Micky Mellon ended his first press conference yesterday by thanking reporters for letting him feel able to lapse back into his broad Scottish vernacular.
It’s been over 30 years since he last felt comfortable enough to do so. And let’s face it, he was not fronting too many press conferences when he was an apprentice at Hearts.
That spell did not go as planned. Rejection by manager Alex MacDonald left him “devastated” and taught him something he has since tried to take with him into management: never form an opinion on a player without first seeing him play.
Prior to this, he was one of hundreds of schoolboys recruited to the Dundee United dream academy, which makes his return now seem all the more poignant.
The Tannadice club cast their net wide in the 1980s. Anyone who exhibited any sign of promise as a footballer, whether east-coast reared or west coast like Mellon, was likely to have had their name logged in Jim McLean’s black book.
“Dundee United’s youth policy was probably the best in Scotland,” said Mellon. “It produced some unbelievable players. I came up here a lot and played for Dundee United teams in terms of S-Forms. I did that many times, as everybody else did at that time.
“The reason I left Scotland was because nobody had any youth teams back then. It was a reason why a lot of Scottish boys who would leave and join youth teams in England and that were miles ahead of anything up here and gave us the opportunity to develop as a player.”
He doesn’t regret anything. And he doesn’t feel as if he has anything to prove following five promotions as a manager as well as the large part he played in the development of players such as Jamie Vardy – who he signed for Fleetwood Town – and Rangers’ Connor Goldson, who was with him at Shrewsbury Town.
“I don’t think ‘proving it’ is where I’m at in my career,” said the 48-year-old. “I think I’ve done enough to make people understand that I’ve a good idea of how management works.
“Coming to a great club like Dundee United lets me compete in the national league and that’s fantastic. I’m excited about it. I’m looking forward to getting going but I’m calm about it. It’s not like I’m going to be losing my composure over it. I’m more experienced than that.”
A move to Bristol City, where he was handed his senior debut by Joe Jordan, got the ball rolling on a long and fruitful career south of the Border as a player and manager. This latest twist has taken him from Birkenhead, where he was adored by Tranmere Rovers fans, to Broughty Ferry, his current base as he feels his way back into life back in Scotland.
“It’s always been a dream of mine (to return),” he said. “I love football, so the romantic in me always wanted to either play here or, once I was too old for that, if the opportunity ever came, to manage here with a fantastic football club that’s going to give me the opportunity to compete. It wasn’t too tough a decision (to leave Tranmere). The opportunity came at the right time for me.”
As it stands, he’s leaning on staff already at Tannadice for guidance although, having watched videos of them last season, he claims to be well-versed on matters United. He’s clearly relentless in his approach to management.
“My job is to watch football games even when my own team isn’t playing,” he said.
Lawrence Shankland, pictured, might well have been a reason for Mellon paying close attention to United games. Now he is charged with keeping the Scotland striker at the club for as long as possible. Mellon’s nurturing of Vardy could play well with Shankland, who his new manager believes can get “better and better”.
Lee McCulloch has left Tannadice and will be reunited with Robbie Neilson at Hearts while fellow coach Gordon Forrest is likely to join him there. Academy player transition coach Dave Bowman and Brian Grant, head of player pathway at Tannadice, are on hand to help Mellon put things in place ahead of a planned friendly on Saturday, providing the Scottish government gives the green light.
It’s all Mellon says he can do – prepare for football matches. He’s been outspoken about Tranmere’s controversial demotion following a vote of League One clubs. He was prepared for being asked if his views have now shifted to align with those of his new employers, who are of course involved in a costly legal battle to stop relegated Hearts blocking the Tannadice club’s return to the Premiership. Like Tranmere, Hearts believe sporting integrity has been severely compromised.
“It’s out of my hands,” said Mellon. “All I can be is disappointed because I knew I had a group of players (at Tranmere) that were showing evidence of being able to comfortably stay in the division.
“That was the disappointment for the fans, for the playing staff and coaching staff - we knew we had the right.
“All the other stuff is politics to me,” he added. “I am obviously very disappointed about it. But now it’s about me getting Dundee United ready with the same mentality and enthusiasm and know-how I have shown throughout the years.”
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