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Jim McLean: Walter Smith reveals Dundee United legend’s hilarious pitch to get him to join coaching staff

Roma v Dundee United, 1984
Walter Smith looks on as Roma players launch tirade at Jim McLean after European Cup semi-final in 1984.

Walter Smith has revealed Jim McLean’s hilarious pitch to get him to join the Dundee United coaching staff.

Smith was McLean’s No2 at Tannadice long before his days as Rangers and Scotland gaffer.

In an interview with The Times, he paid tribute to the late Tannadice legend who passed away at the weekend aged 83.

And the 72-year-old also recalled how his old boss praised and criticised him in equal measure in a bid to convince him to hang up his boots and join his backroom team.

Dundee United title winners. Back row from left: Hamish McAlpine, Davie Dodds, Ian Phillip, David Narey, Richard Gough, Derek Stark, John Holt, Eamonn Bannon and Walter Smith (coach). Front row: Andy Dickson (physio), John Reilly, Ralph Milne, Paul Sturrock, Paul Hegarty (captain), Billy Kirkwood, Maurice Malpas and Jim McLean (manager).
Dundee United title winners. Back row from left: Hamish McAlpine, Davie Dodds, Ian Phillip, David Narey, Richard Gough, Derek Stark, John Holt, Eamonn Bannon and Walter Smith (coach).<br />Front row: Andy Dickson (physio), John Reilly, Ralph Milne, Paul Sturrock, Paul Hegarty (captain), Billy Kirkwood, Maurice Malpas and Jim McLean (manager).

Smith said: “He said to me one day in 1976-77: ‘At some stage in your career you’ve got to face up to the fact of how good you are.

“And let’s face it Walter — you’re s***e.’ He then added: ‘But I think you’ve got a real talent as a coach, so would you be my coach?’

“It was hardly a marriage proposal, but that is effectively how I started in coaching. I couldn’t have had a better start as a coach.

Jim McLean: The ‘lost’ interview with the legendary Dundee United manager

“I picked up a lot of things, but I also looked at a lot of books, and I would sometimes go into the club and say to Jim, ‘look, I’ve got this idea for a bit of training, can we integrate this?’

“And he was always open to these things. Gordon Wallace then came in and joined us in the early 1980s and Dundee United became a club built on important training and coaching principles.”

Managerial genius

The pair worked together for 15 years yet Smith – who won 21 major trophies during two spells as Gers boss – admitted they rarely socialised.

He said: “Jim didn’t have many friends. He was very quiet away from the game. He didn’t drink.

“Doris [Jim’s wife] and he would go out once a week, on a Thursday night, and go to the same place.

“That was him. As a person, you really didn’t get to know Jim that well. You could only really admire what he was as a manager.

“He used to play five-a-sides with us: me, Archie Knox, Gordon Wallace, Jocky Scott.

The legendary Jim McLean.
The legendary Jim McLean.

“We’d play against Fergie and his Aberdeen lot, and we’d play some Junior teams sometimes.

“We had Friday night fives and afterwards most of us would go for a pint. But Jim couldn’t wait to get home.

“He’d start tapping the table which meant he was wanting away. You would never, ever say that he was a social type of person.”

‘Football was Jim McLean’s life’

Incredibly, United’s greatest ever manager cut short a celebratory dinner after winning the title to go home to watch Sportscene.

Smith added: “When Dundee United won the league in 1983 he invited my wife Ethel and me, and one of his friends and his wife, out for dinner.

“So we all went to this restaurant in Dundee.

“The rest of us were having a glass of champagne to celebrate winning the league, and all of a sudden, at half past nine, Jim says ‘right, we’re off’ and he left.

“He wanted home to watch Sportscene on the telly. He got up and left, leaving the four of us sitting at the table to finish our meal.

“Football was Jim’s life. It was the same for a lot of people of his generation. Outside of his family, Jim only had football. He only had Dundee United.”

JIM SPENCE: Jim McLean was a unique individual…his single-minded approach transformed Dundee United

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