In October 2018 United appointed Robbie Neilson as manager. Tonight, roughly 20 months later, he has left the club to re-join Hearts. As the story developed late afternoon we were caught in a position between two newspapers running with differing stories (I won’t name them because I try to avoid using swear words where possible). One claimed it was a done deal, the other suggesting we had knocked Hearts back.
It all happened, very, very quickly.
United have since confirmed that initially we did knock Hearts back but that Neilson had asked for permission to speak to the club he obviously still holds close to him despite his departure from Tynecastle a few years ago. It sounds very much like he wanted this move and that United decided, ultimately, that they did not want someone in charge who didn’t want to be at Tannadice. Indeed Mark Ogren said in our official statement that we were ready to move forward and that nobody was bigger than the club.
And that kind of sums up my feelings towards this. I’m old enough to see plenty of managers come and go, plenty of players come and go. This is no different. It is part of football. The club remains, the fans remain, but the staff and players move on. I have always believed that if a player or member of staff doesn’t want to be at my club then they are free to leave. So, in that sense, cheerio Robbie.
The only added intrigue to this scenario is the timing and the current storyline involving Hearts taking the SPFL to court and specifically aiming to deny United promotion to the top-flight. The news itself is peak Scottish football and it comes in the midst of a turbulent and uncertain time for our game so I think the thoughts and feelings of supporters are mixed in with all the added baggage currently floating around at the moment. If this had happened during a ‘normal’ pre-season things would have been different but this is 2020 so literally anything can happen (they’ll be after Terry the Terror next).
As a fan I would have been happy enough to give Neilson a chance to test himself with United in the Premiership, he earned that right. I don’t know, and maybe don’t think it would have ultimately worked out but that is now irrelevant. I always felt that his brand of football, bar a few short spells, was not to my own tastes and his cautious approach to game management was never going to sit perfectly with me. The reaction by fans online suggest that a fair chunk of the support would agree with that. You don’t normally like to see managers leave but this is hardly Levein leaving for Scotland territory.
So, in summary, the timing of the departure? Out of the blue and a bit shit. The current situation involving us, Hearts, the SPFL and all the other clubs? That is also a bit shit (and a bit stressful). The actual departure? We will get over it and move forward. That’s what happens in football.
What next for us? Well, this is a really challenging time for everyone and we now find ourselves without a manager. What we do still have is the coaching staff in place and our Sporting Director still at the club. Our squad is settled and the players are all happy at the club. At least in that sense the structure allows us to maintain a period of stability but it is now imperative that the club try to push past this and create a positive period of transition between now and the start of next season. In the short-term PR will be a big thing, the club need to be seen as being strong and positive to give fans something back after a tough week in the news. In the longer term of course we will need to find the best candidate possible to lead us into next season.
For a manager leaving I thought I would have more to write but this has been a pretty exhausting few months and I can’t really think of much more to say right now.
I always look forward to a new managerial appointment, it is a chance for fresh ideas and a new approach (hopefully one that includes some attacking and aggressive football).
As a fan I have faith in our owners and the team at the club. I wish Gordon Forrest, Lee McCulloch and the coaches all the very best over the next few weeks and I hope that we can all look ahead to the new season and the excitement that it brings.
Now, any chance of a stress free few weeks so we can all relax? Please?