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Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Derek McInnes: Is the ex-Saint our Saviour?

"This time next year...."


Never mind Del-boy's famous quote from Only Fools & Horses, a week is a long time in football.  Seven days ago there was still an expectancy of Dave Jones, Billy Davies or even Gianfranco Zola being appointed as the next manager of Bristol City and few were talking seriously about Derek 'Del' McInnes.  Those that had him on their radar were mainly saying “Derek Who?” and accusing the board of taking the cheap option by looking at him.  They wanted a big name, and they wanted them quick.  Check out my views on those excessive demands here: http://exiledrobin.blogspot.com/2011/10/how-long-does-it-take-to-get-new.html

Since it became evident that McInnes and former City player Mark Robins were the shortlisted two it appears Wikipedia has taken a battering from eager City fans desperate for information on the man soon to be installed as Keith Millen’s successor.

The reaction since 5pm tonight has been remarkable.  Widespread delight and excitement has greeted the appointment, with everyone suddenly aware what he has achieved at perennial yo-yo club St. Johnstone and hopeful that similar success might follow at Ashton Gate.

What is also clear from the reaction on Twitter tonight is that McInnes will be sorely missed by Saints fans, with more than one tweeter saying he’s the best manager they’ve ever had.  Not an inconsiderable remark when you remember Owen Coyle was at the Saints before taking Burnley into the Premier League.  Not a single person has begrudged the move, wishing him well as he takes the next step, whilst all have expressed their sadness.
Other comments have included “a top class management team” whilst there has been unanimous thanks for the fantastic job McInnes, and his assistant Tony Docherty, have done.  Some have even commented that Bristol City have become “their English club”.  @Husky_Macca said he was “massively disappointed as he’s the best manager we’ve had since I’ve been watching”.

From all the comments it appears we’ve appointed an intelligent and forward thinking management team.  A pair who have moulded a hard-working team that has overachieved in recent history.  Any manager who has been able to harness the talents of Jody Morris must have something about him with regard to motivation, whilst McInnes’ time as Millwall captain indicates an inherent toughness and steel that will be required in the coming months.

This does of course herald a possible second chance for some.  Kalifa Cisse and Damion Stewart have already seen an upturn in personal fortunes since Millen left, albeit due to a number of injuries, and who’s to say that Nicky Hunt won’t go on to become a City legend under new management.  It also puts the seemingly automatic selection of some players at risk and that alone might lead to a mini-revival, as players all seek to prove they’re worth their plump Championship wages and starting place.
What is key is that this man is given time.  We might go down this season. 
There, I’ve said it.  We really might go down. 

We are bottom for a reason and that is not solely or even largely down to Keith Millen (partly, admittedly, but we’ve lost both matches since he left too).  McInnes inherits a large squad that seem all too comfortable with life and the fact that most of the fight we saw at Selhurst Park last night came after the final whistle, says a lot about the state of attitude.

If we do go down then that is when the job will really start, but given time all the indications and accolades point towards the fact that Scotland may soon have an 8th manager in the Premier League.  Let’s hope so…

So, aside from what you can read on the ever-reliable Wiki, who exactly is Derek McInnes and what will he bring to the Westcountry?  I’ve garnered opinion from a handful of St.Johnstone fans to find the reactions from those north of the border.


I think it’s fair to say most City fans knowledge of McInnes will be limited to perhaps a fleeting memory of the spells he had as a player with West Brom and Millwall, and what we can find out online about his managerial career. So, who is Derek McInnes?
@SainteeTMafia: Del first arrived in Perth as a player. I think at that point very few people would have had him pegged as a future occupant of the clubs hotseat. When Owen left for Burnley a section of our support viewed Del's appointment as something of a let-down. The cheap option by a board famed for their frugality.  If it was, then frankly it was the bargain of the century.  For our club he has proved to have the tactical nous and (maybe more importantly) contacts book to elevate us into the upper echelons of the SPL.

