THERE will be quite a judgment call for the Dundee United directors to make when they sit down this week with Steven Pressley.

Such is Pressley's reputation for working with young players, and without money, some of them will be willing him to talk his way into their soon-to-be-vacant manager's job. In some ways United and Pressley feel like a natural fit but the meeting will not be straightforward. If he ends up as manager at Tannadice, it would be a risk for the club and a gamble for Pressley himself.

As a former United player, the supporters are more receptive to him than many other fans around Scotland might be. There may not be wild excitement about the idea of him taking over, but neither is there disquiet. Generally, they would be okay about it.

Loading article content

Pressley is young, just 39, but has experience. He has led Falkirk for three years and had a year-and- a-half as an assistant manager of Scotland. He is bright, has plenty to say for himself and, as a former Rangers and Celtic player, he does not lack profile.

He is not everyone's cup of tea and a few reckon he takes himself way too seriously. But some of the things he has said about football's failure to listen to supporters over league reconstruction struck a chord. Many around the country found themselves surprised to be impressed by, and in agreement with, him.

The tough call for United is what to make of the job he has done at Falkirk. They have been relegated and finished third and third (some way behind the eventual champions) under him, and are currently fifth. That is not an exceptional record yet Falkirk's budget was cut by 75% in his first 18 months in charge.

Such is the club's dependence on youth development that a couple of weeks ago they played Morton with a team with an average age of 19-and-a-half. He has won a Challenge Cup and taken Falkirk to a League Cup semi-final.

Doing well with a small budget and a young team is a powerful attraction to most clubs looking for a manager. Falkirk also tend to play entertaining football. Has he done enough? Enough to inherit a talented United squad and a club with a budget and home crowds among the top six in the country? That is the judgment call their directors must make.

Not that Pressley's own negotiating position is weak. Johnny Russell and Gary Mackay-Steven are out of contract in one and two years respectively and United would need to convince him that – when they are inevitably sold – the manager would see enough of the money raised. Jon Daly, Willo Flood and Barry Douglas are out of contract at the end of this season.

He will ask what it was about United's future which so concerned Houston he passed up the chance of £120,000 a year to be a part of it. Something is wrong with a team that has not won a home game since August.

Pressley must be mindful of choosing his moves. Lower-league clubs in England will be watching him because of the work done at Falkirk; failure at United would set him back badly. A managerial career must be painstakingly built. That does not mean automatically rushing towards the first chance of a much bigger job.

Others are in the frame. United, understandably, fancied bringing back Craig Levein. Billy Dodds has been interviewed and Derek McInnes and Jackie McNamara also appeal. Pressley may not interview well while one of the others does, and maybe no actual offer will come his way. However, he comes from the same east coast/Hearts coaching stable which served United so well with Levein and Houston. He even shares an agent with those two, John Colquhoun.

United and Pressley clearly like the look of each other but there is plenty of sizing up to do, from either side of the table, before they take the plunge.


United have yet to nail down their position on the 12-12-18 league reconstruction proposal being discussed today at another meeting of the SPL clubs but they, along with St Mirren and Ross County, are under pressure to toe the line. The Paisley and Dingwall clubs have wobbled since the top flight claimed to have agreement in principle.

What they will be told, today, is that it is 12-12-18 or the status quo: either recommit to what is on the table or else condemn all the clubs to no change. No-one is banging the drum for two top divisions of 12 being the panacea but, privately, it has been welcomed quite enthusiastically by the broadcasters and the belief – well, the calculated gamble – is that supporters will grow to like it, too.

The reality, however unpalatable it is to many, is that 12-12-18 is the only outcome the clubs are prepared to deliver. It is either that – as the vehicle for merging the SPL and SFL, and a new distribution of all the income – or things stay just as they are.