Dundee United manager Mixu Paatelainen confirmed he took the decision that Gavin Gunning would never play for the club again – but claimed it had “very little” to do with his bizarre handball.
United announced on Tuesday in a brief statement that Gunning had left the club “by mutual consent”, three days after picking up the ball in mid-play before walking off the pitch during United’s damaging 2-0 home defeat by Inverness.
The defender was immediately ordered back on by Paatelainen and underwent treatment before being substituted. As he walked towards the tunnel, the 25-year-old responded to jeers from the home fans by applauding sarcastically.
Paatelainen, who has a major concern over Paul Paton’s knee injury, will now do without Gunning for the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Hibernian as well as the rest of their Ladbrokes Premiership relegation battle.
Paatelainen said: “Obviously he has been a strong member of the squad, he has been a starting player for us this season on many occasions.
“But for reasons I will not go public with, I took a decision that he will not play for us again.
“I also put it across to him that, because he will not play again, he can go and train with somebody else. There is no need for him to be here. He is free to go basically.
“This decision obviously we haven’t made lightly, but it was a decision I had to make.”
When asked how much the handball had to do with the decision, Paatelainen said: “I won’t go into reasons why we made the decision but very little.”
Paatelainen added: “He has not been sacked. The club will pay his wages accordingly and respect the contract.”
When pressed on reports that Gunning would challenge his exit, Paatelainen said: “If Gavin wants to come back and train with us, he has every right to do that.
“I have no problem with that. If he wants to keep his fitness up with us, then no problem, we will deal with that.”
When asked for his opinion on the handball incident, the United boss said: “I thought it was bizarre but, after speaking with Gavin, I can understand why he did it.
“He was injured, got a knock on his knee and landed awkwardly. He lost function of his ankle and he couldn’t kick the ball, so he wanted the game to be stopped.
“Because he couldn’t kick the ball out, he decided to pick it up because he didn’t just want to go down as Caley Thistle might have attacked.
“He was injured, I can understand that, but it was bizarre. We did realise he had a problem prior to that.”
Meanwhile, Paton is struggling to make Saturday’s semi-final at Hampden.
“Paton has a little problem with his knee,” Paatelainen said. “It is unclear whether he is included in the semi-final or not.
“He has been playing and training with pain. He is a full-hearted player, he wants to do his best for the club and he has been doing that, but there is no mistake about it, he has a problem.”
The Northern Ireland midfielder missed nine months of last year with a knee injury before helping spark United’s run to Hampden and rejuvenation in the league, which has stalled with two consecutive defeats.
Paton has been captaining the team in recent weeks and Paatelainen admits talk of further knee problems is a big concern.
The Finn added: “Paul Paton is a major player for us, he is very important to us. But let’s not jump to conclusions too early. The medical staff are investigating.
“But one thing is for sure, a player’s health is always the most important thing. We don’t want to risk any player’s health.”