Craig Levein made clear from day one that delegation would be a key part of his vision for St Johnstone.
There was no need to read between the lines or decipher a coded message.
Levein’s assistant, Andy Kirk, would be tasked with the “day to day” training ground work.
And he would also be afforded a loud voice in terms of devising tactics and implementing systems of play.
“The reason I’m bringing Andy with me (from Brechin City) is we’re going to play the same style. I like it and I know from working with him for three years what he’s trying to do. He’s got a very clear idea of how he wants to play the game.”
Levein couldn’t have been any more explicit than that.
In the new management team’s first week in charge, there wasn’t time to make a significant mark on the back pitches of McDiarmid Park – Saints were bounced from a game against Motherwell to a clash with Ross County.
Perth fans will have seen a team growing in confidence (and picking up points) but tactical alterations have been subtle.
Now that there’s an international break, Kirk can really get to work.
Courier Sport spoke to the Northern Irishman’s captain at Glebe Park, Euan Spark, to get a player’s insight into Kirk’s methods and mantras with the Highland League champions and what can be expected in Perth over the next few months.
Is there a favoured formation?
“There hasn’t just been one.
“We would play three at the back, four at the back, different set-ups in midfield.
“I wouldn’t go as far as saying it was ‘total football’ but everything was so well thought out and planned.
“He went into every detail.
“It’s certainly the most structure I’ve ever known at part-time level.
“Last year we played with five and started with it this year as well.
“It wasn’t working as well so he changed it to a four.
“He adapted it a lot.
⚽️ One straight from the training ground – it took just 7️⃣ seconds into the second half for City to extend their lead against Turriff on Saturday 👇🏽 https://t.co/dDvFFj9g7B
— Brechin City FC (@BrechinCityFC) October 31, 2022
“I wouldn’t say that was driven by the opposition we were facing – it was more to do with getting the best out of his own players. He backed us as a team.
“There will be a change at St Johnstone because we were expected to win every game. That won’t be the case in the Premiership, obviously.
“He builds formations around the strengths of his players rather than imposing one.
“You know that if he changes a formation it will be for a good reason.”
What are the over-arching Kirk tactics?
“When I first signed it was all about passing out from the back.
“But in the Highland League you can be playing against a team with 11 men behind the ball for 90 minutes.
“So he would change it up.
“Whichever way we played, it was very much about getting control of the game, having the ball, and creating space from that platform.
“It’s the modern way of playing.
“It wasn’t as if he just pulled it off the tele. He had his own ideas and reasons why he wanted to do things his way.”
Central midfield is St Johnstone’s area of greatest strength – will that fit in well with Kirk’s vision for his team’s style of play?
“He likes a lot of diagonal runs and runs from inside to out.
“That’s how he’s educated us. It was a big thing.
“There was a lot of rotational stuff that we worked on in training and took into games.
“If one player went out, another would fill the hole.
“When we were at our best there would be a lot of midfield movement.
“Even a centre-back like me would find myself in centre-mid sometimes or popping up on the right wing.
“He gave us the freedom to go and do that.
Max Kucheriavyi's crucial cameo! 🇺🇦
— SPFL (@spfl) September 4, 2023
“Max (Kucheriavyi) had left by the time I came back to Brechin but I’ve seen him. The way the gaffer wants to play football will suit players like Max.
“I’d imagine he’ll do well, as will others who like to get the ball down.”
Is there one key position in a Kirk team?
“I’d definitely say the centre-forward.
“As much as we all play the ball about, the gaffer was so hard on our strikers.
“He was one, of course.
“They’ve been so important to how we’ve played.
“From holding the ball up and linking the play to running in the channels and getting into the box. He wanted them to do everything.
It's certainly been an impressive start at @ScottishHFL level for the striker…
— Highland League Weekly (@HighlandLW) December 6, 2022
“An all-round striker will be crucial.
“If you’re not holding the ball up or making the right runs you’ll definitely be hearing him.
“The way he plays, you’ll get service, that’s for sure. And you’ll get goals.
“We only scored one or two from set-pieces because you’re playing in the land of the giants in the Highland League.
“So our goals had to come from open play. Crosses, balls played through, boys taking on defenders – you saw everything.
“We were very creative.”
Was the Levein effect at play with Brechin?
“He was there for near enough every session we had.
“He’d collect balls and speak to whoever was there.
“Most of the time you’d hear the radio on his phone as he was walking round the pitch.
“I couldn’t tell you what it was – he was probably listening to one of his own podcasts!
“On a match-day, he’d only speak to us after a game. He’d leave the gaffer to it.
“We didn’t lose a lot so it was mainly positive stuff.
“If the game hadn’t gone so well, Craig would maybe have seen something from the stand that could be of use.
“If you’ve got someone like Craig Levein in the dressing room after a game, everyone listens.
“This is a former Scotland manager we’re talking about.
“I’d heard the stories from my Dundee United days of how scary he was but it was a different role he had with us.
“He’ll obviously have a bigger input at St Johnstone but the relationship he’s got with the gaffer won’t change.”
Can you envisage a McDiarmid managerial succession?
“He’ll definitely have those sort of aspirations.
“I think he can do it. It certainly won’t be for the lack of trying anyway.
“He never switches off.
“You could have won a game 5-0 and he’d be going mental in the changing room because he knew we could do better.
“On the bus back from Buckie, when we’d just won the league, he was still digesting it and saying ‘we could have done this better’ and ‘we could have done that better’.
“He was non-stop. Relentless. There would be video analysis every week.
“Training standards were so high, always something different.
“We were lucky to have him and I think St Johnstone will see how good he is over the next couple of seasons.
“It’s right that he’s working a few levels higher than where we are.
“If the St Johnstone players buy into what the gaffer wants to do, they’ll do very well I’m sure.
“He’s a good guy and a great coach.”