Graham Ruthven on the new performance director of the Scottish FA
Malky Mackay grossly misjudged the mood of the room.
Upon being asked whether he had any skeletons still to emerge from the closet, the Scottish FA’s newly appointed performance director made an ill-judged quip about a reporter’s tie. Nobody laughed. There was, after all, very little to laugh about.
As appointments go, Mackay’s last week was about as controversial as they come. Not one footballing question was directed the way of the 44-year-old or Scottish FA chief executive Stewart Regan at the Hampden Park unveiling. Nobody asked him how he plans on raising the next generation of Scottish players.
Instead, they were interrogated over the text message scandal which has seen Mackay out of work for the past two years, as well as the claim of fraud made against the former Cardiff City manager by Vincent Tan which broke the night before the Scottish FA’s announcement. Cynical timing, one might judge.
The Scottish hack pack were justified in pushing Mackay so hard. This was no overreaction. His appointment offers a damning indictment of where the Scottish game find itself right now. How can the Scottish FA lead anti-racism, anti-discrimination, pro-diversity campaigns as a governing body having handed one of its most senior positions to such a figure?
Apart from anything else, Mackay lacks the footballing credentials for the role he has been appointed to. He is a manager, he is no youth football strategist. He has no background in bringing through young talent, particularly at national association level. His predecessors in the job - Mark Wotte and Brian McClair - at least boasted CVs that made them suitable appointments. Mackay doesn’t even have that.
New Heart of Midlothian manager Ian Cathro poses for a picture after a press conference at Tynecastle, Edinburgh. Picture by Andrew Milligan PA Archive/PA Images
Between Mackay’s appointment at the Scottish FA and the backlash to the hiring of Ian Cathro at Hearts, it has become clear over the past month that the Scottish game remains stuck in the dark ages. Football north of the border has been left behind and the Scottish FA must shoulder a significant share of the blame.
There is a anti-intellectualism holding back the Scottish game, with the old guard the stubborn gate-keepers to the sort of existential evolution football north of the border has been deprived of over the past decade or so. Cathro bore the brunt of it, with a number of Scottish football figures lacerating the 30-year-old for his use of statistics and data. In the same way the tracksuit coach was once derided by the establishment, laptop coaches are now being targeted in Scotland.
Mackay is not a laptop coach, but he is the untouchable establishment, illustrative of how the Scottish FA are completely and utterly detached from their public. This is about more than just Mackay’s background, it’s about the direction the Scottish game is taking.
It is true that the former Cardiff City boss has undergone equality and diversity training, with Show Racism the Red Card in fact backing Mackay for the position as the Scottish FA’s new performance director.
What is certain though, is that Mackay shouldn’t be re-entering football in a role that requires to set the course for Scotland’s youngsters. His job is one that focuses on technical development and sporting infrastructure.
The Scottish FA’s image is so bad north of the border that Mackay’s appointment, as controversial and unpopular as it has been, is unlikely to do much damage to the governing body. But as the guardians of the game in Scotland they have a duty to consider the greater impression their decisions leave. The decision to hire Mackay has left an impression that will take a long time to shift.