Jackie McNamara is a compelling illustration of how quickly fortunes can rise and fall. Three years ago, had the Scotland manager’s position become available, the then Dundee United manager would have been a leading contender.
Now it’s more realistic for him to succeed Stewart Regan rather than Gordon Strachan after a career switch from dugout to boardroom. Installed as chief executive at York City of the National League North, McNamara is learning to have empathy with the likes of Regan and Stephen Thompson, who sacked McNamara at Tannadice two and a half years ago. Six months earlier he was regarded as one of Scotland’s brightest young coaches.
United had just reached the League Cup final following a 2-1 win over Aberdeen at Hampden. However, 12 defeats in their last 18 matches of the season combined with the sale of Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven to Celtic meant the pressure intensified.
By the end of September the following season he was gone. Controversy about McNamara benefiting financially from player sell-on clauses surfaced shortly afterwards. Thompson recently announced he is stepping down as chairman at Tannadice but McNamara isn’t about to start gloating. Rather, he’s sympathetic.
“Despite what a lot of people say, I think he inherited a lot of problems,” said McNamara. “People have a lot of opinions about Stephen, but he could have gone the other way and United might have gone to the wall or into the bottom leagues. And how do they get out of that without a big money man?
“People want a successful team which costs money. Being a chief exec now, I can see that. As a manager, I could see the difficulties and how to cut things and improve it and I did it to a certain extent. It’s not great to see them [United] where they are. They should be in the top flight and they shouldn’t have gone down. But that’s football.” McNamara has learned to be circumspect. Often portrayed as enjoying a gilded life as a player, he has since endured the game’s slings and arrows following an initially smooth transition into management.
Jettisoned, unfairly he claims, by United, worse was to follow at York City, where an attempt to repair his reputation in the English lower leagues went spectacularly wrong. York are now two divisions below where they were when McNamara arrived, although the Scot has since moved upstairs, amid some disquiet among supporters. But he remains in situ and York currently occupy one of the play-off places.
With York seeking to move to a new community stadium to be shared with the local rugby team, McNamara still has work to do in England. It’s possible to also sense he has unfinished business on the managerial front as well. After all, he is only 44, too young, surely, to call a halt to his coaching days. “I still have a belief that I could do well in management,” he said.
“Whether I would go back to it, we’ll see. I enjoyed a lot of it. I didn’t enjoy the last bit up here for obvious reasons. But I enjoyed working with the players by improving them.”
So will he throw his hat into the ring for the now vacant chief executive’s post at the SFA? “Not just now, no,” he said. “I have been doing it for just over a year and a half now. There are not many ex-players doing it, but I enjoy it. I enjoy it because I am still involved.
“Maybe further down the line if I keep learning and hopefully building on the experience I have gained,” he continued. “We are moving into a new stadium with York and are looking at things behind the scenes there. I am seeing all the ins and outs about simple things – sponsorship, looking for kit deals, everything.
“As a manager and player you maybe just get on with your job, picking your team, playing your game on a Saturday. There is a lot else to consider.”
“You have to have really thick skin,” he added. “Stewart [Regan] has taken a lot of stick over the last wee bit. I have a bit of sympathy there. How much can he change? There are a lot of things we don’t know about going on behind the scenes.
“You aren’t just picking a manager. There are a lot of things to be resolved, sponsorships, organise friendlies, Project Brave, which I have my own thoughts on, the future of our game. There are so many things there that have to be looked at. It is sometimes difficult for one man to change it.
“I’m sure he would put his hands up and say he made mistakes. But then there is always the other side of it. How much did he want to change?
“When you are looking at it from the outside you only see so much. But having done this side of the job there is a bit of sympathy there because there is only so much you can do as one person.”
l Jackie McNamara was speaking at a William Hill media event. William Hill is the proud sponsor of the Scottish Cup