An in-depth look at the ca­reer of new Black­pool boss Neil McDon­ald

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE: - By Chris Dunlavy

SO YOU think Neil McDon­ald has been chucked in at the deep end with cri­sis club Black­pool? Well, at least he’s used to it. Back in Septem­ber 1982, the new Seasiders boss was Kevin Kee­gan’s boot­boy at New­cas­tle, a care­free teenager who still caught the bus to train­ing from his home in Ben­well.

“I’d just played a re­serve game against Manch­ester United,” said McDon­ald. “And when I came in the next morn­ing, the coaches said they wanted me to go out with the first team.

“I thought they were just ask­ing me to shadow the play­ers but then I was told I was play­ing at the week­end. I couldn’t be­lieve it. I was only 16! I was play­ing for the re­serves one day and the next I was mak­ing my first-team de­but against Barns­ley at St James’ Park.”

In fact, McDon­ald be­came New­cas­tle’s youngest ever player that day, a record that stood un­til Steve Wat­son eclipsed him by 72 days.

Yet if the man (or boy) him­self was sur­prised, no­body else was. “Neil was in­cred­i­bly gifted,” said Bobby Moncur, who signed McDon­ald for Carlisle United as a 14-year-old and sold him to New­cas­tle two years later. “For a lad of 15-16 he was a phys­i­cal spec­i­men and he had the ma­tu­rity to match.”

Even Kee­gan – then 33 and a bona-fide, bub­ble-permed su­per­star – had caught wind of New­cas­tle’s ris­ing star.

“I re­mem­ber sit­ting at the train­ing ground when Kevin burst into the dress­ing room,” re­called McDon­ald in 2006.“He said ‘Ah – so you’re the one they’re all talk­ing about’.

McDon­ald even­tu­ally made over 200 ap­pear­ances for New­cas­tle, but that early po­ten­tial was stymied by a £525,000 switch to Ever­ton in 1988.

Colin Har­vey, the man who signed him, sums up the pre­vail­ing at­ti­tude to McDon­ald’s time at Goodison.


“Neil cer­tainly had abil­ity,” said Colin Har­vey. “He was ab­so­lutely bril­liant in train­ing, ac­cu­rate with his left foot or his right. But for some rea­son he just didn’t pro­duce it as well as he should have done on the field.”

Yet Ever­ton were a side in de­cline, a shadow of the mid-80s greats. Like many of his con­tem­po­raries, McDon­ald was tar­nished by as­so­ci­a­tion and it is easily for­got­ten that he won the club’s player of the year award in 1991.

“He was six-foot plus and built like a de­stroyer when I played with him,” said Pat Nevin, another Har­vey sign­ing.

“But that was never the way he ap­proached the game. Neil could hit a per­fect 70-yard pass with the best of them and the only thing that held him back from an in­ter­na­tional ca­reer was a lack of pace. But, to me, it didn’t mat­ter as he was al­ways that step sharper in his mind.”

Top hon­ours would al­ways prove elu­sive; in 1994, McDon­ald was in the Old­ham team de­nied an FA Cup fi­nal place by THAT Mark Hughes volley for Man United.

But a move to Pre­ston in 1995 did bring suc­ces­sive pro­mo­tions and, per­haps more im­por­tantly, a coach­ing po­si­tion un­der David Moyes.

Tasked with guid­ing the youth side, it was a nat­u­ral first step; McDon­ald had man­aged Sun­day League side West Al­lot­ment Celtic since he was 17 and had al­ready worked in the Deep­dale cen­tre of ex­cel­lence.

“It just felt like the nat­u­ral thing to do,” he said. “I al­ways wanted to help play­ers, and one of my strengths was ca­jol­ing peo­ple, so coach­ing is some­thing I’ve al­ways wanted to do.”

Over the next decade and a half, McDon­ald would be­come one of the most re­spected coaches in the coun­try, largely thanks to a fruit­ful part­ner­ship with Sam Al­lardyce.

The pair had never even met when McDon­ald was in­ter­viewed for a coach­ing post at Bolton in 2000, and Al­lardyce has since joked that the Ge­ordie was “rub­bish, bot­tom of the pile”.

He was saved by an in­no­va­tive coach­ing ses­sion that had Bolton’s play­ers rav­ing and sub­se­quently spent 12 of the next 15 years as Al­lardyce’s right-hand man.

“He’s some­one I trust com­pletely,” said Al­lardyce, who worked with McDon­ald at Bolton, Black­burn and then West Ham. “He’s very, very good at what he does and I’ve al­ways thought of him as my right-hand man.”

The other three years were ac­tion packed; a year in charge of Carlisle in which he fin­ished eighth in League One and was mys­ti­fy­ingly sacked.

“I thought he had lost the dress­ing room,” said Carlisle chair­man Fred Story. “I recog­nised later that I got that wrong.

“He was new to man­age­ment and I should have sup­ported him more. Sack­ing Neil was one of my big­gest mis­takes.”

There were five weeks at the helm of Swedish side Oster­sunds, spells as No.2 to Gary McAl­lis­ter at Leeds and Peter Jack­son at Lin­coln.

“Neil has a wealth of knowl­edge,” said MK Dons boss Karl Robin­son, a 20-some­thing coach at Black­burn when he worked along­side McDon­ald.

“And he was a cru­cial part of my de­vel­op­ment. His at­ten­tion to de­tail, the free­dom in the way the ses­sions run were ex­cel­lent. For any young coach, he is great to have around.”

Now it is Black­pool’s turn to reap the ben­e­fit of those years at the coal­face – and he comes en­dorsed by Nevin.

“He re­minds me a bit of Kenny Dal­glish,” said the for­mer Scot­land star. “He’s got that dry sense of hu­mour and you have to work on him to get to know him.

“I’d sum him up by say­ing he’s strong-willed and ex­tremely pro­fes­sional.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

EX­PE­RI­ENCED: New Black­pool boss Neil McDon­ald




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