Cut adrift at the bottom of the Scottish Premiership, Dundee United are in trouble. Ten points from their first twenty-one games is a poor return for a club better known for competing at the other end of the table. Arguably one of Scotland’s most successful clubs in the past, Dundee United’s future looks bleak with the club almost likely destined for the drop. With twelve games remaining before the league splits, United face an uphill battle that their current form suggests they will not win. The club has already sacked one manager this year, replacing Jackie McNamara with Mixu Paatelainen but with little effect with the Finnish coach unable to correct the current path that the club is on.
It’s clear who owner Steven Thompson blames for the position that Dundee United are after he made several scathing remarks aimed at former manager McNamara during a recent interview with the BBC. Thompson pinpointed the recruitment/bad signings made by McNamara during the summer for the clubs decline this season which is fair to a point except that Thompson as owner has final say on which deals are done or not. The absence of a Director of Football, much like Craig Levein at Hearts could be a factor with Thompson’s knowledge of the footballing landscape limited at best. However others could point towards his absence from the club during the crucial planning months running up to the summer as Thompsons focus was diverted to expanding his empire with a move to buy Australian outfit Newcastle Jets. Given United perilous position, it seemed to be a strange move from the owner but then again Thompson has made it no secret of his desire to sell the Scottish club and exit sooner rather than later. The problem has been a lack of interest in Dundee United from investors with the Scottish game not exactly an attractive proposition. As an acquisition, United has a lot to offer including an impressive youth development structure that over the past few years has produced Ryan Gauld, Stuart Armstrong and Scott Allan to name a few. All three left the club for sizable transfers, which allowed the club to reinvest back into youth development and start the process again.
Fundamentality this is what Dundee United have become. Like many others in football, the Tannadice team is a selling club now – investing in youth with the long-term plan of selling them to keep the club running. During the process they can benefit from using these players in the first team but given that most talent is snapped up within 18-24 months of their arrival on the scene, it means that United are having to rebuild their squad every year or so. Usually that means that it becomes harder to have consistency season after season. But for United this hasn’t been the case with the club finishing in the top five consistently for the past eight years. This summer however the money gained from the sale of Nadir Ciftci, Armstrong and Gary Mackay Steven to Celtic was in Thompson’s eyes squandered by McNamara on poor quality foreign players like Darko Bodul, Rodney Sneijder and Northern Irish striker Billy McKay. Whilst none of the three commanded a transfer fee, all came on big wages, which in the end were supplemented by the money brought in by the sale of the above trio to Celtic. Whilst not an uncommon strategy by clubs looking to rebuild, it’s a risky approach that has left Dundee United with the third highest wage bill in the Scottish leagues, behind Old Firm giants Celtic and Rangers. A drop to Scotland’s second tier would be disastrous with Thompson admitting that he would not be able to fund the club on the existing wage structure it has.
Thompson has promised not to give up on United this season until it’s mathematically impossible to survive the drop. He has further promised to back Paatelainen with funds to bring in new players during the January transfer window in a last throw of the dice even if that puts the clubs financial position into more peril. The manager has already made some moves securing Rosenborg striker Riku Riski on loan until the end of the season with three to four other players earmarked for arrival before the window closes. He will also need to fight to hold on to United’s latest youth products including John Souttar who is attracting interest both at home and abroad. It is vital that he does so if Dundee United is to have any chance of turning things around and staying in the Premiership beyond the end of this season. However Thompson is a realist and must know that the outlook is not good and that United may well be on the crest of a pivotal time in its existence.
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