Dundee United have begun the squad clear-out anticipated for weeks but which has been triggered by the Tannadice club’s relegation from the Premiership, confirmed with defeat by Dundee on Monday.
After manager Mixu Paatelainen’s departure yesterday morning, eight out-of-contract players have been told they will not be offered new contracts.
Midfielder John Rankin, who is also the chairman of the Scottish Professional Footballers’ Association, is among those let go. The 32 year-old was present for not only his own meeting with chairman Stephen Thompson, but those of many of his team-mates. “He was a great help,” said Thompson.
A statement from the United chairman last night sought to explain the procedure. “I have had to explain the harsh realities of relegation to the squad,” he said. “I spoke to them about cost-cutting measures. It was not a pleasant thing to have to do, but it was better to do it face to face with them. John Rankin was there in his SPFA capacity and was very good about things.”
The out-of-contract players not offered new contracts are Rankin, Edward Ofere, Callum Morris, Guy Demel, Ryan Dow, Euan Spark, Joe McGovern and Florent Sinama Pongolle. According to the statement, they will all leave “at the end of the season”.
Japan international goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima, signed late last year on a short-term contract, is also not expected to remain at the club.
But all fit players will be considered for selection in United’s last three games, starting against Inverness Caledonian Thistle tomorrow night. Veteran defender Sean Dillon could be asked to take the team. Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound programme last night, Rankin said: “The chairman made it clear he was not in a position to offer anyone a contract. Not for football reasons, but completely financial.
“It just was not viable to keep them on,” he added. “A lot of names have gone the supporters might want to keep. But we move on. We do not have much time to dwell on it, albeit it is harder because we now have relegation on our CV.”
Paatelainen’s expected parting of ways with the club was also confirmed yesterday, with the Finn the first to pay the price after relegation.
A statement released at 11am announced what was inevitable, bringing to a close Paatelainen’s near seven-month reign as manager.
“We are devastated that it’s another manager we have let down this season,” said Rankin, who revealed the players had apologised to Paatelainen. “We all need to take responsibility, whether we are playing or not. We have a huge squad. It has not been anywhere near acceptable. Six wins from 35 is horrendous by any standards, especially a team of Dundee United’s standards.
“We have been in the lead ten times, one game twice, so that’s 30 points we lost from a winning position. Add that on to our total now and we’d be in the top six. That is not acceptable.”
Thompson, pictured below, held meetings with first-team players yesterday at United’s St Andrews training base, after Paatelainen had been in for the last time to say farewell. The Finn later left the training academy without comment.
But many of his squad are preparing to sever ties with the club after a season where they have fallen so short of expectations. Only a few players have been told they are being kept on, with others, including those with still another year, and more, of their contracts to run, advised to find another club to join.
It is understood that Simon Murray, Scott Fraser, Blair Spittal and goalkeeper Luis Zwick are being retained to help the club’s promotion efforts next season.
Thompson has already promised “radical change” at the club in a statement released on Tuesday. He also apologised “unreservedly” to fans for mistakes made during his stewardship.
With around 50 players on the club’s books, it was obvious cuts had to be made. The match programme for Monday night’s match with Dundee listed a United squad of 45 players. Paatelainen brought in seven new players in total as he sought to steer United away from relegation danger.
The post-relegation restructuring plans began with Paatelainen’s exit, after he agreed a compensation package. The Finn signed a two-and-a half year deal with the club when he joined in October.
Paatelainen thanked the players, staff and supporters, acknowledging that a “difficult winter” had severely damaged the side’s survival hopes. United won only once in the league between November and the start of February. United have not won consecutive matches all season and have been relegated with three games to spare.
A statement released yesterday morning confirmed Paatelainen had left. “Dundee United Football Club and Mixu Paatelainen have agreed the departure of Paatelainen as First Team Head Coach with immediate effect,” it read. “The Club thanks Mixu for his service and will now begin the search for a new Head Coach.”
Paatelainen said in the statement: “I would like to thank the players, staff and supporters.
“It has been a difficult winter and the challenge was huge but nevertheless I have enjoyed every day working for the Club and with this group of players”.