McCall bows to the inevitable

IN THE end the stay of execution proved exactly that, although the final act was not a deed of violence. Ian McCall yesterday parted company with Dundee United, a process which was effectively started six weeks ago in the aftermath of a 7-1 defeat to Rangers in the semi-finals of the CIS Cup.

Chairman Eddie Thompson has always been close to McCall and chose to embrace his former manager before he left Tannadice Park for the last time, at just after 5pm last night.

The first stirrings of this long goodbye can be traced back even further than that humiliating defeat against Rangers. In early December McCall received a very public warning that results must improve. Just two further wins in 13 league games was not the improvement required.

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Surprisingly, Gordon Chisholm, a man closely associated with McCall, has been appointed interim manager. Tony Docherty, another ally of McCall, has also been retained as assistant. Neither have experience of leading a club but will have to learn fast in what has now become a serious situation for United. One point adrift from Livingston at the bottom of the league, they now have a sequence of games against four of the top five teams. A Scottish Cup semi-final clash with Hibs in April now seems incidental when the consequences of relegation are contemplated. It has been estimated that demotion could cost the club 1.6 million.

This was a central factor in convincing Thompson that he must once again apply the hard-nosed code followed in his days as wily Morning Noon and Night owner to the running of his beloved football club. He sacked Paul Hegarty after only 86 days in charge, and ended Maurice Malpas’ 24-year association with the club. McCall has at least been allowed more than two years to prove himself before being asked to clear his desk. He left Tannadice in his agent Raymond Sparkes’ car after a long day of financial negotiations with Thompson. His contract still had another full season to run, and a pay-off in the region of 150,000 is believed to have been agreed.

"I am very disappointed but I wish Dundee United all the best this season," is all he would say as he clambered into Sparkes’ vehicle, bound for a Glasgow home he was preparing to exit having recently decided to move his family to Dundee.

The truth is McCall leaves the club where he found them 26 months ago - at the bottom of the Premierleague. Another truth that cannot be ignored is that he was provided with more funds than any other Dundee United manager to keep them where they already were. In his only full season in charge he led United to their first top six SPL finish but frustratingly for Thompson this progress proved illusory. A team believed to be too good to go down have spent this season providing a persuasive counter-argument. Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Kilmarnock completely trashed the notion and left Thompson with the task he so dreaded.

The Dundee United directors met early yesterday morning and the decision to dispense with the manager was ratified. There was still much to be discussed with McCall before the day was out, and an emotionally wrung-out Thompson finally emerged to meet with reporters at just before 5:30pm last night.

"Ian and I have agreed we would try and not say anything that would offend one another in any way," said Thompson. "Everything has been agreed and it has all been done in a very friendly manner. We hugged each other before he left tonight. It’s been a very hard day, perhaps harder for him. But I am looking after Dundee United. That’s the only thing that matters."

Chisholm becomes United’s sixth manager in seven years, but there may soon be a seventh. Names in the frame include Jocky Scott, Craig Brewster, Maurice Malpas, Terry Butcher and, inevitably, Paul Sturrock.