When Craig Levein was tipped to leave Dundee United to become Scotland manager back in 2009, most – if not all – United fans were gutted.
Here was a guy who took a club that looked to be heading for Division One under Craig Brewster, and in three years turned us into a top six side, league cup finalists and – at the time of his departure – a team with a genuine chance of competing at the right end of the table.
But in terms of actual success, Levein hadn’t achieved that much. We’d missed out on Europe twice and had a pretty ropey record in the Scottish Cup.
Yet, as I say, nobody wanted him to go.
Fast forward just over three years and Dundee United face another crossroads. Peter Houston’s contract situation has come into the public eye with Blackpool having been credited – perhaps wrongly if you believe it has all been an attempted power play gone wrong by his agent – with an interest in taking him down to Bloomfield Road.
By any standard that you’d measure success by, Peter Houston has been a better manager for United than Craig Levein. He’s got us into Europe three times in a row, he’s finished higher than his old boss ever did and he’s won us the Scottish Cup, all on a smaller budget than his predecessor
So why is it that the vast majority of comments over the past few days have been from Arabs hoping – almost desperately – to see him leave?
Nothing Lasts Forever
For all his success, Peter Houston’s time at the club seems to be winding down.
Reported to be the second highest paid manager in the SPL, the chances of him being given a similar deal from Stephen Thompson are non-existent, and you have to wonder whether or not he’d be comfortable signing a new deal at the vastly reduced rate that a club like Dundee United should sensibly offer in 2013. Certainly when you hear the interviews both men have given lately, it doesn’t seem like a new deal is likely.
But finances aren’t at the forefront of your average football fan’s thinking. So why would most fans be happy to see him go?
Well you’ve only got to look at the performances from the team this season.
Dundee United currently occupy 8th position in an admittedly tight SPL, but most pundits had them tipped as finishing 2nd. What’s happened?
For me, there are three major problems.
Lack of Squad Balance
Peter Houston seems to love a central midfielder. In one recent match we had four of them on the pitch and three on the bench, with even more as part of the overall squad.
Compare that to us having one natural left back in the entire squad, a team that has no width without GMS and a strike force that relies entirely upon Jon Daly and Johnny Russell staying in form and injury free.
As much as Mark Millar looks a decent prospect, he wasn’t necessary to the squad when we signed him. We needed backup for other positions. Since we don’t have it, certain players can never be dropped despite poor performances, and Millar himself struggles to feature.
Beyond that, some of his other signings – like Vignal and Skacel – have been misguided wastes of money.
Sure, he can moan about having to make cutbacks, but when he wastes what little wage budget he does have, patience and understanding wears thin.
Players With A Fragile Mentality
It’s clear that some Dundee United players are seriously lacking in confidence. While the manager can’t be blamed for some of the silly mistakes that certain individuals have made on the park this season, I would say he’s responsible for making sure they don’t just throw in the towel when the other team scores. Based on the way the team collapsed against both Inverness and St. Mirren recently, it doesn’t look like he’s succeeding.
Games With The Press
Whenever Peter Houston has a problem at United, whether it’s lack of wages for new signings, people questioning his management or progress on renewing his own deal, he goes to the media about it.
How many times have we heard “I would like to do X but I’ll have to speak to the Chairman and see what he has to say”.
Honestly, it’s as if he doesn’t know how to get in contact with Stephen Thompson himself.
When the two most powerful men at the club have such an obviously poor relationship – a Dundee Utd statement yesterday felt the need to say talks were ‘amicable’ – then it surely affects everyone?
All of these reasons add up. Yes, there are rumours of players not being happy with training, and Houston himself seemingly losing interest in the job, but they are nothing more than rumours, and nobody was complaining when those same rumours were going around last season and the team was winning.
So What Now?
As I say, the safe bet would be that Peter Houston will be gone by the end of the season, if not before.
If he was to stay until then, then there’s still a chance he could turn our season around. For the sake of his own future employability, he needs to be seen as successful. For all he good he’s done in the past, club chairmen have a tendency to look at the last five minutes when appointing a new manager. If things get worse with Houston in charge, he could find it very hard to get back onto the managerial merry-go-round.
On the other hand, keeping him on leaves United open to him leaving the moment a job offer comes up. Then where does that leave us? And what do we do if Stephen Thompson has identified his successor and he’s available right now?
Personally I’d rather things were sorted sooner rather than later.
Or he could surprise us all and sign a new deal, however unlikely it seems. If he does, I’ll support him, but I don’t think it’s the best move for the club.