Dundee United face up to uncertain future after relegation
Dundee United's fate has been confirmed, but the club remains in a state of doubt.
Relegation seemed inevitable with the team having spent so long at the bottom of the table, but the 2-1 defeat at Dens Park that confirmed United's fall from the top-flight was still a chastening event.
The mood at Tannadice in the aftermath has been a mixture of sorrow, frustration, anxiety, but also a determination to try to revive the club without delay.
Mixu Paatelainen spent 25 minutes inside Tannadice on Tuesday, during which time he met with the chairman Stephen Thompson. His only remark on leaving was "carry on regardless", but his stay at the club is coming to an end.
Paatelainen has failed to turn round the team's form and his signings in the January transfer window also fell short. The sense around Tannadice is that significant changes are required to rejuvenate the club, and it was telling that a lengthy statement from Thompson did not even mention Paatelainen.
Much work needs to be carried out on the squad, since United's fall from grace has been steep. At the root of the slump - United had previously reached back-to-back cup finals and were regularly in the top four - was poor recruitment last summer and again in January.
The club runs at a loss to fund the football side, which has in turn delivered enough income to cover those losses. Players like Johnny Russell, David Goodwillie, Andrew Robertson, Ryan Gauld and latterly Gary MacKay-Steven, Stuart Armstrong and Nadir Ciftci, were developed and sold at a profit. United, for a time, were the model club in Scotland.
|Mixu Paatelainen's Premiership record at Dundee United|
The margins for error are thin, though. If Paatelainen has managed the team for the final time, the club will look to a manager who can guide them out of the Championship and restore some accomplishment to the football department. Given his stint at the club as a player and impressive managerial career so far, Raith Rovers manager Ray MacKinnon is a likely candidate.
Facing the future
Dundee United fans are agitating for wider change. Many want to see Thompson step down from the board, and the chairman is aware of the extent of feeling amongst some supporters given the reactions he has encountered at recent games.
Thompson is the majority shareholder, while his sister Justine Mitchell owns around a third of the club. She stepped down from the board last month.
However, for Thompson to go, he would need to receive what he would consider a credible offer for his stake, but also guarantees that the buyer has the means and the desire to run the club for the long-term.
United need investment to soften the financial blow of relegation. Some United fans have already provided soft loans, to enable a deal with Lloyds Bank last year that left the club with no bank debt. For now, though, Thompson is still seeking additional finance, but cuts will be inevitable.
A streamlining of the squad will take place, and the football department will be reviewed. There will also be other hard decisions to make about staffing levels throughout the club.
With United running at a loss, and their revenue streams being greatly diminished in the Championship, Thompson has a fundamental problem to solve.
He has already agreed to waive his £100,000 salary, but that is only a starting point. Administration is an unlikely scenario, though.
In reality, cuts need to be made and investment found.
Season ticket sales will be crucial, given the club's need for income, so persuading fans to support the club financially will be critical in the coming weeks and months. Thompson believes he can turn United around. That will begin by addressing the manager's situation, but then his own status with the fans who want change in the boardroom.
For that to happen, there needs to be an alternative to Thompson, willing to takeover and invest. In the meantime, it is down to the chairman to revive United.