In summary he is young, astute and adaptable. It is fair to say that he is not the finished article yet with some questionable moves in the transfer market blotting his copy book a little. But all in all he is a very fine talent with the potential to manage at the very highest level.

When he joined Millwall the then manager, Nigel Spackman, made McInnes captain stating that “Every Millwall player… should be a Derek McInnes”. That paints an obvious picture of his character, is it a fair reflection?
Steve: Yes, I'd say it was. He was always very professional when he played for us, and as manager you can see the respect he has had from seasoned pros like Jody Morris and Michael Duberry.  He was always great with the fans too. Professional and widely respected is a fair reflection of him.

Scott: My recollections of him as a player are that he was committed, skilful and resilient. In a Liverpool FC context he would be Lucas Leiva
@SainteeTmafia: There is no doubt the man is a leader. But not in the face painted lunatic from Braveheart sort of way. He has a measured, almost scientific approach to a football match with hours of preparation and DVD’s pored over in the days preceeding a game. Every player that walks out onto the pitch knows their job and knows it well. Del makes sure each of his charges has been disciplined in their role and responsibilities. And more importantly, they carry out his wishes to the letter.
Comparisons with Owen Coyle are inevitable, following the excellent job he did at Burnley following a move from McDiarmid Park. Is this a case of ‘the new Coyle’, a tag that often leads to failure?
Steve: No, I don't think it is. The path they've taken to English football has been the same, going from Saints, but they were very different managers.  Also, McInnes won a title and established us.  Coyle didn't win anything.

Scott: He could be worse than doing an "Owenie"!  I think our chairman is building a pedigree of finding young ambitious and talented managers and giving them space and time to do there thing.

@SainteeTmafia: Of course the past is often an excellent indication of what the future might hold. But Del is not Owen Coyle. Owen could not get us out of the First division; Del managed it in his first full season. He has then kept us in Scotland's top flight for two consecutive seasons with a couple of cup semi finals thrown in for good measure.  To be blunt, Coyles record in Perth doesn’t even come remotely close to standing up to Del's achievements with us.

It’s probably worth pointing out as well that (IIRC) Coyle did not move to a club that was anchored to the foot of the Championship. The challenge Del faces at Bristol would appear at first glance to be much greater than Owen's move to Burnley presented. An excellent comparable job at Bristol this season would probably be achieving mid table security. Comparisons with Coyle's promotion might elevate expectations higher than that.
So just how successful has he been for you?
Steve: A League title, established in the SPL and several Semi Final appearances in his 4 years. We beat the Champions elect, Rangers, 4-1 last season. We've won at Celtic this season. Defensively we are up there with the best in Scotland. He's bought very well too, with Murray Davidson being in Scotland squads, amongst a few other players being recognised at various international levels.

Scott: All I would say here is Del has left us in a much better position than he found us. No question about that.

@SainteeTmafia:  He has been our most successful manager for quite some time. For a provincial club our size to achieve SPL status and maintain it has to the priority. Del achieved that without any real difficulty. Our only real disappointment is that he could not negotiate the club into a cup final, something that most considered a real possibility under his stewardship.

It is however not all positive. For a period of last season the team could not buy a goal despite signing a variety of forward thinking players. There were a couple of poor signings (that I’m sure Del would hold his hands up to) that contributed to that statistic. That was a steep learning curve for the manager, one he scaled this season by signing some fine players who can do a job in the final third. 
Looking purely at league positions he seems to have built the club up, improving very gradually year on year. Is he the man to wrench us from the bottom of the table and keep us up this season?
Steve: I definitely think he can motivate and he certainly made St Johnstone a tough team to beat, first and foremost. Without being aware of your playing staff, I know his tactical ability as a manager can do the job against a variety of opponents, home and away.  He'll steady things at the back and make you tough to beat.

Scott:  You have landed a top young manager who will build a good team.

