Kevin Thomson: Managing Rangers one day would be like winning the lottery - but it will never happen if I fail at Kelty Hearts
Discussions with a high-profile defender broke down this week. Thomson has been frantically exploring avenues through his many contacts in the game in a bid to solve the problem. It’s stressful and it’s not the ideal circumstances in which to launch the managerial career he has long envisaged for himself.
Still, having swapped the manicured lawns of the Rangers training academy for New Central Park earlier this summer, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
It sometimes irked him that the youngsters he coached at the Ibrox club were blessed with such well-appointed training facilities. It can soften edges, dilute ambition. He earned his spurs coaching amateur teams after establishing his Kevin Thomson Academy in late 2016 following his injury-enforced retirement from playing.
“You know what I am like, no excuses,” he says. “I have taken amateur teams on a third of a pitch, twenty guys – ten of them who might be Celtic fans who think Kevin Thomson is a tw*t.
"If I make excuses that I need a bigger pitch, or the goals need to be here or there, then I am not true to myself. I feel I can put a session on in a car park. You want a level of professionalism but we are a League Two club.”
Thomson is trying to balance realism with his own infectious, burning ambition. Although he has not played a senior game since a substitute’s appearance for Hibs against Falkirk in April 2016, or a game of any sort since a brief spell at Tranent Juniors shortly afterwards, Thomson is still only 36. Despite the mini-personnel crisis, where Jordon Forster and Dougie Hill are rated extremely doubtful and Scott Hooper is banned, he has not been tempted to put his boots back on.
“You have to let it go,” he says. “I have not registered myself. I would not contemplate it. Even if we did not have any midfielders, I just do not think it is right.
“I don’t mind joining in with training as an 'end man' or if we are doing technical things in twos, and I have to be someone’s partner.
“Don’t get me wrong, the boys recognise the way you pass it compared to the way they pass it. It brings you a bit of kudos. I just think when you end up joining in it can become a bit jovial and takes a bit of the gloss off being the leader. There’s a thin line between having fun with the lads and having respect.”
He resolved not to join in with the Under 18s at Rangers because he wanted to keep some sense of distance between him and his charges. He remembers managers taking part in training games and finding it easy to lose respect for them as they rebuked players for not passing to them enough. “It used to annoy me,” he says.
Now Thomson is the one in charge. Like his old mucker Scott Brown at Aberdeen, it’s a fresh chapter, although in contrast with his former Hibs teammate, he is stepping down – far down – in order to eventually move forward.
Thomson was an elite player who only played top-flight football in Scotland and, in England, dropped no lower than Championship level. Will trips to places like Albion Rovers and Cowdenbeath prove a culture shock too far?
“I do not want to be naive,” he says. “I know League Two can be direct and quite frantic. Fitness levels are important but that’s important at the top level too. I want to sprinkle my knowledge of top-level stuff.
"I have the utmost respect for the lower leagues. I have an idea of how I want to play. One thing I do know is we will have a go in every game. We will pick an attacking team every week. I want to try and put a team out that people like watching.
"Obviously, that’s easier said than done if things don’t quite work out the way you want them to. Ultimately, we need to get three points on a Saturday.
“Listen, I played under a manager in Terry Butcher who was really direct and long ball. It was not enjoyable at all to play for. I am not sure any of the fans enjoyed it either. We won’t overplay – we are not Barcelona or Man City. But at the same time, we have good players, I want to try and play.”
United will offer a stiff test. As is the case with Thomson, tonight's clash is a significant one for Tam Courts. Unlike Thomson, he is generally unknown to the wider population, despite now being in charge of one of Scotland’s biggest clubs. His ascent is one Thomson hopes to emulate. Courts started his management career at Kelty Hearts and tried to sign the former Hibs midfielder prior to his short-lived stay with Tranent.
“I went over out of respect as I had no ambition to sign, mostly because of the Astroturf and my knees,” says Thomson. “I know Tam but not overly well.”
Someone he knows better is Rangers manager Steven Gerrard. He encouraged Thomson to go out and be his own man even if it left the Ibrox club short of a well-regarded youth coach.
“I got some reassurance from him,” says Thomson. "There is only ever one Rangers manager in the world – it is probably easier to win the euro millions than be the Rangers manager.
"But why not have a go at getting there? I think there will be loads of people happy if I was Rangers manager one day. At the same time, if I fail at Kelty, and fail to progress up the leagues, then I will never be Rangers manager. That’s the risk you have to take.”
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