STUART McCALL has given up trying to play down Motherwell's prospects on the eve of another new season.
Nobody is falling for that one any more. McCall is now the longest-serving manager in the SPFL Premiership and the second-longest in Scottish football as a whole behind the venerable figure of Dick Campbell at Forfar Athletic.
That he has endured for so long can be put down to what could be called a "loaves and fishes" approach to getting the most out of limited resources. No matter how extreme the belt-tightening at Fir Park, McCall still seems to be able to find a way to piece together a squad capable of competing at the top end of the table year upon year.
Not since the A-Team disappeared into their garage with a few bits of string, four rusty wheels nicked off a pram and some sticky tape and came out with a Ferrari has so much been made from so little.
Motherwell's league record in the last three years reads third (when Rangers were still in the top division), second and then second again. They have lost key players again this summer in the form of Shaun Hutchinson, Henri Anier and James McFadden, but only the bold or foolish would bet against them again finishing as the best-of-the-rest. Replacing departing talent as cheaply and effectively as possible has been one of McCall's key strengths. In has come Josh Law, brother of Nicky and a fellow goalscoring midfielder, while goalkeeper Dan Twardzik and winger Lionel Ainsworth have signed permanent deals after impressing on loan last season.
McCall would like add two more to his squad - a central defender and a striker - and is resigned to once more going down the route of bringing players in on loan.
To that end he spent his Thursday evening at the home of Hyde FC watching Manchester United reserves taking on their City counterparts. Such has been the success of Motherwell's recruitment over the years that it was perhaps not a surprise that McCall had plenty of company in the stand from other coaches and scouts but he hopes the club's recent track record of developing young talent will work in their favour as he looks to put the finishing touches to his squad.
"I look at Tommy Wright [the St Johnstone manager] and he said he's looking for a striker," he said. "Aberdeen were too and then they got David Goodwillie in, Dundee United got the boy Mario Bilate who was flagged up to us, but financially was out of our bracket. I think we'll all get the same info through and the agents with the better players will go to the higher end first.
"But every time they come to us we tell them it's a good club to come to, we'll do well for them and they'll go on to play and we tell them about [the successful loan spells of] John Ruddy, Lukas Jutkiewicz, Nick Blackman and Gavin Gunning to an extent. This is where you'll play football.
"Ideally it would have been good to get players in earlier but you have to make sure that it's the right one. If we have to wait a week or two then that's what you have to do."
Despite being knocked out of the Europa League qualifiers by Stjarnan of Iceland, McCall remains in upbeat mood ahead of the new league campaign, although he will give late fitness tests to two defenders ahead of their opening match at home to St Mirren.
"People always say 'what can you do next? You have been there a long while'. You only have to look back at the last minute of last season [when Motherwell scored to confirm second place ahead of Aberdeen]. That's what I'm in football for.
"All right, we didn't win a trophy or do anything outstandingly spectacular, but the enjoyment for the group of players that had produced what they had to get to 70 points and finish second, that's why we're in the game. We'll have some massive blips and bad results and fans will say they're not going back again. If we can maintain the consistency and keep bouncing back, then that's what we'll try to do.
"Even a minority of our own fans wrote us off when we got knocked out the cup by Albion Rovers and got beat 5-0 at home by Celtic. And rightly so. We are just happy going along doing the best we can.
"I know all the players, and the coaching staff, and everyone who works for the club, are totally committed to doing the best we can."