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Spiers on Sport: the unjust sacking of Kenny Shiels

When a manager wins one of only four trophies collected by a football club in 80 years, there has to be a degree of respect shown towards him, right?

Michael Johnston with Kenny Shiels
Michael Johnston with Kenny Shiels

When he also works slavishly on all aspects of a club due to staffing limitations - training, recruiting, video-editing, youth development etc - wouldn't that admiration for him grow even greater?

Kenny Shiels, sacked by Kilmarnock, is by no means perfect. But he has been a pretty good manager at Rugby Park, whose dismissal is hard to fathom.

It transpires, too, that many Kilmarnock supporters, contrary to what we might have been led to believe, are also peeved at their manager's sacking. A mob of them descended on Rugby Park the other evening to vent their spleen at Michael Johnston, the club's chairman.

I quite like and admire Johnston. He is a lawyer, a bit old-school, who gets flack galore in his Killie role but always stands his ground. But this decision seems quaint to me.

First, let's look at Shiels' record. He was Kilmarnock manager for two seasons, during which the club lifted the Scottish League Cup and finished seventh and ninth in the SPL.

That cup success was a rarity - and long overdue - at Kilmarnock so Shiels can be pretty proud of that. In terms of league campaigns, both 2011/12 and 2012/13 proved an anti-climax after promising a lot more, but neither amounted to a sacking offence.

Shiels has been refreshing in Scottish football. He is an engaging character whose opinions are interesting. As Killie boss he has also merited a very healthy 7 out of 10 - minimum - for his efforts.

What Shiels did at Kilmarnock echoed previous successes at other clubs. As a talented young footballer he was put out of the game through injury midway through his career, but went on to be a success as a manager with Carrick Rangers, Coleraine and Ballymena United, winning promotions and titles.

Shiels' sacking at Kilmarnock, clearly, has little to do with his level of success in the job. So what exactly has he been sacked for?

According to various official statements coming out of the club it was, for want of a better phrase, for "shooting his mouth off" on various issues.

Shiels got into various scraps with the SFA over such things as referring to Celtic as "Paranoid FC" and "the monster of Scottish football" and has just faced another SFA disciplinary charge. It seems that Mr Johnston, his chairman, has had about enough of this.

In which case, it appears Kenny Shiels has been sacked for having opinions. That seems to be the rub of it. I cannot see any other sin - football failure or gross misconduct - as a reason for his dismissal. Instead, he has been sacked for speaking his mind on a range of issues.

What is interesting about this particular case is that, in many instances, the media sought out Shiels regularly for an opinion, knowing that he was a frank talker about the game in Scotland.

Indeed, it transpires that most of Shiels' felonies occurred on BBC Radio Scotland, who often couldn't get him into their studios quickly enough, knowing how freely he spoke about everything in football.

It is a strange world when all of this - a quantum of free speech - leads to the downfall of a football manager. Even Shiels' "monster" charge of Celtic - by which he meant the size, the might, the financial and legal muscle of the club - became distorted in a back-page headline.

Before all this blew up I spent two hours in Shiels' company one afternoon, raking over a range of subjects. In that whole time I found him insightful, opinionated and fair on a host of topics, and not once either bitter or disparaging towards anyone.

It's a sad day when Scottish football cannot accommodate Kenny Shiels. And it is an even sadder day for Kilmarnock FC.

He leaves behind him 15 youth internationals at Rugby Park. I believe that club will be a poorer place without him.

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