You don’t have to be a football code-breaker to decipher Dundee United’s guiding principles over the next few seasons.
There is no hidden message here.
While other clubs pay lip service to the concept of youth development, the Tangerines have put the progression of their home-grown talent into the first team and then the wider sporting world (hopefully at business-enhancing profits) front, centre and in bright lights.
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Even at a time when financial losses have been stacking up year after year, still the Tangerines have maintained their commitment to invest in their academy infrastructure.
With the coronavirus impact biting deep, you’ll struggle to find a comparable example in the UK.
Andy Goldie arguably has the highest profile of any academy director in Scotland.
The former elite performance youth coach with the SFA has a powerful role at United and his targets and ambitions are bold.
“Until Scottish football changes and starts giving 16, 17 and 18-year-olds a sustainable opportunity at first team level, we’re never going to bridge that gap,” said Goldie in an illuminating weekend interview with The Athletic.
Goldie isn’t shouting in an empty room at Tannadice.
Goldie doesn’t have a say on what happens elsewhere in the country but he certainly isn’t shouting in an empty room at Tannadice.
Some may baulk and bristle at the term ‘football philosophy’ but what is inarguable is that United’s is his, and his is United’s.
It was coincidence that on the same weekend of Goldie’s interview – with head professional performance coach, Adam Asghar, head of tactical performance, Tam Courts and head of performance coaching Andy Payne also contributing to the synchronised message – first team manager Micky Mellon’s future became a point of discussion.
They haven’t yet been in touch with United to seek official permission to gauge his willingness to return to the country he has spent all but one year of his footballing life in. But the smart money is on it being as case of when rather than if that official approach is made.
And, if not Doncaster, such is Mellon’s standing in lower league English football, he wouldn’t be short of offers should word get out that he would be open to the idea of crossing the border again.
Nobody can deny that the 49-year-old has fulfilled the job he was tasked with in the Scottish Premiership.
On United’s return to the top-flight, they needed a pragmatic manager who would ensure a squad largely made up of players he inherited from Robbie Neilson didn’t become embroiled in the relegation battle.
Apart from the eight-game winless run at the start of the calendar year, it is to Mellon’s credit they have never really flirted with proper danger.
And now, after the weekend win at Hamilton, their top-flight status is mathematically watertight with four games still to be played.
Will the man who was ideal for United this season be ideal for them in the next one?
Even though Mellon should be judged a success it is still pertinent to ask – will the man who was ideal for United this season be ideal for them in the next one?
Or to put it another way, could you say, as with Goldie, that United’s club ethos is his and his is United’s?
There is understandable excitement building at what the crop of teenage prospects already emerging from the academy can achieve in tangerine and black.
Several have featured for the first team but most are now on loan.
— 𝐎𝐔𝐑 𝐀𝐂𝐀𝐃𝐄𝐌𝐘 (@dufcacademy) April 11, 2021
Lewis Neilson and Kai Fotheringham are at Falkirk, Nathan Cooney is also playing in the Championship with Raith Rovers, Ross Graham has been farmed out to Cove Rangers, Kieran Freeman Peterhead and Montrose have Chris Mochrie.
It will be a reasonable expectation that more than one of those become regulars in the Premiership over the next couple of seasons.
United’s direction of travel is clear.
However, Mellon’s body of work in the best part of two decades of coaching, not to mention the teams he has selected this season, would point to a fork in the road approaching.
The Tannadice project is evolving and if he is going to stay for the long run, Mellon will have to evolve with it and buy into the sort of utopia that Courts expressed as an achievable aim, namely having a United starting line-up within five years that is more than half-filled by academy graduates.
— 𝐎𝐔𝐑 𝐀𝐂𝐀𝐃𝐄𝐌𝐘 (@dufcacademy) April 4, 2021
In football you don’t often see a manager and club parting company with both privately accepting it is for the best.
The more you think about it, the more the prospect of that being the case for Mellon and United feels like a realistic one.
Call it the Doncaster solution.