Interview: Paul Dixon, Dundee United defender

Left-back has burning desire to head south but not before helping Dundee United win the cup

AFTER starting out at Monifieth Athletic, breaking into the professional ranks at Dundee, and making a name for himself at Dundee United, Paul Dixon can be excused for wanting a change of scenery. While a succession of players, many of them younger than him, have left Tannadice for bigger and better things lately, he has remained with the club he supported as a boy.

Now, at 25, he believes that he has served his time, not just on Tayside, but in Scottish football. If Morgaro Gomis can go to Birmingham City, Prince Buaben to Watford, Craig Conway to Cardiff City, David Goodwillie to Blackburn Rovers and Scott Allan to West Bromwich Albion, the question is not whether Dixon will join an English club at the end of this season, but which one?

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Derby County have been linked with the left-back after their manager, Nigel Clough, turned up at United’s match against Inverness on Monday night. Today’s William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final against Celtic at Tannadice will be a bigger platform for Dixon, who has made no secret of his desire to try English football when his contract expires in the summer.

“England does appeal to me,” he says. “I have had four years now in the SPL and three years in the First Division before that so I think it’s time. I would like to take the next step and go and test myself in a new league and a new country and see how I do.

“I keep in contact with the boys down south and they have all done very well for themselves. Conway was involved in a major cup final in his first season. It makes me want to be a part of that, and hopefully get some of that success myself. They’re saying it’s fantastic. It’s a fresh challenge.

“I spoke to Prince and asked him what it’s like. Is the game faster, is it slower, is there more football played? Stuff like that. He said that, having played with me, he thought I was good enough to play down there. It gives me heart. I knew the boys who left here to go down there could cut the mustard and they have. It tells me that, if I get the chance, I could possibly go there and do it. I just need to wait and see what happens at the end of the season.”

Nearly five years ago, when Dixon was still at Dundee, he had the opportunity to join Norwich City, but the deal fell through because his club wanted all of the money up front. He admits now that he would not have been ready to move south at such a young age.

These days, he is champing at the bit, anxious to tick off the second of his lifelong ambitions. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I always wanted to play for Dundee United because I was a fan, and I’ve achieved that. I’ve always wanted to play in England, and I’ve always wanted to play for my country so they’re the next two on the list.”

If the Scotland squad is any guide, moving to England will only enhance his international prospects. Just three of those who travelled to the recent friendly match in Slovenia play in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League. Craig Levein, the national coach, unashamedly prefers players based south of the Border. Dixon has yet to play for his country, but it might not be long before he does. He would have been drafted into the last squad after the withdrawals of Alan Hutton and Phil Bardsley, but when Peter Houston, the United manager who is also Levein’s assistant, called one of his backroom staff at Tannadice, he was told that Dixon had gone over an ankle in the gym. “I didn’t know I had been called up until the manager came back from Slovenia,” says the player. “I think he had phoned Gary [Kirk, United’s assistant manager], but Gary told him I had injured myself. So rather than make me feel worse, they never told me until the manager came back.”

Dixon, who was in Levein’s first Scotland squad, against the Czech Republic two years ago, has come on a bundle since then, rampaging up the left flank to produce the kind of wicked crosses on which United have thrived these last few years. His defending is not so strong as his attacking, but he is working on it.

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Houston does not mind hearing Dixon talk openly about a transfer south. If a player can earn five times as much money in the Championship as he can in the SPL, who is the United manager to curtail his ambition? His only hope is that Dixon’s efforts to earn himself a big move will lift United in the short term.

Houston is growing accustomed to it. Such is the turnover of United players – which in itself is a testament to the club’s signing policy – that his job is not just to build a team, but to have in reserve the one that will succeed it. So far, he has dealt with the challenge expertly, replacing Goodwillie with Johnny Russell, and Conway with Gary Mackay-Steven. Next season, he expects Michael Gardyne, who will join from Ross County, and Richie Ryan, an Irish midfield player signed in November, to step up to the plate. He is also after a left-sided player, as well as a centre-back to replace Garry Kenneth, another who is expected to move south in the summer.

The good news for United is that Kenneth and Dixon would both love to bow out with a Scottish Cup triumph. Dixon was frustrated to miss their 2010 success due to a broken toe that ruled him out of the final against Ross County. He spent the days before it in an oxygen chamber, trying to hasten the healing process, but he failed to make it.

“I was a mile off to be honest, but I felt better for giving myself a slight chance. It hit me after the game in the changing room when I was watching the boys celebrating. I just felt so down. It was horrible, sitting there with my big plastic boot on.

“It would be nice to get back there and hopefully get a winner’s medal. Everyone wants one, don’t they?”