IN the 36 years that he has spent in the senior game in both Scotland and England as a player, a coach and an assistant, Tony Docherty has been involved in far bigger games.

Yet, the pre-season friendly that his Dundee side will play against Brechin City at Glebe Park this afternoon will be momentous for him all the same.

The match with the Highland League club in Angus will be his first as a manager in his own right and he will, despite all of the cup finals, internationals, relegation dogfights and promotion deciders he has experienced, feel an adrenaline rush as he takes his place in the away dugout before kick-off. 

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“I have been a caretaker before at Dundee United,” he said. “But, aye, I suppose this will be the first one where I am standing there on my own if you like. I am looking forward to it. It is exciting.”

Far greater tests than Brechin await Docherty. Dundee were relegated, despite the best efforts of first James McPake and then Mark McGhee, straight back to the Championship the last time they were in the Premiership two seasons ago. Can he do better in what promises to be a ferociously contested league?

The 52-year-old, who took over at Dens Park back in May following the departure of Gary Bowyer just days after their second tier title triumph, is well prepared for what lies ahead in his new role having served a lengthy apprenticeship.

He has worked in a variety of different positions in the game with the SFA, Falkirk, Dundee United, St Johnstone, Bristol City, Aberdeen and Kilmarnock and has savoured far more successes than he has suffered setbacks.

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The move he has made, though, does beg a couple of questions. Why now? And why Dundee?

“There had been a few opportunities to go in to management over the years,” he said. “But when this one came along and I did my due diligence on it I thought: ‘I can’t pass this up’. This club is on an upward trajectory.

“To manage a promoted club that had just won a title in the Premiership? It is a chance I had to take. I am not getting any younger now. It might not have come along again. It just seemed too good to pass up.”

Docherty was greatly impressed by the plans which owner Tim Keyes, managing director John Nelms and technical director Gordon Strachan had for Dundee when he spoke to them and shares their ambitions for the future.

“My relationship with John and with Gordon couldn’t be better,” he said. “They have been great. Everything that we have discussed has happened. That is what convinces me this is a good time to be Dundee manager.”

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Nothing he has seen in his first weeks in the job has given him cause to regret his decision. “It hasn’t been a huge surprise,” he said. “But, yes, things have changed a little bit. I am a lot busier and am working more hours. To be honest, it keeps me awake at night. But I am enjoying it.”

Parting company with McInnes, who he first teamed up with at St Johnstone back in 2007, after 15 years at his side was hard, but he has no doubts that he will draw greatly on what he learned working alongside the former Rangers and Scotland midfielder.

“I have experience of getting up and staying up,” he said. “We did it with St Johnstone and with Kilmarnock last season. So I know what is required, I know how tough it is going to be, I know the rigours of the season.

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“I have worked under Ian McCall, Craig Levein, Gordon Strachan, Alex Totten. They are all top managers and I have picked up things from all of them. But I was with Derek for a long time and worked very closely with him. 

“He is a brilliant manager. I must say I have even more respect for him than I did before now I have been doing the job myself. He is a top manager. The evidence of that is his longevity and his win ratio.

“Derek and I went through a lot. He is still a close friend of mine and always will be. He gave me his blessing to come here. I think he always knew the day would come. Listen, maybe Derek needed a freshness as well.”

McInnes is not the only man to leave a lasting impression on Docherty. He is also grateful for the help, encouragement and support that Craig Brown gave him over the years. He was deeply saddened when the former Scotland manager, a title winner with Dundee back in 1962, passed away at the age of 82 on Monday.

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“I went in to coaching early,” he said. “I had a playing career, but I realised that coaching was where my future lay. I went in to the SFA technical department and worked with Tommy Wilson under Craig Brown, Jim Fleeting and Eric Black in 1995.

“When you joined the SFA at that time their chief executive Jim Farry had a rule that you had to stop playing. I was playing part-time with Albion Rovers and it was a full-time role and I made that conscious decision. That was my first experience of coaching.

“Craig had a huge influence on me. We had a connection because we both, not at the same time of course, did physical education degrees at Jordanhill College when we played. Our relationship was rekindled when Derek took over from him as manager at Aberdeen and he moved upstairs to become a director.”

Docherty added: “He was way ahead of his time. I can remember when the SFA had their offices at Park Gardens going up one night and seeing him sitting there by himself with two screens in front of him watching games after everybody had gone home. He was doing video analysis when nobody else was. I think it is only now being recognised just how good he was. But I knew it back then. He was hugely inspirational for me.

“He always took a great interest in how you were doing. But he was like that with everybody. Whenever he spoke to you he would find out something about you and he would have a conversation with you about it. He was a really intelligent man. He touched so many people, he really did. He was just a brilliant guy, a wonderful human being. He is a huge loss.”

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Docherty has been busy since taking over at Dundee. He has bolstered his squad with five new players, Joe Shaughnessy, Scott Tiffoney, Charlie Reilly, Juan Antonio Portales and Zach Robinson, who joined on loan yesterday, to date and is hopeful of making more additions before the Premiership opener against Motherwell at home next month. He has a definite long-term vision.

“This is a really important time of the season,” he said. “I am trying to equip the squad as best I can and make sure we are tooled up for what is ahead of us. My intention is for the yo-yo syndrome to stop.

“I have to credit the previous management team and squad of players for getting us into this position. But I thought when I came in that things had to move on a bit. I have been allowed to bring in the players I want and believe can make us competitive in this league.

“I want to fill that dressing room with the right people. I want to develop a culture and fill the club with young, talented boys with potential. My background, and that of my assistant Stuart Taylor, is very much on the grass. We want to develop these players.

“Lyall Cameron, Charlie Reilly, Josh Mulligan, Max Anderson, Finlay Robertson, Luke McCowan, Scott Tiffoney all really excite me. They are good players who you can make better. But I want them to be surrounded by good pros as well and make sure they pick things up in the dressing room and develop good habits as well.

“Joe is exactly that. He is your archetypal great pro. I call them cultural architects. They are the ones who carry on things from us when the dressing room door is shut. If I develop a culture of experienced pros and young talented players it will create the identity and playing style I want.

“The biggest thing is winning. To stay in this league you need to win games. But if you can do it with a style that gets the punters onside . . .”

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Docherty was drafted briefly onto Strachan’s backroom team when Scotland played Canada in a friendly international and Slovenia in a Russia 2018 qualifier in 2017 and has relished being reunited with the former Coventry City, Celtic, Southampton and Middlesbrough manager.

“I loved working with Gordon,” he said. “The respect he had from his players, guys like Darren Fletcher, top, top professionals, was amazing. They were like wee boys in his presence. He just commanded absolute respect from them.

“I would have liked to have had that Scotland gig for longer than I did, but the demands at Aberdeen were too great. I always hoped to have the opportunity work with Gordon again. Gordon’s knowledge and experience and contacts are outstanding. He was key in getting Juan in. The fans will love his energy and relate to him. ”

Having been based in Broughty Ferry since his United days, Docherty knows only too well the intense demands there will be on him to keep Dundee up in the top flight next term. But he welcomes and shares the supporters’ expectations. He considers himself fortunate to have the chance to meet them.

“I live here,” he said. “I know the pulse of this city. I know the passion the fans have. You saw that in the final game of last season. But I want them to get excited. The crowd can be absolutely massive for us. I want to make Dens Park a fortress. If the players can feed off the fans and vice versa we will build something special here.

“I am really honoured to have this job. It is not lost on me that guys like Jim Duffy, Jocky Scott, Bob Shankly have been in this position before me. I am in the company of giants.” 

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