‘Bigger than I thought it was going to be’ - Former Hearts striker opens up on managerial sacking

Former Hearts striker Steven MacLean was sacked as manager of St Johnstone after a poor start to the season.
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Former Hearts striker Steven MacLean has opened up about his time as St Johnstone head coach in his first interview since his departure in October.

The 41-year-old opened up about the challenges he faced during his five-month stint at McDiarmid Park and claimed that the summer rebuild proved to be a much bigger task than he had originally expected.

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The former Scottish Cup winner replaced Callum Davidson as Saints boss in April and signed a three year contract with the club. He helped steer the Perth club to safety in his first few weeks in senior management.

During an interview with The Courier he reflected on the work that had to be done in the close-season against a backdrop of a big budget cut to address a seven-figure financial loss.

MacLean explained: “Keeping the club up was a great achievement for us and we then turned a lot of players round. I think 17 players left the club.

“It was a big job – probably bigger than I thought it was going to be. But it was a great opportunity for me and I probably wouldn’t change much apart from a couple of things.”

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St Johnstone started the season in disastrous fashion with just four points from their opening nine games. They were beaten 2-0 by both Hearts and Hibs in the early part of the season.

The Saints were bottom of the table and without a league win at the time of MacLean’s departure. However, he remains optimistic that the club has enough to survive in the division.

“I think we were actually starting to progress in the right way. We had a lot of injuries in the first part of the season and we couldn’t build any momentum but I feel like I left them with a squad that’s capable of staying up in the league.

“Unfortunately it didn’t end well but I’ve learned a lot from that. I’ve looked back and studied some of the mistakes I made but also things I did well.

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“I’ve got a lot of fond memories and whatever I do next, I feel I’ll be a better coach or manager for that spell. But hopefully I can get back in soon and make an impact.”

The 41-year-old enjoyed an 18-year career which saw him represent the likes of Rangers, Aberdeen, St Johnstone, Hearts and Raith Rovers. He notably scored in the Scottish Cup final for St Johnstone against Dundee during a 2-0 victory in 2014 - marking the club’s first ever major trophy at the time.

He was included in the starting lineup for Hearts in the 2019 Scottish Cup final, but was unable to repeat the feat in a 2-1 loss to Celtic.

MacLean describes the last few months as his first real break from football in 25 years. He is enjoying time with his family but is still keen to be involved in football in the future.

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 He said: “It’s been great to have had time to spend with the family and it’s the first break I’ve had from football for 25 years.

“My daughter plays netball for Scotland at under-17s so I’m getting to go to Gibraltar to watch her. If a manager’s job came up and it was the right opportunity and somebody wanted me then that would be great but I was never in a rush to be a manager.

“The circumstances happened where Callum (Davidson) lost his job and the club asked me to take over and we did well and they appointed me. But I’m happy to go in at any capacity. I enjoy coaching and being out on the grass.”