STANDING in a corridor at McDiarmid Park, Stephen Thompson looked Jackie McNamara in the eye as he handed him the letter which effectively ended his reign as Dundee United manager.
Speaking yesterday, the Tannadice chairman took pride in his face-to-face approach, but he also revealed that the board had been discussing his position “for quite some time” and the letter had been prepared long before the match with St Johnstone turned against them.
There is no right way or wrong way. I have seen managers sacked with a phone call to their agent. I looked him in the eye as I handed the letter overStephen Thompson
“There is no right or wrong way – I’ve seen managers sacked with a phone call to their agent. The one thing I did do was look him in the eye and spoke to him as I handed the letter over.”
But the act was premeditated, the board having finally run out of patience, as the club remained second bottom of the Premiership.
“It wasn’t in my pocket, it was in somebody else’s. Like any business you’ve got to be organised and prepared for things and it could well have been torn up and thrown in the bin. But we’ve got a business to run. There’s no ideal time… there is no perfect way of dealing with it. We took legal advice on how to handle it.”
Although a large section of the United support had turned on McNamara, there remained some sympathy given the fact he had guided the club to two cup finals and three top-six finishes despite losing some of the most talented assets. But Thompson said that money had been spent to try to help him fill the gaps.
“The board had been discussing the position for quite some time – a week, two weeks, four weeks. We do feel as a board we backed him. We have the third biggest budget in the league and I know that for a fact. We’ve spent nearly £500,000 in transfer fees in the last 18 months.”
But McNamara’s successor will need to reduce the number of players on the books, with Thompson citing 51, including the development squad, as excessive and saying his desire would be to focus on quality rather than quantity going forward. With the transfer window closed there would be no immediate demand to alter personnel but he stressed the board would work to help the new manager.
That man is expected to bring experience to the role with the chairman convinced a rookie would find the task too daunting and prove too big a gamble but, while the process of identifying the best candidates is underway, Thompson has not sought out one-to-one conversations with any individuals yet.
According to speculation, one of those in the frame is Stuart McCall but he has alluded to matters in the background and suggested they may be a cause for further contemplation. One of those is the ongoing suspension and investigation into the club’s youth director Stevie Campbell, following an alleged rift with McNamara. Thompson conceded the matter had dragged on longer than he would have liked but said they had to see through the proper process and ensure a fair hearing.
Not in a rush to install the new manager, despite the fact the team face a crucial league match away to Partick Thistle on Saturday, which could send United down into the automatic relegation spot should they lose, the majority shareholder insisted the club still has high ambitions, centred on silverware and qualifying for Europe and the long-term dream of even challenging for the title, and with the finances in a manageable state, he said the job remained an attractive one.
“If you go back to four or five years ago… we had a huge amount of debt and a ridiculous amount of pressure was on myself and the board by the bank to get that debt down.
“I just felt I don’t want this club to be in that position ever again. I want this club to be in a position where it is financially stable for the future. There has been pain for the fans, there’s no doubt about that.”
Stabilised just two years into what was supposed to be a five-year financial plan, Thompson says the sale of Armstrong and Mackay Steven may have caused a rift between manager and fans and placed strain on his own relationship with the former gaffer, who took the sales hard, but he insists it has left the club in a solid position and, when the new man comes on board, ready to push on.