Jim McLean: ‘When he barked, you jumped’ – one of Scotland’s best – BBC News

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‘He was one of the best…’ A look at Jim McLean’s career

Jim McLean should be remembered as one of the “greatest managers Scotland has ever produced,” says former Dundee United defender Maurice Malpas.

McLean, who died after a long illness aged 83, led United to their sole title success in 1982-83.

He also won the League Cup twice and steered the club to the last four of the European Cup and a Uefa Cup final.

“I have been privileged to work with a lot of great coaches and I would say he is the best,” Malpas told BBC Scotland.

“Everybody says Jock Stein is the best Scottish manager and Jim was the one he phoned up when he went to Scotland. He was his number two and that tells you something. It wasn’t for Jim’s jovial side, it was for his technical and tactical side.”

Malpas spent his entire career at Tannadice until his retirement in 2000, played in McLean’s title-winning side and picked up 55 Scotland caps along the way.

He and former United goalkeeper Hamish McAlpine recall a tremendous motivator with an eye for a player, who was an old-school disciplinarian and ahead of his time in many respects.

“He was like a tough headmaster,” said Malpas, 58. “He was the boss and he made sure you knew he was the boss. When he barked, you jumped.

“What people nowadays have got to realise is that in the 70s and 80s that was how football was run, managers dictated with an iron fist, guys like Alex Ferguson, Jim Mclean, Jock Stein, Jock Wallace and Eddie Turnbull. It was a tough upbringing but I don’t think it did us too much harm.

“He made sure we had a cause and the cause was us against him. All the players were in one corner and Jim was in the other corner. If you got a roasting at half time, you had your back up and thought ‘well, I’m going to show him’ and he got performances, he got results because of that.

“When I first started I often got told, ‘I hope you enjoy playing son, because you will never wear that jersey again’ and that was his way of just bringing you back to earth if you thought you had done well and were a cert to play next time.

“He always demanded more, tried to egg you on. Sometimes it was nose-to-nose, with verbals back and forward, but normally it was just him talking and you listening.

“He barked at you for the full week in training leading up to a game, he would make comments about the press and he used to say, ‘if you want to get a game for Scotland, you play well against Celtic or Rangers’.

“He was miles ahead of everybody. We were doing things in the early 80s with dieticians, nutritionists, sports scientists, fitness coaches. He actually got ridiculed at times because he had sports psychologists in trying to get that extra one or two per cent. Now it is the norm.”

United were regulars in finals under McLean, winning the League Cup twice but finishing as runners-up six time in the Scottish Cup
Dundee United were regulars in finals under McLean, winning the League Cup twice but finishing as runners-up six times in the Scottish Cup

“There was a lot of psychology,” agrees McAlpine, 72, who spent 20 years at Tannadice.

“He would slag you, he was looking for that reaction. He never came in and said ‘you were brilliant’, it was always ‘aye you weren’t bad but…’ He was always looking for perfection.

“He was quite fearsome, a fiery wee man who didn’t suffer fools gladly. We had a lot of run-ins but at the end of the day we just shrugged it off. As long as you were out playing on a Saturday, that is all you wanted to do.

“He had the ability to get guys who fitted in with each other, to gel. That was probably his biggest thing. And he sold wisely – he sold Andy Gray, Kevin Gallagher, Christian Dailly, Raymond Stewart.

“It was his ability to spot a player, what he could do and how he could complement the players round about him. We all kept each other going, nobody was left out. It was one for all and all for one.

“What Jim did for Dundee United, with the budget he had, was fantastic. He has to be the number one as far as I’m concerned.”

Malpas concurs, saying: “There will never be a manager like Jim McLean again at Dundee United.

“He took the club by the scruff of the neck and dragged them through bad times and then the good times came. He is second to none for me.”

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