Jim McLean’s feats with Dundee United should rank alongside Jock Stein’s European Cup-winning accomplishments, according to his former Tannadice skipper Maurice Malpas.
Stein is remembered as the godfather of Scottish football management after leading the Hoops to glory in Lisbon in 1967 – but Malpas insists the run by McLean’s unfancied Tangerines side to the last four in 1984 is every bit as impressive.
Only a contentious defeat to Roma denied United a shot at Liverpool in the final and a chance to write their name into football infamy.
But Malpas believes his old boss – who has died aged 83 – has already sealed his legacy as a boss who deserved to be remembered in the same vein as his friend Stein.
He told the PA news agency: “Jock Stein in my eyes was ‘the’ manager and when Jock Stein became manager of Scotland, who did he turn to to become his assistant? Wee Jim.
“That speaks volumes for him as a football person and his standing in the game.
“What he achieved will never be done again. He took a bang-average team at the bottom of the league, flirting with relegation, and took them to a league title and then to the semi-final of the European Cup and the final of the UEFA Cup. That’s phenomenal.
“What he did in Europe was scary. No provincial club will ever repeat that again..
“The reputation we built, how we played against some of the continent’s best sides…no one will ever get near that again.
“Jock Stein won the European Cup with Celtic but for wee Jim to take Dundee United – who he referred to as a corner shop – to the semi-final I think puts him up there in the same bracket.
“He should be remembered as one of the greatest managers Scotland has ever produced.”
McLean took over at Tannadice in 1971 and while success was not instantaneous, the foundations for success he laid eventually paid off in fairy-tale fashion.
The Terrors claimed their one and only Scottish championship crown in 1983 as they announced themselves as a domestic force capable of toppling the Old Firm.
And they punched above their weight on the continent too. As well as their 1984 feats, McLean’s team fought their way to the final of the UEFA Cup three years later, beating Barcelona home and away along the way, before falling to IFK Gothenburg over two legs.
“He was never one to shout from the rooftops,” added Malpas. “But actually, he was miles ahead of his time. In the mid-80s, we had sports scientists, we had dietitians. We were ridiculed because we had sports psychologists – but those kind of things are bog-standard now.
“That was down to wee Jim and his desire to get every ounce from us. He really was a forward-thinker.
“He was the first person I knew to have a satellite dish. It was the size of his back garden but it allowed him to watch games from South America. He really was a football freak in that sense.
“His man management was the thing that everybody criticised him for but that’s how he was.
“He could spot a player, he got a bunch of them together and by hook or by crook he kept them together.
“We had a team that stayed together for a right good few years. He was even different class with the wives. If they were having a night out, wee Jim would always seem to find out where they were going and make sure the bill was paid. His thinking was that if the wives were happy, the boys would be happy.
“He might not have been a couthy shoulder-smacker but (he) had more ways of getting the best out of you than some would realise.
“It was his demands that drove us a team.”
McLean’s ferocious temper ensured he would never have the cosy relationship some managers enjoy with their players and his relationship with Malpas – his captain through the latter stages of his 22-year spell as manager – even soured after he stepped down to be replaced by Ivan Golac in 1994.
Asked if he was still hurt by that fall-out, Malpas said: “No it was something that happened at the time and that’s what life is all about. Things happen.
“You knew where you stood with Jim. If you did something wrong, you got told. It was simple as that. There weren’t any airs and graces to it.
“If you did something right, people will say he didn’t praise you enough but that’s just how he was.
“Obviously today’s news is sad. Everybody knows he spent the last few years in a home and was having a difficult time but it’s sad, sad news to learn of his passing today.
“He played a big, big part in my career. I played all my days at Dundee United because I enjoyed it there, I enjoyed the style of football, how we played, how we trained.
“I’ve got a lot to thank Jim for.”