BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
JIM JEFFERIES watched Neil McCann cope with the devastation of administration at Dunfermline – so he is certain the rookie boss will not be fazed by the challenge of salvaging Dundee’s Premiership status.
Jefferies, 66, handed McCann his first ever coaching role when he named him as assistant manager at East End Park in the summer of 2012, with the former Scotland internationalist initially working for nothing amid a cash crisis in Fife.
Years of financial mismanagement came back to haunt the Pars just months later, plunging the club into a fraught battle for their very existence.
The dugout duo were unable to stop a crippled Dunfermline from descending into League 1 following a points deduction, nevertheless Jefferies could not help but be impressed by McCann’s work ethic and man management in the most difficult circumstances possible.
He recalled: “He came in at Dunfermline at a hugely difficult time, ultimately losing players and coaching staff, and he worked on a voluntary basis initially, just taking expenses for travelling.
“He probably made a loss, but wanted to help out and start his coaching career. That said a lot of about his desire to get into the game – he didn’t need to make that sacrifice.
“That has given him a grounding in working with players and getting his point across and the players loved his sessions. No-one should be thinking this is a raw pundit going straight into the dugout – he is knowledgable and imaginative with his work.
“He was great with the players as well, despite such difficult circumstances. If you can handle a situation like that, you can handle most things. Everyone can see on TV how articulate he is and he can motivate and inspire a dressing room.
“I do feel a bit sorry for Paul Hartley but, after they made the decision to let him go, I think Neil is a great choice.”
Dundee, who slipped into the relegation playoff places prior to Hartley’s sacking this week, have five games to salvage their top-flight status, and Jefferies cannot think of many more inspiring figures to call upon.
He laughed: “He might be a small guy, but he has a presence!
“Neil is a winner. Simple as. Whether you are playing football, golf or tiddlywinks, he will be in a bad mood if he loses.
“He was the same as a player – you never got a friendly training match with Neil about when I was manager at Hearts. You could guarantee tasty tackles and verbals.
“I’m sure we will see that rub off on the Dundee side because he is not shy about getting his point across in the right way.”
McCann has taken the reins at Dens Park until the end of the current campaign, in spite of his lucrative contract with Sky Sports and a comfortable job as one of Scottish football’s most respected pundits.
Jefferies believes that is indicative of his love for Dundee, as well as the game in general – and he is hopeful McCann will not prove a flop after swapping the TV studio for the training pitch, like Gary Neville did in his interim stint in charge of Valencia.
He continued: “Neil has always had a desire to get involved in coaching and I believe he will be a manager in the future. He has always had those aspirations
“Everyone looks at Gary Neville and, of course, it is a brave move from Neil. You open yourself up to criticism. It all looks so easy on the television!
“However, I have a sneaking suspicion that Neil will do just fine and it wouldn’t surprise me if he ends up in that job longer term.”