IT can be said without fear of contradiction that if Willie Donachie isn't ready to be a manager now, he never will be.

Remember Donachie? He was the tidy Manchester City left-back who played 35 times for Scotland in the 1970s and had tours of duty in two World Cup squads. He played against Iran and Holland in the 1978 tournament and many will recall him for that, as well as, unfortunately, a long-range own goal he put past goalkeeper Jim Blyth in the final minute of a 1978 home international against Wales.

Since then? Next to nothing. Donachie played on at Norwich, Burnley, Oldham and for a couple of spells in the USA with Portland Timbers. But neither in his playing days, nor in a distinguished 21-year spell as a coach or assistant manager at various clubs, did he court media attention. Donachie was content to be a diligent, happy-in-the-background, training ground coach. All of that made it all the more unexpected when last November, at the age of 55, he finally climbed on to the top rung of the ladder and became a manager for the first time. And at tough, demanding Millwall of all places.

So Willie, what kept you? "I always said I wanted a challenging manager's job and that I would get my chance," he explained last week. "When I worked as Joe Royle's assistant at Oldham, Everton, Manchester City and Ipswich it was terrific because I had the best of both worlds. Joe let me get on with the football side of things on the training ground and I didn't have to worry about budgets or agents or the media. But as you get older you know you would like a chance to be your own man in charge of a team."

In the summer, Donachie became assistant manager to Nigel Spackman at Millwall. On the face of it, it seemed like just another job, but when the former Rangers midfielder was sacked in September it was Donachie who stepped up as caretaker boss. Having firmly stated his interest in getting the position permanently, and securing some positive results which kept Millwall's head above the relegation waters in League One, he was told in November the job was his until at least the end of the season.

Donachie left Glasgow in 1968 aged only 16 and never played for a Scotland club, although 39 years in England have not softened his accent. Millwall have had a few Scottish managers over the years - including George Graham, John Docherty, Bruce Rioch and Mark McGhee - and there is an earthiness about the club and the area which appeals hugely to Donachie.

"Millwall was started by Scottish workmen. It's a hard-working club in a working class area of London. It's tough, and there's a socialist element to it which reminds me of Glasgow. The fans are tough but they know their football and they are very passionate.

"We were from Castlemilk and my dad's side of the family was from the Gorbals. That helps shape you as a person, definitely. The Gorbals and Castlemilk: both were rough, but they had a lot of good people. People who would help you and looked out for each other in difficult circumstances.

"It was the making of me. Football can be tough but after an upbringing like that nothing can kill you. My accent is still strongly Glaswegian, or at least so the people down here think. When I go back to Scotland they say I sound English. You know what Glasgow's like, you get slaughtered for things like that."

There is an understated hardness about Donachie which makes him better equipped than most to deal with what Millwall will ask of him. The club has been innovative in its attempts to integrate with the local community and took 26,000 supporters to Cardiff without incident for the 2004 FA Cup final against Manchester United. To many outsiders Millwall remain synonymous with hooliganism, though, and even Donachie admits to having initial reservations about the club.

"At first I thought about their reputation for having some horrible fans, but that didn't last. They have been good to me, they've given me a chance, and the board are good people too. I've only got the job until the end of the season but that doesn't really bother me. What does a contract mean? It's a constant challenge for me to prove I can do well. Millwall is not unlike Rangers or Celtic. What the supporters here demand is passion and effort but their teams have also got to be able to play. They like characters, something a bit special. Personally, the model for me was the Liverpool team of the 1970s which had that socialist idea of everyone working for each other. It was a team full of stars without stars, if you know what I mean."

Although he has two sisters and a brother in the Glasgow area, Donachie only rarely returns to Scotland. He is still a pal of former international team-mates such as Asa Hartford, Joe Jordan and Gordon McQueen, but has lost some of the contacts he used to enjoy within the SFA. "In the days of Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown, the SFA used to be much more open than the English FA, much more sharing with their ideas. There were good people there.

"I thought they had the right ideas about how football should be approached. They wanted to progress the Scotland team by getting ideas in from all over the world and sharing them. Now it's not like it was. I don't know if that is down to the changes when Berti Vogts was there, but for some reason I lost touch with them."

Now that he has finally bobbed back into the spotlight after all these years, there is no excuse for anyone losing touch with Donachie again.