Robbo’s a remainer – and that’s great for Caley Jags

THE PAUL CHALK COLUMN

 ON a momentous week when Brexit cost Britain its Prime Minister, there was a chief in the Highlands stating his intention of going nowhere. Caley Thistle manager John Robertson – just one day after their punishing play-off defeat to Dundee United – was reportedly approached by Dundee in an underhand move to try and make him their boss.

Robbo, rightly, contacted ICT’s chief executive officer Scott Gardiner to confirm this ‘direct approach’ from the Taysiders, whose relegation from the Premiership could make them one of the Inverness club’s main rivals for the Championship crown next term.

The very next day, unmoved by Robertson’s knock-back, Dundee made their request to speak to him official using the correct procedure this time but were told in no uncertain terms to go away, denying them any opportunity to have any further contact with the former Hearts and Scotland striker.

When news broke of the Dundee link last week a few folk I know felt that, with money at their disposal, the Dark Blues were strong candidates, a tempting option for Robbo.

Dundee plunged out of the top-flight in spectacular fashion under Jim McIntyre, who paid the price at the end of the season.

They were nowhere near good enough to stay up and major rebuilding work will be required to give them a realistic chance of being up there challenging for the title, although their fans will demand that.

That kind of task is not really where Robertson’s career is at. Now in his second spell in charge of a club he clearly loves, the 54-year-old has the look of a man determined to lead Inverness back to Scotland’s top table as champions. The sore 4-0 defeat to Dundee United this month will only serve to stoke the fire within him.

There’s not a lot of cash to splash at the Caledonian Stadium, we all know that, although a third-placed finish, along with a Scottish Cup semi-final, will have boosted the coffers.

It’s these extra attributes that will have interested Dundee and, most likely other clubs. I think that even Robbo’s beloved Hearts would not be nailed on to lure him back to the Tynecastle hot-seat should Craig Levein’s time soon be up.

That may seem crazy and perhaps I’m off the mark but I’ve covered Caley Thistle throughout Robertson’s two periods managing the club and I sense that his current role remains very much work in progress.

Another pointer for me that a departure to Dundee was not on the cards was the signings of midfielder David Carson and, more tellingly, striker James Keatings the week before.

Keatings, who Robbo knew from his time at Hearts, had spoken about their respect for one another and the knowledge of how to be lethal in the box that he could glean from the Jambos legend was a lure. An injury-free Keatings can see Inverness being a satisfying base under the guidance of Robertson.

I genuinely don’t think Robbo would have spelled out his plans for the club, which had not yet been beaten in the play-offs, had he an ounce of desire to not be here at least until his summer 2021 contract expires.

Football is a funny old game though, as Jimmy Greaves forever told us and money can tell, not just talk in this modern age.

But Robertson is old school and has always struck me as straight down the middle. He has a good working relationship with chairman Graham Rae and there’s been nothing in anything the boss has said in recent times to suggest there is anything to alarm ICT fans about their manager leaving.

As expected, defender-turned-midfielder Joe Chalmers left the club last week to join new Premiership side Ross County over the Kessock Bridge and his deliveries into the box will be welcome to the likes of finishers like Billy McKay, Josh Mullin or Brian Graham.

But adding to the two new Inverness recruits I’ve mentioned, defender Kevin McHattie, keepers Daniel Hoban and Martin MacKinnon all agreed contracts totalling five further years as Robbo shapes for the future.

If Robertson does take on a new job, I’ll be back on Inverness News and Views to eat humble pie. But, as things stand, I think it’ll stay in the fridge for a while.

Clarke can bring back the Hampden roar

I’VE said Robbo is the right fit for Caley Thistle.

So too is Steve Clarke the ideal man for Scotland. I’ve not heard one dissenting voice since he was confirmed as Alex McLeish’s successor last week.

While Brendan Rodgers and Neil Lennon deserve credit for together delivering Celtic’s third successive domestic treble by winning the Scottish Cup on Saturday, the stunning transformation of the town and club of Kilmarnock under Clarke has to be right up there in terms of recent success stories.

In only 19 months, the former West Brom manager and assistant boss at Liverpool and Chelsea got back to basic and drove Killie from second bottom of the Premiership to Europa League entrants thanks to an amazing and deserved third-placed finish.

Clarke could have had the pick of many top jobs south of the border this summer. The fact he wanted the Scotland job is great news for the Tartan Army.

After a calamitous 3-0 crash in Kazakhstan and a meek 2-0 away to San Marino, Scotland need wins, big results against all opponents in their Euro2020 qualifiers, including against Belgium and Russia.

The Clarke era starts on Saturday, June 8 when Cyprus visit Hampden, a few days before their testing trip to Belgium. The new manager has already said four points are the minimum needed to keep their hope alive.

McLeish at least took Scotland into a play-off, set for March, by winning their Nations League section against Israel and Albania. 

Clarke, to his credit, wants to reach the finals, some of which ties will be at Hampden next summer, the usual way. 

Next month Scotland’s women are in World Cup finals action in France and Clarke wants to follow their lead by making us winners again. Let’s hope a packed National Stadium for the Cypriots’ visit is the first of many special occasions under Clarke.

He believes. So must we.

• Paul Chalk’s Alive and Kicking show is on North Highland Radio every Friday from 7pm. To have your say on local or national sport, or request a track, email studio@northhighlandradio.co.uk.

• Listen via the station’s website, Tune In app or your smart speakers.

 

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