BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
A decade has passed since Danny Swanson first crossed swords with Mixu Paatelainen in the modest surroundings of Central Park.
Swanson, now playing his trade with Hearts, was a fresh-faced teenager attempting to make his way in the game at Berwick Rangers.
Paatelainen, albeit with a wealth of experience as a player, was also just a rookie – cutting his teeth in coaching with Cowdenbeath in the unforgiving surroundings of the old Scottish Third Division.
Given the lofty paths they went on to tread – Swanson winning the Scottish Cup in 2010 and starring in the English Championship; Paatelainen claiming 2011 manager of the year with Kilmarnock and coaching his country – that gloomy afternoon in Fife on September 10, 2005 seems a lifetime ago.
Nevertheless, witnessing Paatelainen’s stint at Cowdenbeath, which saw him win the club’s first league title in 67 years, is enough to convince Swanson that the genial Finn is the man to revitalise United.
“I think it’s a brilliant appointment. Mixu always wants his teams to get the ball down and play and he always has done,” said Swanson. “I’m expecting a tough game against them on Sunday.
“I played against him when he was the manager at Cowdenbeath and, even there, he got them playing stylish football . . . as well as he could!
“Hopefully he is the change Dundee United need to get back to where they deserve to be – and that’s not at the bottom of the league.
“If you can get a team in the Third Division playing good football, then you’ve got half a chance at Dundee United! They have good players. They are not down at the wrong end of the table because they have rubbish players. It is just about getting the belief back.”
Naturally, Swanson is desperate to ensure Paatelainen’s Tannadice revolution suffers a stuttering start on Sunday, with Hearts the visitors to Tayside for the televised encounter.
However, his fondness for United is still palpable after they give him a crack at full-time football seven years ago – and saved him from a life of early starts and leaking pipes.
“I was a plumber when I was with Berwick. I was up at 7.30am and home at 6.30pm,” Swanson continued. “I still have a lot of time for United because they gave me my chance.
“I always look out for their results, just like I did when I was in England. It was a massive part of my career. They’ve got me where I am and I’ll never forget that. It’s a great club with great fans.
“You always want to do well against your old club and that’s what I hope to do. It’ll probably just make me try even harder.
“I know Prince [Buaben] is really looking forward to it. He’s a bit worried that they’ll boo him. I was winding him up, saying: ‘I think you’ll get booed, Prince. I don’t think they really liked you!'”
The former Peterborough United, St Johnstone and Coventry winger has made three appearances for the Jambos after joining the club last month following a successful trial period.
He candidly admits he “wasn’t up to” coming straight into the first-team but, after a tortuous international break of head coach Robbie Neilson’s famed triple sessions, he is ready to show the Hearts faithful what he can do.
“We had three days off during the break, but the three days building up to that was like army camp stuff,” he smiled. “We came back in on the Monday and had a triple session. My legs are killing me but it’s good for me. I do need it.
“The boys find it easier to handle than me because they’re used to it. I’ve got to get used to it because I don’t think it’ll slacken off any time soon. It feels like another pre-season.
“However, I’m feeling a lot better and a lot fitter for it. I wasn’t up to it in the first couple of games but I feel ready for it now.”
Danny Swanson was speaking at the DPS Group sponsored Hearts Holiday Courses, which are a full week of coaching sessions for children aged 4-12, run during the school holidays.