These were not circumstances in which new performance directors tend to be introduced by the Scottish Football Association. A news satellite truck was parked outside Hampden Park, reporters jostled for elbow room inside the media centre where Malky Mackay was due to carefully pick his words.
Not even the appointment to the same post of Brian McClair, a former Manchester United and Celtic player and one of the most high-profile Scottish footballers of the last 30 years, had provoked such interest. Despite being the first to occupy the role of performance director, Mark Wotte’s coronation certainly didn’t do so.
But this felt like an event. Rarely had so many reporters been attracted by the thought of listening to someone describe development pathways, measurable performance outcomes and such like. But of course that wasn’t why so many were here.
Just how uncomfortable would things get? Just how remorseful would Mackay be able to demonstrate he’d become in the years since he and his old Cardiff City cohort Iain Moody were accused of exchanging a number of offensive and discriminatory texts?
Once Mackay had moved with some relief away from the glare of the broadcast cameras, he explained he had expected the backlash.
He’d had to cope with the jibes while working at the sharp end of football in England. “The fact I get some stick, that’s life,” he said. “It comes as part of the job when you are a football manager. When you are standing at the side of the pitch there’s some people behind you, 10,000 maybe shouting at you, and it’s not very nice. Then I have been in press conferences at the Premier League and you guys have been throwing bricks at me. These things happen. It’s about having a belief in yourself and knowing what you are doing is for the greater good of the player.”
But of course this was about more than the occupational hazards that come with being a football manager. It is a lot more serious than that. There’s a real belief – and evidence for it – that Mackay harbours, or at least harboured, some deeply unpleasant views.
They are certainly inappropriate for a football manager and anyone working in a management position. Without question they are inappropriate for a role that, in the words of the SFA’s own press release yesterday, is responsible for “overseeing the strategy designed to improve elite talent development across the game”.
In short, Mackay is now a figurehead for Scottish football, potentially more important and expected to be longer-serving than Gordon Strachan, the current manager.
Stewart Regan, the SFA chief executive, posited that Mackay is perfect for the role because he has undergone extensive rehabilitation. He is more alert than anyone on how to behave. He is sensitive to racial and ethnic differences, as well as alert to what can be done to improve the situation.
“In many ways work we are doing in the equality and diversity strategy addresses many of the issues we face in the game,” said Regan, as he joined the discussion. “Football is open to all.
“He [Mackay] has gone through a hell of a lot in the last three years and he will be an ambassador for that programme.”
Mackay stressed he didn’t have to attend any re-education course. The English FA found they could not issue charges against him. They couldn’t compel him to attend any course but he did so anyway.
“I was not forced,” he pointed out. “No one forced me to do anything like that. I was cleared by the FA. But I learned to the point I am able to talk about it.”
So these courses, someone asked, what were they like? “If you go and sit down in one of the classes you’d realise right this minute the different types of phrases and words that are acceptable now and might not have been accepted last week and might change again going forward,” he replied. He attended courses in London, Birmingham, Manchester and elsewhere.
“A lot of people were surprised all across the board as to what used to be acceptable and what is not acceptable any more,” he added.
“I have been involved in sitting with groups of players as well where they were stunned at words that were not acceptable now in terms of diversity. So it was an education, absolutely. I think you’d all be surprised how things are nowadays.”
Mackay’s case is helped considerably by influential campaign groups such as Give Racism the Red Card backing his appointment. Might he point continued critics to this perhaps unlikely endorsement? He felt he didn’t need to.
But he isn’t here only to spread the message of racial, ethnic and gender equality. He is here to help Scotland improve at all levels, male and female teams. In fact, lest we forget, that’s the principal ambition, his raison d’etre. He talked about creating pathways for players, something he learned more about while in charge of Watford.
“I know the pathway to get a kid into the first team, to get them playing against men,” he said. “The problem we have got at the moment is that with our 19 to 21-year-olds that’s where the glass ceiling hits. Our 16s, 17s and 19s in general do well.” Mackay also pointed to the eight to ten-year-old bracket as being a crucial stage of development.
He understandably felt more comfortable speaking about this subject, which is why he was there, sporting his new SFA tie, after all. Producing better footballers is what it comes down to in the final analysis.
But first Mackay knows he will have to start proving to his many critics that he has become a better man.