After confirming he was returning to his Sky Sports role earlier this week, Neil McCann told The Scotsman that he nevertheless felt like there was still “unfinished business” for him at Dens Park.
He was already envisaging what would count as a fourth spell at Dundee. But no one, not even he, could have imagined this happening so soon.
McCann felt anxiety about his decision to return to Sky after a short, successful spell as Dundee interim manager almost as soon as he’d made it.
“It became apparent it [the offer of permanent manager] was just too good to turn down,” he says, having signed a three-year deal with Dundee. “My gut was pulling me towards the management side. It was just too strong. I made the call.”
In a dizzying chain of events that was chaotic by even Dundee’s barmy standards, McCann turned down the job of manager at the start of the week and had accepted it by the end. What is it they say about a week in politics?
Hence why yesterday seemed like Groundhog Day at Dens Park as the 42 year-old stood in front of television cameras while launching a fourth chapter at Dens Park.
“I went into Dens to hand back my laptop and came out permanent Dundee manager,” he jokes, with reference to Thursday’s remarkable turnaround following further discussions with John Nelms, Dundee’s managing director.
McCann himself sounds a little shell-shocked by events. “We never killed it,” he stresses, conscious of the speculation surrounding St Mirren’s Jack Ross, pictured. “There were still conversations taking place. He [Nelms] had to do due diligence and talk to other people. Once I came to a decision there was another discussion with John. After talking to Sky again I decided: ‘I am going for it’.”
McCann will fulfil his punditry commitments with Sky Sports next weekend at the Scotland v England World Cup qualifier at Hampden Park. “Sky have been great, I go with their blessing – no doubt I will do the odd game here and there,” he says. “But I am Dundee manager now.”
Work has already begun ahead of next season. No one is in a better position than McCann to assess the squad situation after he saw the good, the bad and the ugly while leading Dundee to safety in the last five games of last season.
Two wins and a draw in the opening three games, combined with results elsewhere, confirmed Dundee’s top-flight status. Two defeats without scoring in the final two matches underlined why they’d found themselves in such trouble in the first place.
Earlier this week McCann told The Scotsman that whoever accepted the post at Dens – McCann denies pointing Dundee in the direction of Jack Ross, a friend – had a “right good job there, things are in place”. Now he will test the truth of that statement himself.
Concerns over the quality of squad, number of players still in contract and viability of plans going forward were not reasons for McCann turning down the opportunity when it was originally offered.
Rather, he genuinely felt a sense of loyalty to Sky Sports. But it niggled him that he was surrendering the opportunity to properly begin the managerial career he craved at a place where he knew he could count on the goodwill of supporters.
“The club have assured me there will be money to strengthen the squad,” said McCann. “But I still believe the guts of the squad is good. If I can add a bit of quality and the type of player I am looking for, that will help.”
But it is a risk for both parties. McCann realises he could ruin a reputation he managed to burnish by leading Dundee to safety last month.
Since he was already held in such high esteem by the fans after coming out of retirement to score the winner against Raith Rovers during Dundee’s second spell in administration, it was quite an achievement to have enhanced his reputation in their eyes.
McCann laughs when it’s put to him that it’s all worked out pretty well for two friends who used to share digs while playing for Dundee youths.
Ross and McCann became good friends at Dens but could hardly have imagined being caught up in a scenario where they were both in the mix for the Dundee manager’s position.
Jack, who is set to sign an improved deal at St Mirren, was another attractive candidate for many Dundee fans. Like McCann, he has strong ties to the club, having supported them before joining on YTS terms. He had a season there as a full-time pro but was released in the early 1990s.
The time it was taking to see if Jack might be tempted to Dens handed McCann a window of opportunity. But he was always Dundee’s first choice. “There was never dialogue between Jack and me,” McCann points out. “I am pretty sure he’d have been high up the list. But I decided to take the job.”