Striker signing ensures United’s league campaign won’t stutter

I see Dundee United have signed giant Dutch hitman Mark De Vries as they look to strengthen their bid for 3rd place in the SPL this season.

Admittedly, this is not a huge signing (other than his size) and won’t be of any real interest to anyone not of a Tangerine persuasion. So why, you may ask, have I decided to blog on this?

The answer is simple and, to be honest, pretty self-indulgent. I have had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the big man and he is a true gentleman.

A good few years back when I was working at Deadline Press & Picture Agency and De Vries was a Hearts player, the Sunday Mail got in touch to see if someone could seek out the 6ft 3in striker and ask him about………………his stutter.

 W-w-w-w-what? Presumably the Sunday Mail’s reporter’s were too precious to risk asking this giant of a man about something which he was no doubt pretty sensitive about.

Apparently, on his arrival in Scotland, De Vries was reluctant to do any TV or radio interviews and press interviews were pretty scarce commodities as well.

So, with more than a hint of trepidation I set off to Tynecastle to confront the big man about his speech impediment. However, my fear was unfounded and I quickly realised De Vries was an affable and humorous chap who was more than happy to discuss the problems he had faced since he was little.

Indeed, listening to him about life growing up in Surinam and then moving to Holland as a youngster proved an engrossing hour or two.

I believe De Vries has continued to work on his speech and overcome the problem and, if that is the case, then hat’s off to the big guy because it can be a frustrating condition.

I wish him well in his second spell in Scotland because there’s not many nicer guys out there in football.

No doubt United manager Craig Levein, who signed De Vries for Hearts in the first place, will be hoping the big man can prevent the Arab’s league campaign from stuttering after a promising start.

Scotland shortlist fails to inspire

So Billy Davies has ruled himself out of the running for the Scotland manager’s job. Please excuse me for not reaching for the Night Nurse to catch up on any lost sleep.

Davies has proved himself to be astute at taking flagging Championship sides and challenging for promotion but no more than that. I have no doubt he is a great coach but an effective man-manager or statesmanlike figure he certainly is not. At least not yet. My good friend Alan Pattullo of the Scotsman has said it here much better than I can. Some have called this a character assassination but in my view this is a frank assessment of Davies’ career to date. Well done for telling it like it is Alan.

So, according to reports it is now down to Tommy Burns, Graeme Souness, Mark McGhee or George Burley. I have to say that none of them inspire a great deal of confidence in carrying on Walter Smith and Alex McLeish’s good work. To perform against teams like France, Italy and Holland, a coach should really have some experience of taking his side into battle against some top teams – and for me that means having managed a team in European competition or in the English Premiership.

Burley performed miracles with Hearts before he was ousted by ‘hand’s on’ owner Vladimir Romanov and he is currently doing well under difficult circumstances at Southampton. However, he has no European experience and limited time managing in the top-flight.

I also very much like the work McGhee is doing at Motherwell as he has not only got them winning but playing some great attacking football in the process. However, again he has no European experience in management and prior to Motherwell can count Bristol City, Leicester and Wolves as previous clubs.

Souness is a recipe for dressing room disharmony and, although hugely experienced at a number of top-flight clubs, it is almost inevitable that his arrogance and man-management style would disrupt the atmosphere within the squad.

I can’t help but think that Burns’ name is only in the frame because of a lack of other viable candidates and by way of apology for being overlooked when McLeish was appointed. His recent ‘managerial experience’ amounts to being No2 during Berti Vogts’ disastrous reign as Scotland boss and coaching the youth teams at Celtic Park.

I struggle to remember much about his reign as Celtic manager in the 1990’s and although I believe his teams’ were lauded for playing some decent football I think I am right in saying that it was not Celtic’s most successful period in their history.

The SFA seem determined to go down the Scottish route for their next boss and to that end I am surprised that no-one has mentioned the two most successful Scots in coaching positions in the Premiership (excluding, of course, Sir Alex Ferguson).

Steve Clarke at Chelsea and Alex Miller at Liverpool have been involved with their respective clubs through a number of highly successful campaigns. Miller has worked alongside Gerard Houllier and Rafa Benitez during UEFA Cup and Champions League triumphs while Clarke has gleaned considerable continental knowledge from Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri.

I particularly like the thought of Clarke as boss as there have been some extremely positive noises coming from Stamford Bridge about his involvement in Chelsea’s success. I heard a story from someone (I believe it was Andy Townsend on TalkSport although I could be mistaken) talking about a recent abject first-half showing from Chelsea.

The team apparently performed much better after half-time following a rousing team talk. The man who delivered this team talk: manager Avram Grant? No. Former Ajax manager and Grant’s esteemed assistant Henk Ten Caat? No. It was Steve Clarke.

Having so much respect in a dressing room full of multi-millionaires can surely only stand him in good stead for a top position elsewhere and I see no reason why it couldn’t be Scotland.

Of course, the SFA have had their fingers burnt after their last two managers were poached and they will be in no hurry to lose another one should they prove successful. In that sense, Clarke’s growing reputation and age would probably count against him should the blazers at the SFA decide he was worth a look.

Miller, then, would seem a reasonable name to throw into the hat. He is at an age when the ‘part-time’ nature of international management may be appealing and he may be keen to be his own man again after years of being in the shadow of successful managers. He is also less likely to be poached should he continue the upturn in fortunes for the national team.

People may point to his time at Hibs and Aberdeen where he was not considered to be an exponent of the beautiful game and was happy to win ugly. But at Hibs he duly delivered and won the League Cup in 1991, reached the final in 1993 and guided the Edinburgh-side to third place in the league in 1995.

It is important the SFA exhaust all the possibilities for appointing a Scottish manager but nobody should be appointed simply because they are Scottish and will take the job. Should none of the above candidates prove suitable then we cannot let our experience with Berti put us off the foreign route again.