IT has been a long time since Motherwell supporters approached a match involving their team without a degree of trepidation, but Stuart Kettlewell is hoping his brand of positivity can remove the fear factor that had set in across the club this season.

That means the players going about their business without fear of failure, or fear of relegation, worries that have eased slightly after the two victories rattled off in quick succession under Kettlewell’s interim charge.

Kettlewell hopes his own example in accepting the permanent managerial post this week, forgoing the relative security of his previous role as a development coach, will show his players it is better to dream about what they may achieve together than fixate on what could happen if it all goes wrong.

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When asked about the wisdom of giving up that job stability, as predecessor Steven Hammell had before him with disastrous personal consequences, Kettlewell said: “I have no concerns about that whatsoever.

“When you have been sacked once before it’s a shock. Maybe one or two felt it was harsh on me at the time. Maybe you feel sorry for yourself and go through a full process there. 

“But as a young manager as I was – and am – you have to go through those things to experience how it affects you and how it affects your family and your mind. 

“Your mind can be the devil’s playground, as the old saying goes. But there is no concern there.  

“I was asked the question recently, ‘were you ever scared of being sacked?’ I genuinely wasn’t, and I think if you are this is probably the wrong place for you because we know the nature of the beast.

“We know what the job is, and I think you have to be thinking on the positive side about what you and the people at the football club can achieve.

“I don’t really think you want to be festering on what’s went before or the risk that you may or may not be taking.

“That was the message [to the players], play without fear from a structure. Longer term, we want that mindset moving forward, we want that to be a staple.

“That becomes our identity and that we can respond under difficult circumstances as well.”

As with most footballing cliches, the one about the ‘new manager bounce’ holds more than a grain of truth. So, how does Kettlewell stop his players falling into the habits that had them on such a wretched run previously now he is their permanent manager?

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“It’s driving the standards and beliefs that I have,” he said. “But the players are doing that in the dressing room.

“[There were] one or two questions asked of them, one or two aspects that you want to become better as a short-term fix.

“But it’s not taking your eye off the ball and making sure you don’t become bored with good standards. How you train and approach our day in and about the club. And how we prepare and play on the Saturday at 3pm is the most important factor.

“It’s encouragement not to be bored with it. Enjoy the work you get through on a daily basis that makes you a successful team and club.

“It’s good that we now know the situation moving forward. It’s good for the players, it’s good for me, it’s good for the football club and I really hope it’s good for the supporters as well. 

“I think now it settles down and becomes day one of what I hope will be a successful journey as Motherwell manager.”

How long that journey lasts, ultimately, will come down to results. All going well, he will be in situ until at least May 2024, but he says that the length of contract had nothing to do with the delay in his appointment.

“No, the club were very flexible, it wasn’t a big debate at all in terms of length of contract,” he said.

“It was kind of pitched to me that they would like me to take the job, and the board and chairman were terrific, the chief executive Alan Burrows, they were absolutely brilliant.

“It was important to me that the directors were getting what they wanted. It was also vital that they could see what I believed in and that we could align the two, rather than just accept the offer and see how that pans out.
“We understand we need to increase the coaching staff – and not just in numbers but by bringing in quality people, because there are some quality people going out of the club. I had to make sure that that support network was going to be there.”
The first order of business on that front will be to appoint an assistant manager. David Clarkson has been helping out, but Kettlewell is keen to fill that role permanently in short order.

“I’ve had a few conversations,” he said.

“It’s just important I get the right person and somebody that’s desperate to come and do the job that probably aligns with everything I’ve spoken about. Somebody that can add real value to the club.

“Hopefully I can do that as soon as possible.”