New Swindon boss Kevin Macdonald has learned from the best
WHEN Kevin Mac Donald joined Liverpool in 1984, it didn’t take long for the likes of Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish to find him a nickname.
“We called him Albert,” says Dalglish. “After Albert Tatlock, the grumpy old man in Coronation Street. Kev would moan about everything – food, pitches, the weather. He’d even moan about other people moaning!”
Almost 30 years on, his players at Swindon Town can expect more of the same, at least as far as their performances are concerned.
“Kev has this fierce honesty,” recalls former Aston Villa boss John Gregory, who played with MacDonald at Leicester before making him reserve team coach at Villa Park.
“If you’ve played crap, Kevin tells you. There was no pandering to egos and I don’t imagine he’s changed. I think Yorkey (Dwight Yorke) and one or two of the others at the time didn’t much like that!”
If a man is the sum of his influences then MacDonald – appointed to his first job as a No.1 last month after more than 20 years on the backroom staff at Villa – should make one hell of a manager. In his early days at Leicester, he was bullied and battered by Jock Wallace, the former miner with the short temper who won trophies galore at Rangers and a Second Division title for the Foxes in 1980.
“Jock was a rough, tough man in many ways, but loved his players,” said MacDonald, who played in the same side as a young Gary Lineker. “My values and principles were formed at Leicester City.”
Then came a spell under Gordon Milne at Coventry City before that move to Liverpool. Signed to replace Graeme Souness by Joe Fagan, MacDonald – an energetic, ball-wining midfielder – never quite lived up to his fellow Scot but he did win the league and FA Cup double in 1986 under Kenny Dalglish.
“Joe didn’t say very much at all,” adds MacDonald. “Teamtalks were:‘Out you go. If you play to the best of your ability, we’re going to win the game – that’s it’. And after him, Kenny Dalglish was a great analyst of football.” It didn’t end there, either. After seeing out his playing days at Coventry and Walsall, MacDonald retired in 1993 and was immediately taken onto Leicester’s coaching staff by former Foxes team-mate Brian Little.
And after Little took him to Villa, MacDonald worked under the likes of Gregory, Graham Taylor (“a wonderful man, but not very good at telling lies”) and, in recent years, Martin O’Neill.
“I must just take it in,” he said. “You work that closely with people that you just realise what their strengths are and what their weaknesses may be. Me, I just try to react honestly to what I see.”
When O’Neill left Villa Park in 2010, the players clamoured for MacDonald’s appointment, with skipper Stilyan Petrov saying there was:“No better man for the job”.
Even Gareth Barry, by then at Man City, weighed in.“'Kev is one of the best coaches I’ve ever worked under,” he said.“He’s first and foremost a football man and it is great to see him get some recognition.”
According to Little, this ability to bond with players – many of whom he nurtured from youth team days – is why MacDonald always survived the many managerial clearouts at Villa.
“Players will play for Kev,” said Little. “He’s a man’s man and people will respect him. His principles don’t change. Anybody who has trained with him knows what I’m on about.”
Gregory, meanwhile, remembers a man with a formidable work ethic. “We worked with Kevin from the earliest days at Leicester and you soon realised you had a totally committed, very honest, loyal and talented coach,” he said.
“He was the sort of fella you could ask to go down to Torquay with the reserves on Tuesday night and then go up to watch a player at Newcastle 24 hours later. He got on with it, totally committed to his job.”
So why has it taken 20 years for MacDonald to put all that training into practice?
“I know people say: ‘ You should apply for jobs’,” he said in 2010. “But I’m not one that pushes my name forward. If someone knows about me, thinks I’m good and wants me to be the manager then they can come and ask me, but nobody has.”
Until Swindon, that is.
SWINDON MANAGER BIG MAC: MacDonald is the new boss at Swindon. Below: Kevin celebrates the Southern Reserve League with Aston Villa in 2010