Dundee manager Paul Hartley on an upward trajectory

Paul Hartley (right) led his side to the top of the table with a 4-0 win at Kilmarnock
Paul Hartley (right) led his side to the top of the table with a 4-0 win at Kilmarnock

It was May 2011. The league campaign was drawing to a close but for Paul Hartley it was also the end of the road for him as a player.

Less than eight months after signing a two-year deal with Aberdeen, Hartley decided enough was enough and his playing days were over.

Fast forward four years and the former Scotland international is on a management journey that few could equal.

Three successive promotions with two different clubs and a top-six finish in the top flight of Scottish football, his stock as a young and upcoming coach is continuing on the upward trend.

Moving into coaching was always the long-term plan.

"It was something that I had looked at over the previous couple of years and I had started taking the coaching badges," he told BBC Scotland.

"The job at Alloa came up sooner than I had expected, but it was a fantastic grounding for me and working with a terrific chairman in Mike Mulraney.

"I think we had one signed player and he was out with a long-term cruciate ligament injury so we had to rebuild the club from scratch. It took us about three months to get there so it was full on straight away.

Paul Hartley scored a memorable hat-trick for Hearts against Hibs in the 2006 Scottish Cup semi-final
Paul Hartley scored a memorable hat-trick for Hearts against Hibs in the 2006 Scottish Cup semi-final

"I think the majority of success comes by luck but the important thing is having a good group of players who have the same beliefs as you do.

"It did help in attracting players to Alloa that I was well known in the game. I finished up my playing career as Aberdeen captain, but you still have to attract players to the club by selling them your own vision."

There were times when the 38-year-old questioned himself about what he was doing. He always attempted to make his players feel as if they were part of something special, but there was one trip to the Highlands that went astray.

"We were playing Elgin City away on the Saturday and I had travelled up to Borough Briggs to watch them in the midweek prior to our game," he revealed.

"It was an eight-hour round trip so managed to persuade the chairman to pay for an overnight stay. We lost 5-0 and that was a very long journey back down the road!"

Hartley also took a young Stevie May from St Johnstone, who would go on to become the League Two Player of the Year.

Less than six months after achieving back-to-back promotions Hartley made the decision to move on.

After a short break he was offered the chance to take over at Dundee. Surprising given the circumstances, with the Dark Blues top of the league at the time.

"It's quite unusual," he admitted. "I was fortunate we were in a strong position and we still had 14 games left to play, but I could see the potential within the club. I knew exactly what the owners wanted to do and I jumped at the chance."

Promotion was clinched on the last day of the season and Hartley said there were some tough calls to make regarding players who had worked hard for the club, but an increase in the quality was required.

Injury problems convinced Paul Hartley to hang up his boots while Aberdeen captain
Injury problems convinced Paul Hartley to hang up his boots while Aberdeen captain

"I think you have to do that as a manager. You cannot be sentimental and you have to make choices for yourself and for the football club. My job was to make sure we stayed in the league.

"We have been here around 18 months now but there is still a lot of hard work to be done."

Last season Hartley was linked with a move to replace Malky Mackay as manager at Cardiff City and he says it was a position that interested him.

He said: "I was fairly close to going there as there were discussions, but I soon realised that I'm still learning my trade here.

"I work with good staff, good owners and we have not really achieved anything here. For my own education I felt this was the best place to further my career.

"I want to try and be as successful as I can, but I am only in my fifth year of management so I am still learning. I think I have a big job to do here and don't want to jump into any job that comes along."

Few could argue that Hartley is learning his trade very quickly indeed. And if his team continues to play attractive and successful football, it is surely only a matter of time before bigger clubs come calling, giving him and his current employers much to think about.

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