CRITICISM of John McGlynn leaves Steven Pressley bristling with indignation. McGlynn is just five months into his job as Hearts manager, yet many supporters are already questioning his performance. A few are even calling for his head. Pressley is disgusted and is in no mood to hide his feelings.
The Falkirk manager captained Hearts when McGlynn was first-team coach and saw first-hand his dedication to the cause. Beyond that, Pressley is anxious for football to end the knee-jerk reactions and quick-fix solutions that often cost managers their jobs and damage player development. It is a subject which stirs his passion as much as any.
Sunday saw Hearts surrender their Scottish Cup against Hibs, the club they annihilated 5-1 in last season’s final, prompting dissenting voices to get louder with the Tynecastle club also lying ninth in the Scottish Premier League. The chaos McGlynn has had to contend with so far in his short reign – financial problems threatening his club’s very existence – carries little sway with discontented fans. Neither does the huge shift in policy which now sees youth academy graduates make up more than half his senior squad.
Developing kids represents the future for Hearts, as it does Falkirk, where Pressley has his own band of detractors to contend with. He hears the carping from those who either can’t understand or refuse to accept the time required for a manager to mould a team together. His advice is to take a step back. The bigger, the better.
“There needs to be patience and understanding of what John McGlynn is trying to do. I’ve got no doubts John will steer Hearts through the next three or four years,” said Pressley. “People need to appreciate what he is facing just now. He isn’t just dealing with the difficulties of developing young players, he’s having to hold the club together at a time when there are huge outside influences on his players.
“He’s having to contend with so many different issues as a football manager. I think, right now, he’s handling it well and he’s remaining strong. I think everybody on the outside looking in needs to understand where Hearts are going. In recent years, there has been a big emphasis on bringing in players at Hearts. That has shifted this season towards developing their own and people need to be understanding of that.
“John is going to have to develop his own philosophy and his own style. Yet, he hasn’t been allowed to bring in one signing of his own. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that working with young players isn’t a short-term strategy, it’s long-term. The problem we are experiencing in this country all the time is that, as soon as there’s difficulty, we think there is always a short-term fix. Football in this country has suffered because of it for so long. They need to give John time and they need to be understanding of his situation and allow him to develop a young team.”
The Hearts owner Vladimir Romanov could not exactly be described as a patient man given his track record with managers. McGlynn, though, was recruited from Raith Rovers in June specifically to enhance the development of youngsters. The Tynecastle board must surely realise that takes much longer than five months.
“If they don’t understand that, it’s because they haven’t educated themselves and looked into the success stories of Europe,” continued Pressley. “Analyse the development of clubs through their youth policy and perseverance is the key. The other thing is that, a lot of the time, there is a silent majority who actually understand what the club is doing. However, they don’t speak up enough. That is often the case. What are we basing our stats on regarding John? Internet chat sites or something? They can represent maybe 20 people and this is what we could be basing our information on. The silent majority might be very understanding and fully behind John.
“The one thing I will say is that nobody will be working harder than John McGlynn to make things right at Hearts. Nobody will give up more time than John McGlynn either. When you’re developing young kids, there simply needs to be understanding and perseverance. Hearts are going through a transitional period just now. For long periods, their success was built on spending money. Their success now will be built on the development of a young team but that takes time. People must realise that.
“Fans want to see their team winning, and winning on a regular basis. Hearts need to remain strong on their strategy and not deviate from their strategy. The tendency in this country is for the strategy and the long-term project to stop as soon as difficult times come. People revert back to quick-fix solutions. That is why we are where we are in this country at this moment in time.”
Pressley enjoys the full support of Falkirk chairman Martin Ritchie and the club’s board, who share his long-term vision for the future. They sit mid-table in the First Division with a team dominated by kids, many of whom are still teenagers. Nine of their academy graduates took part in last month’s 2-1 in over Hamilton as Pressley tries to hone them into first-team stalwarts. His work brings plenty criticism.
“I think we’re reaching the stage within football that a manager is coming under pressure after one loss,” he said. “I’ve talked a lot about opinions being based on no research, no education and no understanding of situations. This is happening far too often.
“The reality is in football, and statistics back this up, that unless there is a real true shift in a club’s strategy, then a change of manager makes no difference over a short-term period. When I say short-term, I’m talking about a two-year or three-year period. The only change that will truly make a significant impact, is either a real change in philosophy or strategy of a football club. When you go through that change, it doesn’t happen overnight.
“I continue to educate myself a lot on the development of football clubs within Europe. All the success stories I read about – Borussia Dortmunds, Ajaxs, FC Nordsjaellands – are based around the development of their young players, but it is a strategy that takes times and perseverance.
“Our media have a responsibility just now to try and help and support our game. Our media need to report on the success stories within the game just now. Nobody can tell me, ever again, that developing your own youth players can’t bring you success at the top level.
“Last week, Barcelona fielded 11 players from their own academy for the first time in their history. That club is currently the most successful in Europe. All the success stories in Scotland over the years have all been based round the development of youngsters. Every single one of them.
“The great Aberdeen team which won the Europen Cup Winners’ Cup – 12 of their 16 players in the final were youth products. The Dundee United team which reached the UEFA Cup final – eight of the 13 players were brought through. St Mirren won the Scottish Cup in 1987 with eight of their 13 home-grown. Motherwell had six of their own youth players in the team when they won the cup in 1991.
“The evidence is staring you in the face. Our young kids, and their development, have been abused for the last 20 years because their development hasn’t been important. Hearts have started the journey now and they must remain strong and see it through, because they have some great young players. Given time and direction under John McGlynn, the success will come.”