Alex Miller insists that he has no designs on replacing Ian Murray as St Mirren manager after being brought in yesterday to “help with team affairs” at the Paisley club.
The vastly experienced Miller will begin work immediately with the struggling Championship side who were making all the right noises about the 66-year-old not being a threat to Murray.
Yet the sacking of previous assistant Mark Spalding to make way for Miller patently makes Murray’s position as precarious as that of his team who lie joint-second bottom of the Championship, six months after they were relegated from the Premiership.
Since Danny Lennon was dispensed with in May 2014, St Mirren have had three managers and four rejigs of their senior coaching structure. Spalding only arrived with Murray from Dumbarton in the summer.
The Paisley club’s board may be keen to avoid appearing trigger happy. However, the latest moves surely demonstrated that they develop itchy fingers around firearms whenever the team are taking heavy hits.
The statement released by St Mirren that announced their parting with Spalding noted their thanks to him for “putting the club and the manager Ian Murray first in this instance” through agreeing to be mutually consented. It is surely no stretch to extrapolate from the wording that by sacrificing himself, Spalding spared Murray. For the time being. Notable by its absence is any confirmation that it was Murray’s call to bring in Miller.
The new No 2, whose last post in football was a nine-game stint as manager of Sibir Novosibirsk in the Russian First Division more than three years ago, was at pains to stress yesterday that his assisting of Murray – on a non-contractual basis – was simply that.
“He’s the manager. There is no way I’m here to be the manager and I’ll support him as much as I can,” said the hugely experienced coach whose first top-level management role came with St Mirren in the 1980s. A decade with Hibernian followed before an unhappy stint with Aberdeen led to him enjoying backroom roles with Coventry City and Liverpool ahead of stints in China, Sweden and a brief sojourn to Russia.
“I would hope I can help him [Murray] develop,” Miller told STV. “I love football, it’s been my life and it’s everything. I’m always willing to help people. I’ve always kept my hand in, done coaching courses or watching development coaches working. I try and keep up with the latest standards and trends.
“St Mirren gave me my first opportunity in the Premier League when I was only 33. I was the youngest manager in the league and I just felt that if I could give them something back then I will try and help.”
Ending up as the oldest manager in the Championship isn’t something that Miller entirely ruled out yesterday. It was put to him that what often appears to happen when an old hand is recruited to work alongside a young manager beset by a threatening form slump is that if the decline is not arrested experience trumps youth in a reshuffle that costs the fresh-faced manager his job.
“I would hope that doesn’t happen because I am here to give my support and at the end of the day my name’s against it too,” Miller said. “I’ve not failed too often in my career.”
St Mirren have form, of course, when it comes to bringing in veteran coaches to help their manager only to then consider the No 2 the better bet for No 1. That explained Tommy Craig’s elevation to the frontline at the Paisley club last May. He lasted until December, with woeful league form and the absence of a home win in a top flight that St Mirren were losing their footing in causing the club’s board to act. A group that have been attempting to sell the club to act.
Murray is still awaiting a first home win in the Championship, and his team have only recorded two league victories – the figure that proved fatal to Craig in a more testing environment.
The first test for the new management team comes on Saturday with a home match against the pair’s former club, Hibernian. Miller needs to make a difference instantly – or else he might soon have a bigger job on his hands.