Gary Holt: Robbie Neilson may have to settle for League One

Gary Holt, pictured at the Scottish Cup fourth round draw, fears English Championship sides may have been put off recruiting coaches from north of the border. Picture: SNS Group
Gary Holt, pictured at the Scottish Cup fourth round draw, fears English Championship sides may have been put off recruiting coaches from north of the border. Picture: SNS Group
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Gary Holt fears that the 
failure of former Hibernian boss Alan Stubbs at English Championship side Rotherham United may be a factor in 
Robbie Neilson’s willingness 
to contemplate swapping 
Hearts for MK Dons in 
England’s third tier.

Holt, who played down south for Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, Wycombe Wanderers and Colchester United, was also Norwich’s first-team coach until May, when he left Carrow Road in an attempt to further his own managerial career.

The 43-year-old fears that Stubbs’ sacking after only 14 games at Rotherham may deter Championship clubs in England from recruiting north of the border and that League One may be the only point of entry for coaches from this country.

“You are hoping what happened with Alan doesn’t put Scottish coaches in a bad light,” said Holt, a Scottish Cup-winning midfielder with Kilmarnock who also won ten caps for Scotland.

“Alan did an okay job at Hibs. He won the Cup and was probably expected to get promotion, which didn’t happen.

“You hope his experience at Rotherham doesn’t sour English minds towards coaches coming from Scotland.”

Holt points out, though, that there can be no guarantees of success for either party should Neilson agree to take the plunge with MK Dons, who are currently fighting to avoid relegation to League Two. “Is it a big gamble for him? Probably,” he said. “It might be for them as well. MK Dons like to give younger managers and coaches a chance, as they proved with Karl Robinson, and I can see them going down that route again.

“For Robbie, it’s an opportunity at a big club. They might be new in terms of [history], but it’s a massive stadium.

“However, is it a risk? Yes, it is because he’s in a really good job here in Scotland, he has a decent budget, a great stadium, good crowds and a team playing good football. Going down there, it’s a war of attrition.”

Craig Levein, Hearts’ director of football, had a disastrous experience in England when he left Tynecastle to take over at Leicester City in 2004. He lasted just 15 months in the Midlands before being dismissed, with the club in danger of being relegated from the Championship.

Neilson, coincidentally, left Hearts for Leicester in 2009 but he made only 30 starts in his two seasons there and spent his last three months in England on loan to Brentford, which represents the extent of his experience south of the border.

“Whereas myself and others were a bit fortunate and played for longer in England, Robbie had a spell at Leicester and it didn’t work out so well for him and he’s going to get his eyes opened if [he moves to England],” added Holt.

“You play Saturday-Tuesday, Saturday-Tuesday, all over the country. Then there’s the play-offs and all of the cups and that’s something to get used to.

“If you don’t know the game down there, don’t have the contacts and don’t know the players you can and can’t bring in, you can fall flat on your face.

“You need to hit the ground running. You get no leeway. No time. No ten games to bed into things but it’ll be interesting if it happens and you have to take your hat off to him and hope he does well.

“I want Scottish coaches and managers to do well because we get enough stick as it is down south.”

The precarious nature of English club management was underlined this week when Kenny Jackett, the man who replaced Stubbs at Rotherham, resigned after only five matches but Holt believes that Neilson may be given a little more time by his potential employers.

“MK Dons are a good club,” he said. “They give managers time to implement what they want to do. In England these days, it can be three or four weeks and you are out of the door but I’m sure he’d get time to spread his wings and try different things.

“Is he willing to take that gamble and put himself in the firing line? Hopefully, he is because it’ll show his ambition and where he wants to be – moving up that food chain.”