Ray McKinnon: Dundee United 'a great opportunity' for 'natural leader'

Ray McKinnon makes a point to his Raith players against Hibs
McKinnon has earned a reputation for developing players

Ray McKinnon will have pored over every consequence and challenge of taking charge of Dundee United. His career in management might have begun with a sense of doubt, but his progress is a reflection of how he applies himself to the job.

As a player, McKinnon was richly talented if not entirely dedicated to pushing that ability to its limit. He has spoken of how different his career might have been if he had realised that early on, even if there were spells at Tannadice, Nottingham Forest and Aberdeen.

He had to be persuaded to take his first manager's job, at Lochee United, but since then he has committed to every aspect of the role and become a figure who inspires by the extent of work-rate as much as his knowledge and personality.

'He had a good working-class attitude'

Eddie Wolecki was the manager who took McKinnon to Lochee United, a junior side in the East Region Premier League. At 34, McKinnon wasn't ready to retire.

He made a strong impression on his team-mates, but also members of the club's boards. Without realising it, he was already on the path to management.

"The thing that struck us was how he interacted with the players," said Larry Duncan, the Lochee United club secretary. "The guys responded to him and his talking on the park.

"There was no big-time Charlie attitude to him. He's a guy who came from Linlathen, not the best area of Dundee, and he had a good working-class attitude.

"I watched him on the training park, Eddie would say something and Ray would put his bit in as well. It was obviously he was a natural leader, although at the time he didn't see that.

"When Eddie got the Montrose job, Tom McMullan, the club president, and I suggested Raymond. He said he'd never thought about it, that he wasn't really interested in management or coaching.

"He took a lot of persuading and initially he came in to take it until the end of the season. By March-April time he committed to staying on and did a further three years at the club. He won every competition bar the Scottish Junior Cup."

'A really nice guy with a demanding edge'

At Lochee, McKinnon developed a management style that was based on building relationships with each individual player. He was always on the training ground, thought deeply about tactics and selection, and made sure the players felt positive about their development and their role in the team.

In 2011, McKinnon became a performance coach with the Scottish Football Association. His role encompassed overseeing player development but also the association's coaching qualifications.

He worked and built networks with a number of figures in the game. McKinnon quickly built a growing reputation for the quality of his work and his potential as a manager, an ambition he was also clear about with figures at the SFA.

Ray McKinnon had two spells as a player with Dundee United
McKinnon had two spells as a player with Dundee United

"He's a really nice guy with a demanding edge who made it very clear from day one that he loved working with the Performance School kids but that he had ambitions to progress," said Mark Wotte, who was technical director at the time.

"We choose him because he had a good background going through his badges and used to be a very skilful player.

"He was good at explaining training content both at Under-13 level and with the U19's - he's a great communicator who was able to speak the football language in the dressing room as well as talking to colleagues and staff members."

'He's good at identifying strengths and weaknesses'

McKinnon could have become settled in his role at the SFA, but having entered management somewhat reluctantly, he quickly became curious about how far he could go.

That mindset explains why he left the security of his performance coach role to join Brechin City as manager. McKinnon was, in effect, ready to test himself and although the role was not full-time, he approached it as though it was.

Ray McKinnon
McKinnon steered Raith Rovers to the play-offs in his one season at Raith Rovers

"We've experience in the past of people coming out of the full-time game and struggling with adjusting to the part-time game," said Ken Ferguson, the Brechin chairman.

"If you're doing your job properly, it's not part-time, your phone doesn't stop ringing just because you don't happen to be at the ground. Ray embraced that.

"He was well organised. He knew how he wanted his team to perform, he was methodical about setting the team out and had the ability to change it if the game was going against them.

"It's not everybody who has that, but he quite often brought victory out of defeat just by making a couple of tactical changes.

"He's good at identifying the strengths of the player and more importantly, establishing the weaknesses and working on those to make the player better, so that they feel at the end of the season that they have developed."

'Dundee United is a great opportunity for him'

McKinnon is a lifelong Dundee United fan and started his playing career at the club from the age of 16 to 22, before returning to Tannadice for three more years from 1995 to 1998.

The impressive form of his Raith Rovers side was well-timed, since it coincided with his former club's steep fall.

He is ready for the role, but his career path might have been very different.

"I recommended him to Dundee before Paul Hartley got the job," said Lochee United secretary Duncan. "But there was a wee fear because of his background with Dundee United that if things didn't go right there would be more aggression against him.

"He maybe wasn't quite ready for it. But [Dundee United] is a great opportunity for him because of the state the club's in.

"Knowing Raymond, he'll want to start at the very beginning, he'll look at every department and he'll want to know that everybody is pulling together."

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