The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Sam El­liott

IDIDN’T in­tend it to come out quite how it sounded. It wasn’t sup­posed to be an­other stab aimed in the di­rec­tion of the MK Dons – and it cer­tainly wasn’t aimed at tak­ing any gloss off what was a re­mark­ably good first full week in his new of­fice. It was more the pur­suit of an

an­swer that foot­ball fans north and south of the bor­der would ac­tu­ally quite like to hear. Quite why has Scot­tish foot ball’s big man­age­rial hope left its top flight, said good­bye to the fan­tas­tic city of Ed­in­burgh, the pro­file that is in­evitably at­tached to be­ing in charge of a club with the his story of Hearts and said hello to Mil­ton Keynes? Rob­bie Neil­son didn’t need re­mind­ing of the risk he is tak­ing. Not just leave ing a place where he is revered for win­ning ning the Scot­tish Cham­pi­onship in his first sea­son

and last year tak­ing the Jam­bos to third place in the Premier­ship, but also leav­ing home.

Jump­ing ship when things were go­ing wrong? Hardly.

Hearts are real con­tenders to win the Premier­ship. Well the one in a league with­out Celtic that many Scots like to con­jure up in their minds.

Sec­ond place is well within their grasp.

Word on the street is that Neil­son was next in line for the na­tional team job.

His de­ci­sion to leave is as much a damn­ing in­dict­ment of the Scot­tish game as it is a com­pli­ment to English foot­ball.

Sacri­fic­ing all that for an op­por­tu­nity he just couldn’t refuse, of course. And last Satur­day

Neil­son was lead­ing the MK Dons on to the pitch against AFC Wim­ble­don, hav­ing been re­minded all week just what his new club had got away with back in 2002.

He was tak­ing up the job in the hope of stop­ping them be­ing rel­e­gated into League Two and his first task was win­ning a home game for the first time in ten months.

The Hearts he broke, mean­while, were walk­ing out at Ibrox in front of more than 50,000.

“It was a big de­ci­sion for me,” said the 36-year-old Neil­son, who got the job at sta­dium:mk af­ter talks be­tween chair­man Peter Winkel­man and Liver­pool leg­end Steven Ger­rard had bro­ken down.

“You only get one chance com­ing down to Eng­land from Scot­tish foot­ball.

“It’s a mas­sive op­por­tu­nity for me and that’s purely the rea­son I came here.”

“I moved from a team with 18,000 fans watch­ing it ev­ery week. We would take 7,000 to away games, so, yes, it was a huge de­ci­sion for me.

“When you need to make a big call, it has to be 100 per cent the right de­ci­sion. You can’t just hope for the best. It might not hap­pen overnight, but we need to move this club in the right di­rec­tion.

“The draw about com­ing here was quite straight­for­ward. When you make the move down here from Scot­land, there is one re­ally im­por­tant fac­tor you have to con­sider and that holds the key.

“The si­t­u­a­tion has to be right and the club you go to has to be right.

“Many Scot­tish man­agers have come down and jumped at the first op­por­tu­nity.

“A lot of the time it’s not been right. They have gone into a club with no sta­bil­ity, to work with a chair­man who is not right for them.

“Some­times, there have been fi­nan­cial prob­lems and it’s all gone wrong quite quickly. That’s what I had to avoid. I needed the right en­vi­ron­ment. It had to be sta­ble, just like it was at Hearts, and I think I have that.

“We were build­ing for two and a half years at Hearts and I see MK Dons as a sim­i­lar project in a way.


“The chair­man backs his man­agers to the hilt and he’s built a sta­dium fit for the top level. Now, he wants a team that can play there.”

What a first week it has been. By win­ning the game MK just couldn’t af­ford to lose against AFC Wim­ble­don – avoid­ing the na­tion­wide ridicule which would have come with it – he in­stantly en­deared him­self to his new pub­lic. De­feat­ing Charl­ton and Dons’ ex-boss Karl Robin­son in Tues­day’s FA Cup re­play af­ter ex­tra time, was a mark of their en­durance and pro­gres­sion. “It’s been a good start. On Tues­day, I won­dered if we would fight or if we would crum­ble,” he said. “The play­ers had en­ergy and they had spirit. They have shown me in the first few games that the club shouldn’t be where they are in the ta­ble. There is tal­ent here. “I don’t know why the club has gone so long with­out a home vic­tory, and that was one of the first things we had to set right.

“But it’s all very well say­ing the play­ers are bet­ter than how they are play­ing. You need to back up abil­ity with per­for­mances and so far, so good on that front.”

Of course there’s an­other ques­tion that needs an­swer­ing: how would the Scot­tish game’s big­ger clubs fit into the English Pyra­mid?

“It’s a higher level of the game in Eng­land, that’s for sure,” Neil­son added.

“The main thing here is an op­por­tu­nity to de­velop a team who can go higher and higher and higher.

“There’s not re­ally that chance back in Scot­land.

“That’s the view I think of most of the Scot­tish guys who come down. Celtic would prob­a­bly be Premier League here and be OK.

“Then, you have the teams be­low it. Your Rangers, your Aberdeens and your Hearts would prob­a­bly be in the Cham­pi­onship some­where.

“The rest? I’ve got to say League One at best. The di­vide in bud­gets is so vast up there. Celtic’s is £24m, your next £7m (Rangers) and £4m at Aberdeen. At Hearts, ours was £2m or there­abouts now.

“The main dif­fer­ence is how com­pet­i­tive it is. All the leagues are in Eng­land.

“It’s not the same back home, but that’s not to say there aren’t great things about it, but foot­ball down here is very spe­cial. I just wanted to be a part of it all.”

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

HEART STOP­PER: Tynecas­tle play­ers cel­e­brate win­ning the Scot­tish Cham­pi­onship by throw­ing man­ager Rob­bie Neil­son into the air

DREAM START: Neil­son watches his new team at sta­dium:mk as Dean Bowditch helps to de­feat ri­vals AFC Wim­ble­don NO DEAL: Steven Ger­rard was in talks about the MK man­ager’s job but de­clined it

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