VIRGO:

Rob­bie is right man for MK Dons

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE - Adam Virgo

ISTILL re­mem­ber the first time I met Rob­bie Neil­son. We were part of a Scot­land B squad play­ing away in Ger­many. You’re only to­gether for three or fours days on those trips, but even in that short space of time I could have told you he’d be a man­ager.

The new MK Dons boss spoke when things needed to be said. He had an as­sur­ance in the dress­ing room. He was very, very knowl­edge­able about the game.

When you go away on in­ter­na­tional breaks, you’re con­stantly hav­ing meet­ings about tac­tics and strat­egy. To be hon­est, I think it’s just to eat up the time.

He was par­tic­u­larly in­volved in those and he told me later he was al­ready do­ing his badges. For a guy of 24, that was re­mark­able. He def­i­nitely had the fu­ture mapped out.

Over the next few years, I played against Rob­bie plenty of times. When I was at Celtic, he was part of a very good Hearts team un­der Ge­orge Bur­ley.

In­tel­li­gent

As a player, I’d say he was a Steady Ed­die right-back. He wouldn’t score goals or get manof-the-match awards, but he was very solid de­fen­sively.

If you av­er­aged his marks out over the course of the sea­son, he’d be a solid seven out of ten.

A good SPL player, if that isn’t too dis­parag­ing.

But what that team had in abun­dance was in­tel­li­gent foot­ballers: Steven Press­ley, Paul Hart­ley, Craig Gor­don. He was ba­si­cally sur­rounded by man­agers in the mak­ing.

As a player, you learn much more from peo­ple like that than you ever would from play­ing in a team full of skil­ful in­di­vid­u­als.

I in­ter­viewed Bobby Zamora re­cently. He was prob­a­bly the best player I ever ap­peared with, but he had no real knowl­edge of tac­tics and sys­tems. He was just a goalscorer.

Peo­ple like Neil Len­non and Roy Keane, though, had the pack­age. They’d tell you things in a game and you’d think ‘Ah right, I didn’t see that’.

Those days at Hearts must have aided Rob­bie’s coach­ing skills enor­mously.

Cer­tainly his record is hard to fault. He took charge at Hearts in 2014 and won the Cham­pi­onship that sea­son ahead of Rangers and Hiber­nian. He won 29 of his 36 games, scor­ing 96 goals in the process.

Last year, Hearts fin­ished third in the Premier­ship and qual­i­fied for Europe.

De­serves

The club is back where it be­longs and, for a man­ager who is just 36, that is a re­mark­able achieve­ment.

Now he has quit the club to take over at MK Dons, a move that shows you just how lightly suc­cess in the SPL is re­garded in Eng­land these days.

The ques­tion is: can Rob­bie prove he de­serves to be man­ag­ing higher than League One?

To suc­ceed as a young man­ager – and Lee John­son is a prime ex­am­ple – you need to have great men­tal strength. There will al­ways be play­ers who think ‘What does he know?’ That will be his first bat­tle, but I’d back Rob­bie to win it. His work at Hearts sug­gests that.

He will also need the play­ers to take re­spon­si­bil­ity.

A team play­ing Cham­pi­onship foot­ball last year should not be bat­tling rel­e­ga­tion in League One.

Dean Lew­ing­ton needs to show his ex­pe­ri­ence and lead­er­ship. Kieran Agard hasn’t re­ally come to the party. Ryan Col­clough is play­ing well but it isn’t fair to rely on a 21year-old lad for goals.

Will the qual­ity of League One comes as a shock? If Rob­bie had man­aged in the SPL for only three years, I think it would be.

But, in my opin­ion, the Scot­tish Cham­pi­onship is about even with League One. The year he spent there with Hearts will be a good ground­ing. Even so, there are more teams, more com­pe­ti­tion, more ex­pec­ta­tion. In Scot­land, you’re never go­ing to win the ti­tle. Celtic have it sewn up. You’ve never got that real pres­sure and re­spon­si­bil­ity. MK Dons, mean­while, are ex­pected to chal­lenge for pro­mo­tion. It’s a gam­ble for Rob­bie and for the chair­man, Pete Win­kle­man, but I’m glad he’s taken the plunge. I’d much rather see a fresh young face given an op­por­tu­nity than some­body who’s been on the man­age­rial merry-go-round for years.

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

CALLING THE SHOTS: Rob­bie Neil­son as the Hearts boss and, be­low, in his play­ing days

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