Where now for Malky Mackay after missing out on Dundee United job?
The recent race for the Dundee United manager’s job prior to confirmation of Micky Mellon’s appointment this week threw up several questions. One of them was whether Steve McClaren ever truly envisaged himself re-launching his managerial career on Tayside?
Also, where will Tommy Wright end up if not at a club that seemed so suited for him? And then there’s possibly the most pertinent question of all in terms of the future of Scottish football: where now for Malky Mackay?
After all, he remains in place as the SFA’s performance director. Dundee United’s sporting director Tony Asghar chose to look to Tranmere Rovers for Robbie Neilson’s replacement despite being given permission to speak to Mackay by the SFA. That in itself was interesting.
Performance director has been described as the most important role in Scottish football. It has responsibility for overseeing a strategy designed to improve elite talent development across the game. Whether the position remains so vital is a moot point. Clearly the SFA did not feel determined to stand in Mackay’s way.
There could be several reasons for allowing him to enter the selection process for the vacancy at Tannadice. The SFA, like every organisation, has significant financial concerns due to Covid-19. It will also rather not have an unhappy employee on its staff; Mackay would surely have resented being denied permission to speak to United.
But giving the green light to these talks does suggest the time is coming to re-assess the performance director role, particularly amid on-going talk of mothballed club academies. We are also nine years down the line since the publication of the SFA’s strategic performance plan. Scotland United: A 2020 vision was meant to have its apotheosis this summer at the European Championship finals.
Mackay accepted the performance director role in late 2016 amid considerable controversy. After all, he was not the obvious candidate for an influential role that involved promoting equality and diversity within the game. Other than a 138-day reign at Wigan Athletic, Mackay had not worked in football since details of his text message exchange with then Cardiff City colleague Iain Moodie were revealed.
Mackay later denied sending the racist, sexist and homophobic texts but apologised for three messages that he described as “inappropriate and unacceptable”. They were damning enough to leave him a discredited figure. The SFA provoked a PR storm after choosing to turn to Mackay when Austin MacPhee withdrew from the recruitment process to become assistant manager of Hearts under Ian Cathro.
Mackay pledged to remain in the role for at least five years – if he was still wanted. To be fair, he has been in situ for three-and-a-half years, longer than many envisaged given his obvious desire to become a manager again.
This ambition reared its head after Gordon Strachan’s contract as national coach was not renewed. Mackay took the reins for a friendly against Netherlands. He refused to rule himself out of the running for the post permanently. It was a stance that generated considerable criticism. Many felt he was fortunate to have the job he was in.
Mackay will have hoped another few years would help erode such opposition to him taking on a high-profile managerial role. He was disabused of this notion by the reaction to him featuring among the candidates at United. It was negative enough, particularly on social media, to invite speculation it influenced Asghar’s thinking.
Mackay will know the same will apply if and when he is linked to another manager’s position.
Meanwhile, with conflict existing between the clubs and the SFA over the best way to develop youth talent, the performance director role itself is under scrutiny. One club chairman told me this week that coaching ability should almost disqualify a candidate for a role demanding skills more suited to a project manager than a football manager.
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