Robbie Neilson on mission to return United to top flight

New Dundee United manager Robbie Neilson at Tannadice. Picture: SNS
New Dundee United manager Robbie Neilson at Tannadice. Picture: SNS
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Robbie Neilson has taken his time about returning to management but he believes patience has paid off with his appointment at Dundee United.

It could hardly be described as a stable club – Neilson is United’s fifth manager in five years – but the former Hearts head coach is adamant it is the right fit for him.

His mission is to take the club back into the Premiership this season but he knows it also a chance to rebuild his own reputation. The 38-year-old, who replaces the sacked Csaba Laszlo, has waited for the right opportunity to come along. He has been out of the game since being dismissed by English League One side MK Dons back in January, and knew his next move would be crucial.

Neilson said: “I have waited for the right job to come along and I really feel – in fact I know – this is the right one.

“When you have had a hit as a coach you have to make sure you get it right the next time.

“You get two strikes as a coach, when you get onto three you’re in trouble and you’re out.

“The things I was looking for were ambition, that’s a big thing, and then a fan base. And then I wanted a club with a training ground because I feel that is really important. Those were the three things I looked at and this job ticks it all.”

Neilson is relishing the task of bringing success back to the once-proud Taysiders and reckons bringing the while club together will be the key.

He said: “I would say my message to the fans is come and see a team that’s hungry, works hard and wants to do well for the club.

“The proof will be in the pudding on Saturday match-day. We can come here and talk the talk but ultimately we have got to walk the walk and we plan to do that.”

Neilson insists he has benefited from his stint in England, even if it did end in disappointment. “I’m a better manager for being at MK Dons, one hundred per cent. The first part of it was fantastic, we did really well but then had a couple of tough months. The problem down in England is that you have a couple of bad months and that’s you, you’re out.

“Working in England is a fantastic experience, but it’s crazy at times. It’s a real results business, but you just have to take it on the chin. It’s how you bounce back from it.

“When you speak to other managers they tell you you don’t really know what it’s like until you get sacked. Until it happened to me I thought ‘nah’, but it’s true because it gives you time to evaluate. Once you have had that hit, you come back thinking ‘right, this is it – lets go’.”

Neilson, who has signed a deal until the end of next season, is thrilled to open the latest chapter in his managerial career which has already seen him lift the Championship with Hearts when he led them to the title in 2015 ahead of Hibs and Rangers. And the former Scotland right-back revealed how his lay-off over the past months can help him achieve his new-found ambitions on Tayside.

“I had a few offers when I first came out but I am really glad I didn’t go straight back in,” he said. “If I’m honest, I wasn’t ready to go straight back in because I needed time to reflect on what had happened.

“I spoke to loads of people about the job, Alex Smith even phoned me from Australia so it was good to speak to him about it. I think it helps that I have played here [for United], but it’s not something that is a massive thing. But having the feeling of the club and knowing what it’s like is a good thing.”

Neilson will take charge for the first time when United play Partick Thistle at Firhill on Saturday.

“I spoke to the players this morning about the objective,” he said. “There’s no point denying it, the objective for ourselves, Ross County, Inverness, Dunfermline... there’s probably about eight teams out of the ten whose aim is to get promoted. The only way you do that is by winning on Saturday at Partick Thistle.

“There’s no point looking ahead to May. We need to look at the game on Saturday.”