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JIM SPENCE: Dundee United youth strategy is not risk free – but fans should strap in for ride which could end ‘dull backwater’ days at Tannadice

DUNDEE, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 1: Dundee United’s fans during a Ladbrokes Championship match between Dundee United and Arbroath, at Tannadice, on February 1, 2020, in Dundee, Scotland. (Photo by Euan Cherry / SNS Group)
Dundee United fans have expressed concerns over recruitment of the club's next boss.

Micky Mellon’s reign as manager is over at Dundee United, as I suggested here last week.

The Tannadice board are now pursuing the next stage of the planning process they see as their template for a successful business and football model.

The two things go hand-in-hand, as St Johnstone under the Brown dynasty have proved.

Mellon and United served each other’s purposes.

He secured top flight status; they gave him a platform to land another job in England.

Micky Mellon has said ‘farewell’ to Dundee United – and vice versa.

Mellon’s football wasn’t attractive for many fans – and I think he also found the media pressures of Scottish football much more uncomfortable than at tranquil Tranmere.

It proved difficult for United to fully pursue their ambitious plans for the future while the twin elements of being in the Championship and Covid-19 impeded them over the last two seasons.

With the pandemic hopefully receding into the background, the club can now fully commit to its strategy of developing youth and embedding its own distinctive culture and philosophy right through the organization at every playing level.

That requires everyone to be on board with the ethos which will drive the club, so it needs a coach completely committed to that strategy and strong boardroom leadership to ride out the inevitable storms.

Synergy of old and new

Those in charge need to be laser-focused in prosecuting the vision – but also adaptable enough to change if and when circumstances dictate.

In football, some things like ambition, desire and hunger remain constant.

Other things flow progressively in a forward motion and sports science, psychology, individually tailored player development, analytics and a host of other drivers are changing the game.

United will embrace modernity while paying homage to the past by restoring the type of youth system and development that Jim Mclean was famed for.

A synergy of the old and new, with the vitality and excitement of youth, complemented with diligently scouted, seasoned professionals is the vision.

I suspect the budget at Tannadice will be tighter than before and their model – if it succeeds – will hopefully, eventually be close to self-financing by developing young talent on three and four-year deals, then selling them on at a decent return.

Hot prospect Kerr Smith made his debut aged 16 for United last season.

There is a clear and present danger, though, which the club has to acknowledge and avoid.

While United have always sold players to survive – as indeed most clubs do – due care and attention has to be paid to how quickly young players are pushed in their development.

The dropout rate and attrition rate are already too high in football and young players develop at different rates, so care has to be taken not to push them too quickly in order to try to profit too soon.

Many young potential stars become yesterday’s men too quickly because of burnout – and a duty of care exists to ensure the development process takes that danger into account.

Leadership must match ambition

Within the United plan is both the desire for local talent to emerge, which is happening already, and continued growth of the club’s deepening community roots.

The strategy isn’t risk free and there is always a danger of being swept over the rapids and onto the rocks if leadership and coaching skills don’t measure up to ambitions.

However, Tannadice has been a dull backwater for far too long.

I think United fans should strap in for a ride which will hopefully bring back excitement, entertainment and enjoyment.


Callum Davidson has led St Johnstone to a legendary year.

Achieving togetherness and teamwork in football is the pursuit of the Holy Grail.

Some clubs seldom achieve it, but for others their cup runneth over, in fact twice in St Johnstone’s case.

Dundee have also unlocked the secrets to moulding a team into a band of brothers and their richly deserved promotion to the Premiership is the proof.

Callum Davidson and James McPake were both tested this season but, amid spells when both men tasted defeat and disappointment, they’ve forged formidable reputations with their fine achievements.

James McPake led his Dundee side to promotion through the play-offs.

Both men can reflect on their successes with pride and satisfaction, thanks to their ability to retain calm and level heads when lesser men might have lost theirs as the going got tough.

Such triumphs, though, are always a collective effort from everyone involved at a club.

In particular at McDiarmid Park, chairman Steve Brown, and at Dens, managing director John Nelms, deserve Kudos for maintaining unwavering support of their men when some folk were expressing doubts.

PODCAST: Youth will be front and centre for Dundee United after Micky Mellon departure – plus St Johnstone cup double and Dundee promotion

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