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Neil Watt Interview

After commencing in his new role from August 1st, director of football Neil Watt has had a busy week.

Official website editors Graham Forrest and Gordon Thomson caught up with him for an extended interview following the appointment…

GF & GT: Welcome to the club. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how the move came about?
NW: I have a sort of duel existence in business and in football and I think that is the main reason for this appointment. I think every club is looking out for someone that can bridge the gap between the board room and the playing side of things; boards across the country will readily admit that they have a lack of knowledge of football matters. There are not a lot of people that have been able to have a career in playing and in management but, at the same time, have a business side. I suppose I have moved on a bit from management and coaching into this area and I have had one or two expressions of interest in this type of role. I think Clyde identified the gap and it’s led to my appointment.

Did that combination of skills always give you the ambition to take on a role like this?
Yes. Rather than starting at the bottom and working my way up, I went “back to front” in football. I had a couple of years at Celtic after school but realised that I was not going to be good enough for that level. I decided at that time that I didn’t want to pursue a full-time career in football, which was a bit strange as every kid did at that age. I thought that there was more to life though and I wanted to get a job or learn a trade. Doing that throughout my career and the fact that I’ve always been interested in people involved with football clubs has meant that I’ve kept in touch with a lot of them. That’s probably helped keep my name around and I’ve always had an opinion on football matters and how football clubs should be run, so that all leads to something like this.

Has your previous experience of managing clubs like Stranraer and Ayr shaped your idea of what a director of football should be at a club like Clyde?
I would say so. Stranraer was a great club with lovely people, who were more than happy to let me do more than just manage the football side of things. Being Glasgow-based and close to Hampden, they were more than happy for me to act as club official at things like cup draws, transfer and disciplinary tribunals etc. Things that would normally be for a director. I suppose I pushed for that and enjoyed it. I started taking an interest in what was going on at SFA and SFL level and started to mix with people in those circles. I think it would be very hard for a director of football to come into a club in that role if they haven’t, at the very least, been a player at a reasonable level. Having been a manager, especially at this level, will definitely help.

After your appointment was announced, you told the website you wanted to bring clarity to the role of director of football. Can you explain?
I didn’t feel there was any point in trying to explain how I saw my role until I had been around the club for a bit. At this stage I am still going through a process of observing and investigating but nevertheless I have a good idea as to how I want to operate. A director of football should bring continuity to the football club so that information, knowledge and structures remain in place for the long term and help ensure sustained and acceptable levels of performance throughout the football activities of the club. If the job is done right, there is a huge workload on a football manager nowadays and the director of football should be there to lighten the load where possible to allow the manager to concentrate all his efforts on the team. Ideally, a director of football and coach working together with mutual respect and trust is the way forward for any football club. The director should be involved in making whatever crucial decisions are necessary, not interfering unnecessarily, and going about his business quietly so that everything around him runs smoothly. I don’t think there is any one best solution to the role of director of football but I feel that what is best for each club is one that suits the individuals involved. These, I believe, are the general principals of a role of director of football, or sporting director as they seem to call it in Europe, and the specifics of it will be covered later in this interview.

Did you keep in touch with the game during your time out in the last couple of years?
Yes. When you are operating for one club it is very difficult to go and see other games. The only opportunity you have is if you are knocked out of the two cups early on. So I’ve enjoyed spending the time just picking a game and watching it, whether it be senior, junior or even Premiership if hospitality was on offer! The friendships and relationships I have built up over the years mean that I usually have someone to talk to if I turn up at a ground.

Like everyone else, you’ll be doing this around your business and personal life, are you comfortable that you have the time to fulfil the role?
There’s no question that you could make this a full-time job but you’ve got to be sensible and balance it. I won’t in any way cheat the club though and I will do it right. My work situation is very flexible and I have good people around me who can cover for me. I’m fortunate to be able to offer that level of commitment. Luckily my family have been away this week as I have been out every night finding out more and more! But my kids are older now and you get to a stage when you have a bit more time to yourself. I don’t have any concerns about having enough time to do this.

