ve led teams from playing in them, coaching them and then recently leading a club. I engage, I communicate really well. That’s a massive part of this job, it’s about how you engage with stakeholders across the board. It’s about taking them on a journey and getting them to come with us, getting the staff to buy into it and see where we are at the end of that journey.”