On the 19th of December 2018 it was announced that Dundee United had been bought by American businessman Mark Ogren and his son Scott. They acquired 85.61% of the business and for the first time in our history we were to be owned by people who had no previous connection to the club.
After 100 or so days under the control of Ogren I thought it a good time to have a brief look at the changes his team have made so far and also to speculate on their plans moving forward.
Officially I think it is about 107 or so days but the title of the blog post looks better with a round number!
Lets start with the most obvious and most pertinent matter, the team on the pitch. When it comes to action the Ogrens have been true to their word. After arriving they announced that they would back the manager and boy have they done that.
In January we experienced one of the busiest transfer windows in the club’s history and it was one that far exceeded our expectations in terms of numbers but also, on paper, quality. We added depth and experience plus the signings were of a calibre that many sides in the Championship (and some in the Premiership) would have been only to happy to have. However, the recent performances haven’t hit the heights that we expected and some players have yet to get going (Osman Sow being an obvious example).
Without this turning into a standard post about the performance levels of certain players, and the team, let’s leave the analysis for another time as this is purely about the impact of the Ogrens.
They have been true to their word, they have spent pretty big and they seem to be planning the same again moving forward into next year and beyond. How that will pan out remains to be seen because you would assume that the financial landscape will look very different depending on which division we will be playing our football in.
One further set of decisions they will need to finance will be the termination of a number of playing contracts. The club still has people like Yannick Loemba, Christoph Rabitsch, Adam Barton and Fraser Aird on long deals but you would expect many of them to leave in the summer. That is a financial hit that the club will have to take.
Coaching and Youth
Ogren has been vocal in his support of Robbie Neilson and so has Sporting Director Tony Asghar. Given recent form the fans are maybe a bit split on the manager but it looks likely he will be given time under the new owners.
With Neilson in place the movement behind the scenes has been very similar to the turnover in players on the park. United have been incredibly busy over the last few months and so far have made the following staffing changes within the coaching structure –
- Gordon Forrest was appointed as ‘Assistant Head Coach’ after spending the last few years in Canada as part of the setup at Vancouver Whitecaps. He spent some of his career working with the SFA coaching department but more recently he had been assistant at the Whitecaps in the MLS.
- Lee McCulloch joined the coaching team under the title ‘Striker Coach’ with the role seemingly part-time rather than a permanent appointment.
- Laurie Ellis left the club and has since joined Queen of the South as Assistant Manager.
- David Byrne has been appointed as the new ‘Head of Recruitment’ for the first team and former United player Jordan Moore has been given the same role but for the youth teams.
- In the youth setup we have seen the departure of Craig Easton and Scott Robertson and the arrival of Adam Asghar from the Scottish FA as ‘Senior Academy Head Coach’. Further changes have been made to youth department with the club making public their intention of gaining ‘Elite’ status within Project Brave. This has seen former Hamilton youth coach Andy Goldie join from the Scottish FA as our ‘Academy Director’. With this appointment the role of Brian Grant has changed and he is now ‘Head of Player Pathway and Loans’.
Coaching changes and alterations to the youth setup are difficult to predict in terms of success. One thing is clear, we seem have a professional structure and something in place that we sorely missed. The addition of certain positions, like in the area of recruiting, will at least ensure we are going through systematic, planned measures to identify players and develop them. The real proof of success will be having a good team on the park and a decent youth conveyor belt but in the meantime I am re-assured that the club have made the changes and have a plan in place.
The staffing changes have not just been limited to the coaching setup…
When Mark Ogren arrived, the club were potentially on the brink. Rumours of impending financial doom seemed to have some traction given the openness by the remaining directors about the situation we were in before the takeover. Thankfully Ogren dealt with all of the financial concerns (and more). He payed off all debt and repaid all of the loans, one of which was secured against Tannadice. Other promises were made including the buying back of the GA Arena/Gussie Park and future investment in the stadium and surrounding facilities.
It is now the case that Ogren has all of the club’s debt and he is not looking for any recompense anytime soon but will expect some profit eventually. He is banking on a model that sees us competing in the top-flight (and at the top end). Once we get promoted Ogren can begin to look at his investment from a more commercially successful point of view but for now he will need to continue to pay in without much money coming back.
The restructuring at the club has been pretty swift and quite dramatic. We began by Ogren announcing that as Chairman he was keen to be “hands-off”. To that end he appointed Mal Brannigan as Managing Director and Tony Asghar as Sporting Director. We have desperately needed this kind of expertise at Tannadice. For years the infrastructure at the club was left unchecked and it eroded to the point of almost amateurish levels simply due to negligence and apathy.
As part of the takeover Ogren worked alongside Revolution Sports, a company who facilitate investment but also help troubleshoot struggling clubs (and they will continue to assist United). Since the arrival of the new owner we have seen a complete shift in how we do our business. This has seen us, amongst other things, negotiate a new kit deal with Italian company Macron that will also see us finally take back control of our merchandising.
Ogren has stated that he has plans but that some may take longer to implement. Moving forward I would hope that United also look at their catering contracts and ticketing system. The club have previously suggested that ticketing was a priority but for me a system that allows fans to scan tickets via QR codes, have cashless entry via contactless or be able to use a multi-function season ticket card would make things much more straightforward on match days. This of course also includes the pricing structure and packaging of season tickets. Hopefully the influence of the new owner and of Brannigan will mean a busy and rewarding summer when it comes to ticketing and fan engagement in this area.
Talking of fan engagement…
There is no doubt that one big cloud hanging over Tannadice in recent years has been the way the club communicated with, and engaged with, the supporters. Under Thompson the club alienated itself from some of its longest serving and most loyal fans and it became impossible to get clear communication from those in charge at United.
Thankfully Ogren has already acknowledged the importance in having a good relationship with supporters and although he will only be in Dundee a few times a year his Managing Director, Brannigan, has been very good at allowing open communication. He has met with all fans groups and is looking to re-structure/re-invigorate the club’s ‘SLG’ (the group initially started by the old regime to increase dialogue with the fans). The club already feels more open and more honest which gives supporters a chance to foster a sense of trust and it allows them to contact the club without fear of silence.
Ogren comes from a sporting culture where fans are crucial and the clubs themselves play a major role in engaging supporters in the community. Thankfully this is a world away from what we have had in recent years and long may it continue.
100 Days of Positivity?
Overall the picture looks much, much stronger. Week to week things will always come back to results on the pitch but the club itself is beginning to shift back to something more structured, more secure and more positive. Football is never predictable and success on the pitch is no guarantee but it now feels like we are finally back to being able to use the term ‘United’ and actually mean it. We just need to get promoted now…