Scottish Premiership: What makes a top-flight manager?

By Richard WilsonBBC Scotland
Inverness Caledonian Thistle manager John Hughes and former Motherwell boss Stuart McCall
Inverness manager John Hughes has been linked with Dundee United

Managerial appointments are as susceptible to current trends as any other facet of public life.

Clubs now talk about seeking contemporary head coaches who can impose an identity and playing philosophy, while managers of a certain age seem to be treated like relics of a bygone era.

There is no identikit for a successful appointment, since every club has different priorities and resources. Particular environments require certain skillsets, though.

The Premier League, for instance, tends to favour foreign managers with the kind of high-profile status that will not be diminished by the stellar players and eye-watering finances that have become common to England's top-flight.

The Scottish Premiership is, by its nature, more homespun.

Varied characters populate the dugouts of the leading clubs, but there are broad characteristics that will be sought by Dundee United and Motherwell, who have both dispensed with their managers in recent days.


Scotland's leading clubs are not awash with funds, so many will rely on the manager's network for player recruitment.

The ideal structure involves a sporting director who oversees transfer market strategy and widespread scouting coverage.

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho and Arsenal counterpart Arsene Wenger
English top flight clubs tend to favour foreign managers like Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger

The reality is much smaller in scale and managers in Scotland still tend to be central to the entire process of identifying potential signings.

Market acumen is a key attribute, since most clubs in the top-flight are managing similar budgets and offering players the same basic wage.

Players simply move from one club to another as a consequence, so knowledge of a different market can provide a competitive advantage, as Stuart McCall displayed at Motherwell.

A discerning eye is also vital, since there is little scope to write off players who do not fit into the side or perform as expected.

Aberdeen's Derek McInnes has made a virtue of strategic buying - favouring quality over quantity - so that Aberdeen's starting line-up has been markedly strengthened in each transfer window.


Management at any level is essentially a prolonged bout of problem solving.

Players succumb to injury and loss of form, youngsters emerge and need to be nurtured, a run of poor results needs to be curtailed; a manager in Scotland needs to have the wit to thrive amidst an array of difficulties.

Large squads cannot be maintained, so there has to be creative thinking applied when setbacks occur.

Former Motherwell manager Ian Baraclough and former Dundee United boss Jackie McNamara
Ian Baraclough was sacked by Motherwell, while Jackie McNamara has left Dundee United

Similarly, if variety needs to be introduced to freshen up the team or its approach, the manager will need to provide the inspiration himself.

Chairmen will still demand a level of achievement in keeping with the club's historical status or wage bill, so pleading a lack of wherewithal is likely to fall on deaf ears.

Tactical knowledge and flexibility

The proximity to the game in England is constantly irksome to Scottish football.

The glitz, prestige and sheer dynamism of the Premier League sets unfair expectations.

Players in Scotland generally do not possess the level of ability or athletic performance to play at such a frantic pace, even if their technical skills are refined enough.

Fans want to watch attractive, entertaining football, while managers must deliver that on a limited budget.

Modern coaching involves endless work on shape, ball retention and attacking/defensive phases, all of which have entered the public discourse on the game.

Managers need to be fluent in the language and application of contemporary coaching but still pragmatic enough to deliver results in the circumstances they encounter in Scotland.


Scottish clubs generally cannot buy prestige or profile.

If supporters are to be enthused or motivated by the status of their team, that will tend to be driven by the characteristics of their manager.

Media duties are often treated as a chore, but they are a useful means of generating interest and managing perceptions.

A manager whose nature lends itself to a public profile is useful.

Stuart McCall with Scotland manager Gordon Strachan
Stuart McCall (left) provided knowledge of the English transfer market while at Motherwell

Motivational and man-management skills are more critical behind the scenes, but they are aspects of the same attribute: personality.

Scottish football is small and populated by generally familiar figures. It is handy to be able to stand out.


An intangible quality, since it concerns how individuals interact with each other, this is nonetheless a vital component of any managerial search.

Jobs can be won or lost at the interview stage, but the nature of the working relationship between the manager and the club's executives is an ongoing factor.

Charisma can elevate an interviewee, but there must also be an element of substance.

Chairmen and directors are acutely aware of how a manager is perceived by the support, so they want to be confident in the merits of their appointment.

Personal friendships don't generally develop, since managers and clubs inevitably part, but as well as managing the squad, there is also a requirement to manage relationships with executives and board members.