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McStay: Moving on from Celtic


Starting the new year in Hungary was the furthest thing from Willie McStay’s mind as Celtic clinched the SPL Reserve title for the eighth year running at Ibrox in April.

Existing doubts over the future of the reserve league were soon to be compounded by the disappearance of Setanta giving hard up clubs a get-out for abandoning an essential level of football.

Celtic’s development plans would be severely altered by the demise of the reserve league although the club had already been planning ahead with friendlies arranged throughout the season in an attempt to provide the players with a game every week.

The club had also been busy recruiting a number of players mainly from Eastern Europe who were not yet ready for first team football but who showed promise and potential, ‘projects’ as Gordon Strachan dubbed many of them.

Player development was to be a two way street with Celtic looking for players to gain first team experience, possibly away from the normal channels such as in Scotland and England.

Hungary had been identified as a country with potential to recruit and develop players with discussions on-going with Ujpest Dozsa to see what could be of mutual benefit for both clubs.

Celtic had sent coaches to a number of Eastern countries to study players and clubs but it was an initiative from Ujpest that put a new dimension into Celtic’s plans and the career of McStay.

Looking back on his career changes of 2009 McStay recalled: “A year ago I was concentrating on working with Gordon, I enjoyed the chance to work with first team footballers, at international breaks I was holding the fort working with the players.

“That was good. I’d worked with players like John Kennedy and Thomas Gravesen in the reserves, working with the first team players while Gordon was away during international weeks that gave me an edge.

“We were successful in the reserves, we played a good style of football although the personnel was changing constantly. Sometimes we had no strikers, we used Kevin Cawley up front but the style of play was good, we kept the ball and passed with energy, the players knew what they were doing and what was expected of them.

“Little did I know that when Ujpest were watching our players to see who they might want to take on loan that the more they watched the team the more that they liked our style of play.

“They said they liked myself and decided to make a bid to take me to Budapest.

“I knew nothing about it until I came back from the Hong Kong tournament at the end of May. I spoke about what was happening at Celtic and it’s been a whirlwind since then.

“I managed four days holiday during the summer with my family then went with my wife over to Budapest. It’s a a gorgeous city, our stadium is a great, 15,000 all seater and I told Mary that I had a nice feeling for it. Ujpest and Hungry was a challenge for me.

“I spoke it over with Celtic. They want to develop links with clubs and I’d been over in Slovenia looking at things as had others. Celtic were looking at Eastern Europe and how to develop things and set up pilot schemes. They needed someone there to look at players.

“With a new manager coming in and the Reserve League folding it was a perfect scenario for me to go and get the experience that I need to be a manager, I just felt that it was an offer that I couldn’t refuse and if I hadn’t taken it I’d have had regrets.”

The move to Hungary got complicated over the possibility of Celtic and Ujpest facing each other in the Europa League forcing McStay to cut all ties with Celtic 15 years after being appointed by Tommy Burns following a treble winning season with Sligo Rovers.

A close up view of the McCann years, the season’s of annual managerial change, the successes of Martin O’Neill and the latter turmoil of Gordon Strachan’s reign had given McStay experience that no coaching course ever could.

Only Sir Alex Ferguson has survived in the management business throughout McStay’s time coaching at Celtic with the new Ujpest boss leaving behind player development to be judged by results on a weekly basis.

He added: “At Celtic there was different demands on me, there’s less pressure involved in coaching and I enjoyed 15 years coaching players.

“Winning was expected but as soon as you say you got beat people started to enquire, winning isn’t important till you get beat

“Ultimately working with the youth players you didn’t stress that it was about winning. At Celtic, in the development side it was about how you win.

“Every game was a test, about your preparation, has the training been good, has your fitness and preparation been good, how did you do against your opponent. That’s your test and you have to get through them to make it into the first team.

“At youth level the skills should be there, then the players have to develop their mental strength, that’s when the test comes and pressure from the coach.

“Players have to react to their tests. They have to react to going a goal or two down. At Celtic you must believe in yourself and your team-mates, as a coach you have to try and do that.

“I‘m one of the world’s worst for self analysis. I’d look at a youth game and blame myself for the defeat. Nobody needed to tell me the faults and mistakes.

“After a defeat I would analyse everything that I did during the week, our preparation, what I said, how I said it and try to learn from that.

“Looking back on that it’s been a fantastic learning curve for me, to watch managers from Tommy Burns through to Gordon Strachan has been very educational.

“There were things to learn from every manager and now I’m trying to put my stamp onto Ujpest and bring the club success and silverware.”

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  • Joe McHugh says:

    Cheers Bhoys.

    Willie is great to talk with, has plenty to say of interest without being a cliche ridden rent-a-gob.

    You won't be surprised to see me watching Ujpest with interest, they are hoping to arrange some friendlies in Scotland before their season resumes, as soon as I hear of any dates you know where tio find the details

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