@SainteeTmafia:   Only if he is given time, patience and the opportunity to bring his own players in. He has a seemingly endless supply of pedigree players ready to come and play for him. In the last five years we have welcomed players like Jody Morris and Michael Duberry to the club. A large part of his success with us was the tremendous backing by the board and the chairman. And that is crucial if he is to succeed.

What sort of football style and formation can we expect at Ashton Gate?
Steve: Passing football, built on a solid defensive unit.
Scott: Not necessarily Barcelona, but a strong creative team who build from the back and look to score goals.

@SainteeTmafia:  Generally speaking, you’re looking at a 442. However he also has previous with the dreaded 451. If I had one true criticism of the manager, it would be this. In games where he views the other team as technically better or there is a lot at stake, the 451 formation is almost always wheeled out. I can’t think of one match where it served us well, in fact I can think of about three where it contributed to our downfall. But he does tend to persist with it against stronger opponents, despite its rather poor success rate.

One of the areas woefully lacking in the last decade at Ashton Gate is development of the academy players into first team regulars. Is McInnes a “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” type of manager or does he prefer to stick with tried & trusted players?
Steve: Definitely "old enough, good enough".  Liam Caddis made his SPL debut at 16 and played at Parkhead and Ibrox. Stevie May scored his first senior goals at 17.  Steven Reynolds also featured as a teenager. He's not afraid to play the young guys if they merit it.

Scott: He will look to tried and tested to be fair. But does a bit of the Harry redknapp in spotting a player, getting them cheap and getting the best outbid them. Not afraid to throw in youngsters Such as Kevin moon and Steven may at Saints

@SainteeTmafia:  The SPL is not the type of league where you are afforded the opportunity to develop young players. The margin for error is miniscule and most teams will stick with tried and trusted up here. That said he has handed starts to a couple of under 21 players. But by and large, you will find he sticks with players who have already developed.

Francisco Sandaza has been earning rave reviews.  Are you concerned that he, or any of your other top players, may follow Del south of the border?
Steve: Yes, definitely worried we'll lose Sandaza, Millar and Murray Davidson for starters.

Scott: I have no doubt this will happen. No grudges there, that's football. You guys are in a different ball park to St Johnstone in terms of salaries, bonuses etc. players need to do right by themselves I suppose.

@SainteeTmafia:   Absolutely. I think we all expect both Sheridan and Sandaza to leave the club in the not too distant future, we are after all a stepping stone. It is definitely a worry that Del's exit may hasten their departure.

And finally, Tony Docherty is coming with his manager as No.2. What does he bring to the partnership and how crucial is he in your view?
Steve: He brings a drive and passion to the sideline, that compliments McInnes' outward calm. I see them as a pair, definitely. For success you need both of them. The players seem to love them and I think that says everything about a managerial partnership.

Scott: The Doc is a crucial part of the team. He is a very funny and lovely guy. Saints are a team that are close to the fans and the fans can mix with the players. TD was always first class. Thanks and good luck to you guys. There will be a lot of people looking at City results from now on!
@SainteeTmafia:  The Doc is an almost mandatory companion. There is no show without Punch and they come as a team.

Steve added “I really hope he does well with you guys. You've probably gained several thousand new fans overnight and that says more about how well thought of Derek and Tony are than any story you'll read in the press. Just tweet Michael Duberry or Jody Morris and they'll say the same”.

Many thanks to @SainteeTMafia, Scott Webster (@ScottWebster1) and Steve McGillivray (@thesteve71) for spending time answering my questions. As well as being a big Saints fan, Steve also writes for www.musosguide.com, www.thefourohfive.com & www.glasgowpodcart.com
Also thanks to a number of St Johnstone fans who have retweeted or responded to my questions over the past week, including @CDunnett81, @Husky_Macca and @stjohnstone1884 and to @SainteeTMafia who has geared up his followers to respond to my requests.

I’m sure I speak on behalf of all at City in wishing you continued success under whoever your new manager is.

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