After performing the sort of U-turn usually reserved for British politicians, Neil McCann is currently in the midst of his first full week as Dundee boss. Following an underwhelming season at Dens we take a look at what the former midfielder needs to inject into the club.
The first job for any new manager is to assess the squad and think about areas of improvement going forward. Fortunately for McCann, he’s had five games to do this for himself and will no doubt have made up his mind on several players already. However, what should be clear is that the spine of team is in need of surgery.
With speculation constantly surrounding number one Scott Bain and able deputy David Mitchell departing for Falkirk, McCann may need to bring in either a first choice or back up stopper for the coming season. Also on his wish-list will be a reliable centre back to partner captain Darren O’Dea as Kostadin Gadzhalov is out of contract and further depth required. Someone like free-agent Josh Meekings could maybe be the answer to McCann’s prayers – a proven Premiership defender – though the Englishman may choose to return down south.
In midfield, Paul McGowan, James Vincent and Tom Hateley give the squad enough in the way of workmanlike pros. Although an upgrade in this department would not be sniffed at, what is really needed is a creative spark, which has been missing since Greg Stewart’s departure for Birmingham City.
Finally, and most obviously, Dundee need a goalscorer. Since signing in October last year, Marcus Haber has proved an able addition, holding the ball up well at times and providing a platform for others to play off. But he himself has added just eight goals, while Faissal El Bakhtaoui has flattered to deceive at Premiership level.
Chairman John Nelms has hinted that Dundee’s recruitment team will be scouring Europe for value in the summer, and this might be their best hope of finding a clinical finisher; Hearts’ signings Juanma and Osman Sow being decent examples of such practice.
Most teams in the Scottish Premiership have some discernible identity as a team. Whether a side is recognisable as a slick passing outfit, a team of battlers, or tending to play with width, there is usually a cliché to pin on them.
Dundee are one of the few you could not. In beating Rangers at Dens for the first time in almost 25 years, they pressed high up the pitch, squeezing Rangers into gifting them possession and then attacking at pace. But rather than use this as a basis to play, they drifted through much of the season, sometimes without ever coming close to laying a glove on an opponent. They were lacklustre, with no sense of direction or structure.
In Marcus Haber they have one of the biggest aerial threats in the league, yet there seemed no concerted effort to use the width of the pitch to get balls into the box, or use the old fashioned route one. Recruitment will dictate how McCann’s Dundee will play, but that’s only half the battle, as Paul Hartley proved. He must then give the squad an identity once again.
Paul Hartley was a very good Dundee manager in many ways. On the pitch he brought promotion and a top six finish, as well as relegating rivals Dundee United. Off the pitch his eye for a player swelled the coffers in the sales of Greg Stewart and Kane Hemmings.
However, his personality and media performance never quite inspired adulation, and so when results turned an aura of apathy spread through the blue half of the City of Discovery.
Hartley often cut a forlorn figure and his post-match interviews and press comments (unless kicking off at Pat Nevin and that pesky Sportscene board) were rarely passion-enflaming.
It created a concern that Hartley was not motivating his players effectively either, an assertion justified by limp on-field performances.
By contrast, McCann practically bounced in the door, got the players up for the relegation dog-fight and salvaged Premiership status. Equally his proclamation of being “embarrassed” at the final two performances suggests he will bring a lot more energy, at least from the outside looking in.
His status as a club legend adds to his dressing-room presence and so injecting some passion should be a formality, something the Dundee faithful must be desperate to see.
One thing is for certain, it will be an interesting summer ahead for those of the dark blue persuasion.