Mark McGhee agreed to help Neil McCann but Dundee chief let axe fall

Neil McCann lost his job as Dundee manager and was replaced by Jim McIntyre. Picture; Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
Neil McCann lost his job as Dundee manager and was replaced by Jim McIntyre. Picture; Andrew Milligan/PA Wire
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It wasn’t so much the news itself that surprised so much as the timing of it. No one, not even a club legend, can expect to avoid speculation about their future after a start to the season that equals the club’s worst-ever league opening. On top of this is a poor home record stretching back to last season.

Neil McCann’s return from Dens Park fixtures was wretched: just six league wins from 26 games, as well as two cup exits to lower-league opposition. But then he knew this better than anyone, which is why it is understood he was happy to accept the club’s wishes for an experienced mentor to come on board. He was then told he had seven days from last Tuesday to find one.

Despite Dundee’s troubled start, John Nelms, the Dundee managing director, had seemed at first reluctant to act. Others fell by the wayside: Alan Stubbs at St Mirren and Livingston’s Kenny Miller. The latter is now, of course, at Dundee as a player – attracted there by his old pal McCann, a former team-mate at Rangers and Scotland.

Miller is known to be aghast at the club’s treatment of McCann, who was allowed to take training this week as well as oversee a trialists’ game against an African touring side on Monday.

McCann, under the impression his position was safe for at least two more games, held a meeting earlier this week with players to inform them of a plan to be more direct in the final third of the pitch. The dressing-room was said to be upbeat.

But McCann was summarily dismissed on Tuesday afternoon – just four days before Saturday’s trip to Livingston and nine days after a 2-1 defeat against Kilmarnock. Jordan Jones’ act of simulation to earn what turned out to be the decisive penalty for the visitors meant there seemed to be enough injustice in the air to excuse the manager going into the international break: a traditionally jumpy time for club directors at under-performing clubs.

McCann took training as normal on Tuesday morning before being told he was being sacked later that afternoon. Former Ross County manager Jim McIntyre was appointed last night – just 24 hours after the news about McCann’s departure had been confirmed.

McCann was not given the chance to say farewell to the players, the majority of whom he had brought to the club in the 16 months since he became permanent manager. Among the current crop is Glen Kamara, the unheralded midfielder from Arsenal youths who scored his first international goal for Finland against Greece on Sunday night. Jack Hendry, sold by Dundee to Celtic for over £1 million in January, was another brought to the club by McCann after being released by Wigan Athletic.

McCann was at the club’s sponsors’ dinner on Sunday night. According to guests, he was upbeat and approachable. Clearly he had little inkling his job was in such jeopardy, even though he knew time was ticking on recruiting the experienced figure Nelms wanted.

It was suggested assistant Graham Gartland might move aside to accommodate the new man but McCann was never likely to agree to this arrangement. However, McCann is said to have welcomed the idea of another set of helping hands since he was beginning to realise management could be a lonely position.

Challenges such as the troubled Steven Caulker’s behaviour had been tough to deal with. McCann had taken a chance on the England centre-half’s willingness and ability to overcome personal issues.

As reports have claimed, Jim Jefferies was approached to help out. But Jefferies, who lives in Lauder and is enjoying his director of football role at high-flying Edinburgh City, could not be persuaded. Other names were mentioned.

It’s understood Jan Wouters, who McCann worked with at Rangers and who is currently enjoying a sabbatical from football after leaving his post as assistant manager at Feyenoord at the end of last season, expressed interest. But, with time running out, he could not be relied upon to come on board in time for two critical up-coming matches against Livingston and Hearts. The next candidate approached agreed to aid McCann: former Scotland assistant manager Mark McGhee.

The veteran of over 900 games as manager left a similar director of football posting at Barnet in March.

But Dundee were reluctant to appoint someone who is still due to serve a five-game touchline ban after he was sent to the stand during a 7-2 defeat by Aberdeen while with Motherwell, his last post in club football in Scotland. Nelms is understood to have nixed this final candidate proposed by McCann and let the axe fall on the manager instead.

We will now never know whether McCann plus an experienced figure such as McGhee might have provided the impetus to spark Dundee – if indeed this was ever the intended real plan, with the swiftness of McIntyre’s appointment arousing suspicion. Jefferies’ knock-back appears to have sent the Dens Park board into a panic and towards the out-of-work McIntyre.

Only a point separates Dundee from 11th-placed St Mirren and two points from Motherwell in tenth. They are certainly not detached.

McCann has left believing he was on the cusp of turning things around. He has been cut adrift following a win over Hamilton Accies where the players, judging from the performance and reaction afterwards, were clearly still playing for him and a narrow, unfortunate defeat by Kilmarnock.

He put long hours into the job, often returning to his Edinburgh home late at night before returning to Dundee in time for training preparations, before 8am.

What certainly should not be forgotten is McCann’s willingness to take the team against Motherwell in December hours after the death of the man he credits with his entire career – his father, Eddie. McCann turned up shortly before kick-off at Dundee’s 2-1 win over Rangers at Dens Park in November because his father, who had suffered a heart attack the same day, had urged him to attend.

Such a willingness to give his all means McCann’s place in the affections of Dundee fans remains secure and will outlast a short, often gruelling first spell in management at a club so close to his heart.