KENNY SHIELS, for the umpteenth time since he came to Scotland a few years back, was bang on the money last week. “It’s a myth that young managers are successful,” said the opinionated former Kilmarnock manager. And it was a very fair point.
In football these days we seem obsessed with flashy new faces with potential, and as a result are becoming less tolerant of more familiar, proven personalities. Just ask the recently-retired Scotland striker, Kenny Miller, what it’s like trying to fend off a clamour for exciting but unproven younger rivals to be picked ahead of you. Whether it’s on the pitch or in the dugout, if you come full of youthful promise, you generally get more leeway than those more seasoned counterparts who have been there and done it.
The likes of Allan Johnston, Jackie McNamara, Paul Hartley, Colin Cameron and Ian Murray have been billed as Scottish football management’s new hope after promising starts to their respective coaching careers.
However, their emergence appears to have had the effect of rendering the older, more proven, less-suave managers out of fashion. The must-have accessory in Scottish football these days is a snazzy new 30-something manager, as if somehow it’s going to make a club more vibrant and successful in one fell swoop.
Dundee United traded in Peter Houston, one of their most successful managers of the last 20 years, and drafted in McNamara, who had a season and a half’s good work at Partick under his belt.
Likewise, when Kilmarnock disposed of the outspoken but relatively successful Shiels, below, they replaced him with Johnston, a man whose Queen of the South side had made light work of tearing up the Second Division.
For all that Johnston’s team did brilliantly last season, would it not have made more sense to wait and see how he fared in a tougher league first? After all, it may simply have been that the players at his disposal were far better than those available to Queens’ rivals last season. Killie now find themselves precariously positioned in the Scottish Premiership with a work-in-progress manager who has no previous experience of coaching at a top-flight team.
Aberdeen saw off the evergreen Craig Brown at the end of last season and replaced him with the younger Derek McInnes. In some quarters, this move has been deemed akin to the Dons moving out of a tenement flat in Sighthill and into a townhouse in Morningside, yet where does the idea come from that McInnes will be a significantly better manager than a man over 30 years his senior who did a fine job at Motherwell just a few years back?
McInnes did superbly to get St Johnstone promoted from the First Division and then consolidate, but he failed to finish in the top six in either of his two full seasons in the top flight. In that regard, he is no different to Billy Reid, the ex-Hamilton manager, yet, because McInnes is only in his early 40s, looks the part and talks a good game, there remains a perception that he is a manager destined for big things. The 50-year-old Reid, meanwhile, is out of work and very much a forgotten man.
Pat Fenlon, 44, has been dismissed as out of his depth at Hibs in some quarters, but his credentials in enjoying success in Europe and in Ireland are at least the equal of what any of these highly-rated young guns have achieved in the ranks of the old SFL. In relative terms, Fenlon’s team have performed little worse than those of McInnes, Johnston or McNamara this term, yet it is the Hibs manager, with successive Scottish Cup finals and season-on-season improvement under his belt, who has been subjected to the most cutting criticism.
In another instance of young managers being deemed more desirable for no apparent reason, most Hearts fans felt Cameron or Hartley would have done a better job than John McGlynn last season despite the ex-Raith boss having a better CV than the other two. You wonder what Jimmy Calderwood, one of the most successful non-Old Firm managers of the last 20 years, makes of young, relatively unproven bosses being so in vogue when he has to head abroad in pursuit of work.
Of highly-rated managers coming out of the lower leagues and going on to make a name for themselves in recent times, only Craig Levein, Owen Coyle and Mixu Paatelainen spring to mind. Of the current young batch, they all have potential. But right now, none of them, with the possible exception of back-to-back title winner Hartley, have done anything out of the ordinary to merit such prestige.