Yesterday the new Dundee United chairman faced the press for the first time. On one hand the optimist in me is saying that everyone deserves a chance. On the other side of things the fact that he has been Stephen Thompson’s close ally and right-hand man for several years means that there is still very much an element of mistrust. Either way he will have the next few months (at the very least) to show exactly what he is made of. The recent purchase of Gussie Park and the connections to Thompson mean that he has not gained universal support and for many it is a case of there being no chance of any resolution until the entire boardroom is ripped up and started over. To give him some credit he certainly gave some positive interviews to the press and he has identified a few key areas that need fairly immediate action.
The opening gambit in all of the interviews on Monday morning was clear, “The very first thing I would say is that I’m my own man. What I would ask fans to do is judge me on my actions. I will do my very best to deliver.”
The challenge for Mike Martin, a fan himself, is to win over the supporters and bring back some positivity. It is also to secure the future of the club both financially and competitively within Scottish football. Dundee United have been on a spiral of decline for about four years now so he has his work cut out. It is also made more difficult with the rising influence of groups like Fans United and the DUSF who are gathering momentum. The ‘official’ supporters group ArabTrust is also losing much of its influence, not helped by some ill-timed and poorly worded statements in the last few weeks. Both Fans United and the DUSF have stated that they do not support the present board and in the case of the DUSF they have made it clear that their members do no wish any money goes to the club until there is a major boardroom change. They will have an opportunity to air these views again when Martin meets with various groups later in the week.
Having read through a large amount of social media responses (basically what newspapers now do to get their ‘sources’) it is interesting to see the division that Martin’s announcement has caused. There is still no universal support for any one principal or plan at the moment and I would genuinely love to see a proper and thorough poll of how United fans see the future unfolding. I am a paid up member of the DUSF as I believe in their plans but it is difficult to get a real feel for things by simply judging responses on forums and on platforms like Facebook (I am not sure what percentage of the United support currently engage in this way). For me I think that if Mike Martin truly does want to win over a large section of the support he needs to focus on three key areas during the next few of months (and assuming that we will be in the Championship next season).
One of the most painfully obvious problems we have. Our recruitment has been pretty dreadful over the last 18 months or so. On paper some of the signings we have made should have worked but for whatever reason the personality, commitment and effort displayed by many of our players has been well below what is required. We are also now looking at yet another major overhaul of the squad this summer. Thankfully Mike Martin has already acknowledged this. He mentioned very quickly yesterday that the club have failed in building a squad that has an identify and one that can deliver a Championship title. When you see the squads of teams like St.Mirren and Livingston it is clear that they have planned carefully (they have also managed this with a smaller budget). The role of Darren Taylor is one that must be under review. His position at the club is to identify and research players for the manager and it is clear he has failed in this remit. I believe we should have people who oversee this aspect of the club so if Mike Martin can identify a new Director of Football then that would be a start. Some additional work in bringing on board other, well qualified, people to assist with this would also help.
Probably Mike Martin’s biggest challenge is to ensure the future of Dundee United. With the news that Stephen Thompson was to resign we were also told that he is now looking to sell his majority shareholding in the club. This is a perfect opportunity for Martin and the board to restructure. The board is now looking very light and is under more pressure than ever to become ‘fit for purpose’. The recent addition of Jimmy Fyffe has been welcomed but he is not shareholder. My personal opinion is that if we managed to be in a position to have someone like him and maybe two or three others to invest then we can have four or five local board members with significant shares and then we can look at fan representation to supplement this through the DUSF and possibly one other fan base. It has become clear recently that ArabTrust is fractured and it might be time for them to ‘rebrand’ themselves or use this as an opportunity to shift their focus. I am against a majority shareholder and would be opposed to Mike Martin buying the bulk of Thompson’s shares. This is a view based on my personal opinion that nobody should ever have sole control over a football club. In Germany they operate a ’50+1′ rule which is based on the principle that no one person or private entity can have a controlling stake. I am a supporter of part fan ownership and believe foundations like the DUSF and Foundation of Hearts (alongside the likes of Motherwell and St.Mirren) are the way forward in Scotland. Football is a community enterprise and it should remain as such.
This is the most immediate problem. Tannadice is not a nice place. Fans are disillusioned and we are now on the verge of losing a significant percentage of the regular fan base as many are deciding to avoid season tickets for next year. This is probably the toughest of all the tasks and requires a great deal of significant action on the part of Martin and the United board. What that action looks like is anyone’s guess. He has already stated that he is fully supportive of manager Csaba Laszlo, which given recent performances has not been met with universal approval. Elsewhere the only immediate change from the fans would come with Martin making quick decisions on some of the things I have mentioned above. A change in scouting, recruitment and coaching (especially within the Development setup) would give fans a cause for some optimism if they happened soon. An open dialogue with supporters about potential changes, investment and restructuring would also appease things for a short while. Ultimately the fans will only really turn a corner once the team on the park does and once the future of the club is secure. I would like to say that Martin will be given some time by most fans but as we know time and football never really go well together. It will be very interesting to see what Fans United and the DUSF have to say once they have met with Martin and discussed his vision for the club going forward. As I mentioned earlier I am a supporter of DUSF and I am not opposed to Fans United or any fan groups; hopefully we might have a clearer picture of things to come once they have met with the board.
“What I would ask fans to do is judge me on my actions.”
Mr Martin, it is over to you…