‘James McPake – Dundee manager’ has always been a project.
From much-loved player, whose Dark Blues career was cut short by injury, to respected coach, caretaker and, finally, the big boss job.
He has been nurtured down that path and backed the whole way by Dundee owner Tim Keyes and, in particular, managing director John Nelms.
My fear now is it’s a project which is failing – and failing fast.
That’s not to lay the blame completely at McPake’s door – far from it, in fact.
The 36-year-old is still, in essence, a rookie boss and has, in my opinion, done a reasonable job in steadying the ship at Dens Park.
He’s signed well, always talks the club and the fans up and, to his credit, before the coronavirus pandemic cut last season short, even looked like he was going to get the Dee going.
However, the second season gaffer’s record tells a different story, with their start to this campaign particularly galling.
At times, the players have let him down and Dundee’s injury problems and issues with Covid-19 have been well-documented but the form, regardless, is alarming.
Just one win in the league after five matches is not good enough and certainly not the kind of sequence they can afford to string together regularly this term if they are to have ambitions of returning to the Premiership.
He will get time from the Dee’s American chiefs but my concern is it’s only a stay of execution and, in that period, we will see the club’s aspirations be damaged further.
He may, of course, turn things around and I’m not necessarily saying Keyes and Nelms need to bite the bullet and sack McPake now – but they can’t linger too long.
Unlike city neighbours United, particularly with Covid about, Dundee can’t afford to spend too much time languishing in the Championship.
From a financial sense and, obviously, a sporting viewpoint, if they can’t achieve promotion within the next couple of years it could be ruinous for the club.
A lengthy spell in the wilderness could leave the Dark Blues falling off the Scottish football map and, as for McPake, his reputation doing the same.
He won’t want, nor does he deserve, the esteem he is held in the game to take a nosedive.
‘It’s an unfortunate situation…Arbroath at home could be seismic’
His pride will be urging him to carry on to try to turn things around but it may be difficult to win over a support which seems to, slowly, be turning on a man who so understands them.
It is an unfortunate situation, one nobody was hoping for nor expecting, but one the Dee need to consider and act on quickly – something they have been guilty of not doing in the past.
Today’s trip to Easter Road to face Hibs in the Betfred Cup should provide some form of solace for McPake as he looks to restore some pride with no real expectation of getting a result.
After that, Arbroath at home could be seismic.
This week’s papers told the tales of two Dundee United youngsters experiencing very different fortunes right now.
It’s part and parcel of the game that players, particularly youth stars, will experience highs and lows throughout their careers.
Indeed, it’s a precarious situation and one which has every chance of seeing Neilson and Appere swap places.
Thanks to the structure at Tannadice, however, whatever happens, you get the sense both will be led down the right path.
Andy Goldie and his academy structure, particularly Brian Grant and Dave Bowman, appear to be doing all they can to ensure a safe passage into top-team football for their kids.
Whether that’s at United, on loan or elsewhere, there’s a real feeling of responsibility
and care attached to the Tangerines’ set up right now and it’s bearing fruit.
For his first professional interview of any sort, Neilson was a highly-impressive character and is shining on the pitch, while we all know what big Louis can do after his exploits in the Championship last term.
For my money, I’d bet they both still have a major part to play in what is, hopefully a successful season at United.
The God-like exploits of Argentine great Diego Maradona, who sadly died this week, were alien to me.
That was until last year when, accompanied by Tele colleague George Cran, we bore witness to former chief football writer Tom Duthie introducing the ‘Dundee premiere’ of the Asif Kapadia movie about his life at the DCA.
For a 25-year-old, at the time, who’d never seen Maradona magic in the flesh, or even on TV, it was a gripping experience.
He was a God in his homeland and King of Naples – often for his off-field antics, too.
Diminutive but a true giant of the game.