Is this a long-term commitment for you?
I haven’t taken this job on lightly. I have had discussions with Clyde before in recent years and when John Taylor contacted me about this role it appealed to me. I then made a point of having separate discussions with two or three board members to find out more about the individuals involved. I was impressed with the mix of people on the board and I have come into this for the long-term. It works for me. I live nearby in Milngavie, Clyde has a good name in Scottish football, it has a bit of status and it just seems like a good match for me and the club. As a person I commit to things and I see them through, although managerial jobs are sometimes the exception and can work out differently.

So no plans to return to management in the near future?
Absolutely not. I have learned never to say never but I think this job, if I am going to do it right, needs my full attention. My intention is to make a difference over a long period of time.

What will your involvement with the first team be?
I think a director of football job is very much down to the individual to work out for himself where he can use his attributes and look at the manager and other staff and identify their strengths and weaknesses. At smaller clubs the manager is expected to do everything from scouting players to negotiating contracts and it’s extremely difficult. I’ve had firsthand experience of that. If there are specific areas within the first team environment where I feel I can contribute then I will. I don’t look on the first team as any different to any other aspect of the club. When I came in, I said that what I want to do is observe and look at the whole club. It’s maybe not my job to look at everything, but I am on the board and I feel that I have an obligation to look at the whole club and have an opinion on it. A fresh pair of eyes looking at things will be beneficial.

So your roles and responsibilities will become clearer in time?
There are four areas that I see. One is being on the board and contributing to the running of the business. The second, which I have asked of the board because I have an interest and expertise in it, is representing the club at the SFA and SFL. The third is overseeing the whole youth structure of the club. It will take a number of months to form a view on that and then start tinkering with things if need be. The fourth area is in relation to the first team. Of course, that’s the one area supporters are interested in… the 90 minutes on a Saturday is what the club is really about. In relation to that, at the moment I am just observing how the whole first team environment operates. I will assist that in the fullness of time. At the moment we have a manager who has been here for 18 months and recently has signed a two-year contract. A manager must be left to get on with the running of the first team. I don’t think it is appropriate for a director of football to interfere with the running of the team. In my time at the club I will offer my help and support to any manager where I think I can and where there are any areas that he or I think I can provide assistance. 

In terms of the manager’s contract, after a period of regular managerial changes, the chairman expressed his desire for stability…
I think the principal of that is perfectly correct, absolutely, and that applies for all aspects of the football club. Some of the statistics surrounding football managers now is frightening. 51% of managers who enter English football for the first time, never return after they are sacked. If you look at the average length of service nowadays, it is far too short – before long the game will run out of people willing to take the job on.

There can be a lot of confusion at clubs about the role of the chairman. Have football matters been fully devolved to yourself?
Yes. One of the things I was very clear about when discussing the appointment was that, to do the job properly, the director of football should have complete control over football activities. I won’t make every decision without advice or second opinions but a lot doesn’t need to go back to the board. The chairman has confirmed that responsibility to me.

Do you have a vision of how a club of Clyde’s size should operate at youth level?
I do and it’s pretty simple. First and foremost, it should be based on the community. Then the whole ethos of it should be that you are trying to produce players for the first team. It’s not any more complicated than that. You get coaches in who coach players in a way that the club want them to be coached. What I don’t want to see is different coaches employing completely different systems. It’s important to have principled and similar methods, particularly at the younger age groups. I think that’s quite easy to achieve.

You’ve only been in the role for a few days, but has anything in particular surprised you?
I’ve been back working in the football league for a few years and if you are doing your work properly you speak to people and keep yourself informed with what’s going on around the game. I wouldn’t really say there have been any surprises but I think a big thing is that the club are trying to get to grips with the switch from full-time to part-time… and I think the supporters have to accept the stark reality of the finances at Clyde and the crippling debt we have to work with. Realism is a must if the future is to be bright.

You’ve already had to accept Dougie Bell’s resignation…
I only started on Saturday and unfortunately had to accept Dougie’s resignation on Monday. It was a difficult decision for him but he had thought it over carefully. He has clearly given great service to Clyde and we wish him well.