If Dundee United and Raith Rovers are in the same league set-up next season, there is every chance that Ray McKinnon could be in post at Tannadice. But he seems set to remain at Stark’s Park should Rovers win promotion. That, at least, would appear to be what was teased out of McKinnon yesterday.
The Kirkcaldy side’s manager wasn’t keen on being dragged into discussions over his long-term future as he collected a second consecutive Ladbrokes manager of the month award a matter of 48 hours before the biggest game of his managerial career.
The 45-year-old was patently of a mind to stick to a script. Since there developed an inevitability about Mixu Paatelainen’s sacking by Dundee United – McKinnon’s first club as a player – he has straight-batted any attempts to present him as the anointed successor.
Yesterday, though, McKinnon proved far more candid than expected. Perhaps it was the giddiness induced by the previous night’s 1-0 victory over Hibernian. A result that gives his Raith team a genuine shot at ousting Alan Stubbs’ side from the Premiership play-off quarter-final at Easter Road tomorrow to set-up a semi-final against Falkirk.
McKinnon said more than he intended about his possible movements in the summer. These would appear to be non-existent if he and his team upset all possible odds to return Raith Rovers to the top flight for the first time in 19 years. “If I take Raith up, I will be the Raith Rovers manager next season. It is as simple as that,” McKinnon told STV. It didn’t seem as simple as that when he discussed United with the written press.
It was put to him that, when Jackie McNamara was sacked in September, McKinnon had said that United were his club. He didn’t seek to close down the topic, as he has previously.
“You know, make no mistake about it, they’re a big club. But it honestly hasn’t affected me. Maybe three years ago. You know, three years ago, they were a club in the top flight and you’re thinking: ‘Yeah...’ Any time you’re linked with a club, it’s exciting. It’s my hometown club, I played for them, my kids support them. I get that. But it hasn’t really affected me one bit, I’m honest about that. I’m quite happy where I am.”
With that response it seemed as if McKinnon was saying that relegation had robbed United of their appeal. “No certainly not,” He countered. “They’re a top-six club in Scotland, like Hibs. They’re big, big clubs. Whether they’re in this division or the one up, they’re big, big clubs with huge potential. They’re attractive jobs for everybody. Why am I talking about this? I’m getting drawn into something here. They’re attractive jobs and it’s nice to be linked with it, but I’m totally focused on my job here.”
In contrast to his response in front of a television camera, he was circumspect about whether that focus would be unshakeable Raith went up. “That’s a question we can answer if we can do that. I’m getting right on that fence again,” he grinned.
The fact he is in demand is a compliment to the Rovers collective and not just him, McKinnon contended. “It’s down to the players on the park over the course of the season and how well they’ve performed,” he said. “All I can say, is I’m delighted with the boys I’ve got right now and we’ve got a great chance of doing something special, and that’s all we’re focusing on.
“I’ve not spoken to the players about it [the speculation] at all. We came in last night and, in the lead-up to the game, not one of my players broached it. They stay focused. And they’re good boys in that dressing room, good professionals, good strong characters. So not a mention of it, which is great.”
Achieving greatness as a coach certainly appears to lurk within the McKinnon mindset. The feeling persists that, whether or not it is United, one day soon he will be enticed away from Raith by a bigger club.
“I can say openly that I have ambition. I do. And I want to go as far as I can in football. I’ve got the drive and I’m hungry for it,” he said. “But what will be, will be. I can’t affect the future. All I can do is focus on the task in hand and try to do my best for Raith Rovers. I know it’s a cliché but I have to stick to that.”