An internal appointment to replace former manager Micky Mellon 39-year-old Courts steps up from a role as United’s head of tactical performance with clear ideas on what he wants at Tannadice Park. One of his desires is the signature of former Celtic and Scotland defender Charlie Mulgrew, a free agent after leaving Blackburn Rovers.
Courts is adamant he will have final say on transfer matters. He works with Asghar on recruitment but is determined to do things his way. Perceived as the cheap option by some fans hoping for a bigger name, he spent five years coaching Kelty Hearts and a further three on United’s coaching staff preparing for this opportunity.
Whatever he may lack in senior football experience he intends to make up for in gumption and drive to ensure this new project works. Courts will be assisted by former Hearts and Livingston coach Liam Fox, two men who harbour specific beliefs on coaching and playing styles.
Players report for pre-season training at the end of next week but work has already begun. “Part of my job doing the opposition analysis previously would naturally involve me in recruitment meetings,” said Courts after the obligatory scarf-above-head pose at Tannadice.
“I would be making recommendations from the games that I had seen in terms of who might be of interest to the club. We are actually a very fluid club here in terms of how communication flows. So I have a very good understanding of the signing targets, the profiles and what’s required.”
Does 35-year-old Mulgrew fall into the ‘required’ category? “Probably at this stage he does,” admitted Courts. “Charlie is somebody who has won the league five times, he has an international pedigree and he is a leader who still wants to do well.
“So when you take all of these different things into consideration, I think he will be fantastic for us on the pitch if we can secure him – both for our younger players and where we want to take the club.
“The head coach has to have final say on transfers at all times. Tony and I have spoken about that and there is no disagreement over that.
“Also by the same token, the club makes a heavy investment in different areas from recruitment to data, scouting etc. So it is very much a consensus approach but ultimately the head coach has to have the final decision.”
Courts comes across as a realist who accepts that his promotion is a significant gamble by United, if a calculated one. The club were promoted to the Scottish Premiership only 12 months ago and finished ninth last season, eight points above the relegation zone.
Mellon’s departure last month – he subsequently headed south for a second stint with English League Two club Tranmere Rovers – left an opening Courts did not apply for. He was invited for interview and then chosen by the board as the most suitable successor.
Some fans questioned the decision and Courts is broad-minded enough to empathise. “I think I can understand from the fans’ perspective. The sporting director model is not something that most people understand.
“Whereas, with my background, I understand how the model actually works and how I can use it as a support network. Equally, we are going to have disagreements and falling outs, differing opinions, because, ultimately, we both want the best for Dundee United Football Club.
“The key thing for me coming into this role is I’m not here, and neither did I want the process to be quick, to give off the impression that I’m beholding to be here.
“I feel really grateful to be here. I understand the level of responsibility and expectation but I’ve got quite a clear idea on what I think needs to be worked on, improved and provided for. Both in terms of the players and the fans.”
He is not walking into the totally unknown in managerial terms. When Mellon and his coaching staff were forced into isolation by Covid 19 regulations last December, it was Courts who stepped in to take charge of United’s first team.
He oversaw a 2-0 defeat at Livingston but did enough to create an impression on Asghar and the club’s directors. They felt there was enough of a response from players during Courts’ temporary reign to keep him in mind as a potential future manager.
Their invitation underlined a fair degree of confidence in Courts’ ability despite some scepticism from outside. The man himself did not accept immediately, preferring to conduct his own due diligence on the job description.
“I think it’s a brave and courageous move,” he said. “It’s not one that I expected, hence the reason I didn’t apply for the role. I didn’t have a frame of reference for this club or other clubs actually making this type of appointment.
“I was pleasantly surprised when the club invited me to have a chat. The process probably took a bit longer than everyone expected because I had a lot of questions and requirements – in terms of where I see the club going and the support that would be needed.
“I just wanted to make sure that alignment was sought right from the outset. I’m really happy that that’s in place.”