If there was a manual on how not to appoint a football manager, then surely it was written by John Nelms and the board of Dundee FC.
Since coming into the club in 2013 the American has now had to appoint, quite staggeringly, three managers, what with John Brown capitulating with the promotion finishing line in sight, Paul Hartley admitting he had run out of ideas as his team stared relegation in the face and now, the unbelievably convoluted removal of Neil McCann.
Arriving after Hartley blurted out that he’d tried everything he knew as he failed to turn round the fortunes of his ailing squad, the tenure of Neil McCann went from the third coming of the Messiah, to that of a manager constantly being ridiculed by former players. The cowardly smirking of Celtic reserve goalkeeper Scott Bain on social media (a pathetic trait that he has previous for) at McCann’s removal might have said more about the easily irked keeper than the punted manager. But with Julen Etxabeguren having already gone to the press with stories of a gaffer who would lose the rag at players after a defeat only to apologise once he’d had time to reflect, recently being backed up almost word for word by ex-Dee Kevin Holt, these stories are either true, or McCann gave his players more reasons than most to hold a grudge against him.
These three were not alone, the Dutchman (I wouldn’t quite call him a footballer…) Randy Wolters being quoted (in pigeon English by the ever (un)reliable Evening Telegraph) as saying he and the manager had patched up their differences after a fallout. While the scarlet pimpernel of the frontline, Marcus Haber, talked of suffering the same fate, but without the late season reprieve Randy received. So with all that in mind, the evidence does really begin to stack up.
Even Dee legend and the man who rubbed copious amounts of salt into those dayglo gapping tear stained DAB wounds, Craig Wighton, hinted as he left for Tynecastle, that all was not well within the Dundee backroom. Yes, you could point to the fact that none of these players could hold down a regular place in McCann’s team (with all the chopping and changing he did, was anyone a regular??) but Faissal El Bakhtaoui also had a swipe at the management team (Graham Gartland has to take some of the blame too) as he left. While the freezing out of Darren O’Dea for long spells deserves some sort of explanation too.
In the end, McCann was sacked for poor form on the park and an especially abysmal record at Dens, where home fans barely knew how to celebrate Benjamin Källman’s recent goal against Motherwell (his first for the club), so starved of the ball hitting the net have we become. And all that being tied to a pathetically poor product to watch, even though we were continually fed the fabrication that the football on offer was ‘entertaining’ - no Neil, it wasn’t. Fans had had enough and his removal and replacement by Jim McIntyre had been too long in coming. In fact, far too long. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
When Hartley was removed, the appearance of McCann in his superhero cardigan was not so much a surprise to Dundee fans, but more of a complete and utter, where the hell did that come from, shock. McCann had admittedly served the club well in his first term at Dens as a player (who can forget his Coca-Cola Cup semi-final winning goal against Airdrie in Perth?), before coming out of retirement to help the club through its second period in administration (scoring one of the most celebrated late game-winning goals at Dens in living memory). But that still didn’t explain how he materialised out of the Sky (Sports studios) to take on his first real role in football management. It was a crazy appointment, but crazy appointments sometimes work… and it did.
With five games remaining Dundee bagged 7 points to secure safety through three backs to the wall, fighting, spirited displays. Something that was a heartening sight for a support who had been put through the mill in the months leading up to these unexpected events.
It should have been a glorious swan song for a man who could across those three spells at the club be quite rightly viewed as something of a magician. But no, there was more. After having chased the then St Mirren manager Jack Ross (not Ross Jack as I have to remind myself every time his name comes up) halfway around Europe and still somehow failing to convince the man – a Dundee supporter, no less – to take the manager’s job, Dundee managing director, John Nelms dressed it all up, quite ridiculously, as an attempt to offload out of favour striker Rory Loy to the Paisley club...
Man up John and tell it like it is, eh?
Rather bizarrely, the man at the top then sidled back to his ‘get out of jail’ interim manager, who had already turned the full-time position down!! Lo and behold, without an interview process, without looking at other options and without, seemingly, a better idea, a pundit with basically no football management experience was handed a transfer budget. Allowing him to sign, across three transfer windows, something like 27 players (yes, really) and slowly rip the heart out of a squad that yes, had underperformed and yes, needed some serious augmenting, but which at least had a handful of players who knew the league and what it took to survive in it. Destined to fail? You betcha!
Dither, dither, dither. As Dens burned, Nelms fiddled and diddled, watching defeat after defeat. One league win in eight games which was no surprise to anyone unlucky enough to watch Dundee regularly last season. And as if all that wasn’t enough we were also embarrassed at home by not one, but two Championship sides in the League Cup.
Then, with merely days left of a fortnight’s international break, the decision was finally made and McCann and Gartland were mercifully removed. Leaving any potential successor to have exactly two days with his new squad before what proved to be a disastrous managerial debut in Jim McIntyre's first game in a four-day doubleheader against new league sensations Livingston, before taking on table-topping Hearts. Madness.
Along the way, Jim Jefferies, Mark McGhee, your Granny and my next door neighbour all seem to have been sounded out about being, well, not a Director Of Football, but some sort of advisor to McCann. Which translates into ‘we don’t believe you can do the job, son’. Although depending on what you believe, this ‘non-job’ would still have meant the removal of assistant manager Gartland. Jefferies turned it down, a series of events he happily told the press about even after the club denied they’d approached him (professional to the last).
McGhee? Well, he’s a buffoon, so let’s just leave that there and be thankful. How we then made the leap from, ‘here’s the help you need Neil...’ to ‘there’s the door mate…’ who knows? But it needed to happen and should have done weeks, if not months earlier.
Welcome to Dens, in record quick time (what no interviews? No application process? No putting out feelers? Again?) Jim McIntyre, the ex-DAB (as was Tommy Coyne, so, you know, let’s put that to one side and see how he goes), who so far has made all the right noises in the media about turning the ship around, binning the style of play that became such a millstone around McCann’s neck and has experience of achieving safety with another seemingly doomed top-flight team in Ross County.
So surely we can now all focus on the job. Galvanise the support and start winning games?
Oh no, not on your damn well nelly. Let’s instead take one of two men who have played for Dundee, had a previous, disastrous, management role at the club and has then been outed as voting for Dundee Football Club to die, and ask him to take on the role of the assistant manager! The very same position he’d been removed from by the club just before his unforgivable act.
Make it up? You couldn’t, could you?
Who’s more naive here? McIntyre? Dodds? Nelms? (Nelms even suggested that McIntyre’s escape act with Ross County – joining them when they were bottom and steering them to the safety of 9th in the league wouldn’t be enough for him to be happy!!! Get a grip man, everyone else will welcome 10th as though we’d just come first in a beauty gala, been presented with the rosette at the local gymkhana and collected £200 for passing go - all while blindfolded and hanging upside down wearing a straightjacket and with a lemon in our mouths!)
But let’s be fair to these lads, because local board members like Steve Martin should have quickly been able to sense danger and steered John Nelms right before he had to face the press and talk of fan uproar. Either Mr Martin can’t see the wood for the trees, or he has less influence over what happens at the club than the DFCSS – and that would take some doing.
Hence Nelms had to go to the press and explain that a fan backlash had delayed the appointment of an assistant manager for our new leader. But still, it’s not done. No confirmation that Dodds won’t be coming. No announcement of who will be. Instead, we were led into the Livingston debacle by a new manager, no assistant, self-inflicted egg on our face and almost more bad feeling towards the club than there was before they removed a manager nearly everyone wanted rid of.
Our new first team guru must be wondering what’s he’s walked into. Welcome to Dens Jim McIntyre. I truly believe the fans want you to succeed, are willing to let your playing past stay there and want to have you at the club for a long time to come.
If the job wasn’t already hard enough, Dundee Football Club have done their utmost to ensure that it just became even harder.