MALKY Mackay yesterday emerged from 11 long months in the managerial wilderness admitting he didn’t need much persuading to relaunch his career with Wigan Athletic.
After all, the Scot and the Latics go back a long way.
Not just to a certain afternoon 18 months ago, when Mackay and his young son were Latics fans for the day at Wembley as Ben Watson wrote his name into FA Cup folklore.
There’s also the not-quite-as-famous Tuesday night over 16 years ago at the rather less salubrious location of Springfield Park, when Mackay took his first tentative step in English football after joining Norwich from Scottish giants Celtic.
“That was my first week in England, playing for Norwich City, we came up and played a League Cup game at Wigan,” Mackay told the Evening Post, shortly before being unveiled to the national media.
“That was at the old ground at Springfield Park, I remember it well, and I also played at the new stadium, as well as managing sides here over the years.
“I obviously know the club pretty well, and I’ve watched the rise through the divisions over the years culminating in the FA Cup win.
“My boy, Callum, loves his football, and I took him to his first-ever FA Cup final last year.
“That was obviously a terrific occasion, and what an achievement for everyone connected to Wigan Athletic to have upset the odds like that.
“For me as an individual, it was an unforgettable day – and one my son will definitely never forget.
“With the greatest respect to Manchester City, I think the rest of the country were Wigan Athletic supporters that day.
“We certainly were and, on the day, Wigan played so well and thoroughly deserved the win. I was lucky enough to have been at Wembley a few months earlier with Cardiff, when we came so close to pulling off the win against Liverpool in the League Cup final.
“I can only imagine what the Wigan players were feeling on the pitch, and the people of the town.
“It’s very ironic that I’m now standing here as the manager of Wigan a year later.”
It’s an appointment that can certainly be placed in the ‘controversial’ category, given the acrimonious nature of Mackay’s departure from Cardiff last year and the subsequent claims he sent texts of a homophobic, racist and sexist nature during his tenure. The FA are currently investigating Mackay’s conduct during that time, but the 42-year-old is hoping his arrival at Wigan will help to draw a line under the past.
“I made a mistake,” acknowledged the Scot. “I now know that public or private it doesn’t matter.
“I shouldn’t have done it, I made a mistake and I’m moving forward. I’m taking steps to learn from it.
“I’ve got full respect for the FA and what they decide to do going forward. Whatever they decide to do they’re going to do and I respect that.
“And when it comes to the time when we talk then we do that, and I’m a big man who stands up and takes what comes from that.
“I made mistakes, but I’m absolutely not racist.
“I have taken on an educational programme in terms of diversity, and that will be ongoing.
“I will continue to learn and educate myself going forward. In terms of people in football, I’ve had a lot of support.
“I have spoken to a lot of people – stakeholders in the game – with education, diversity and equality programmes that are ongoing, something that will be ongoing with me for the rest of my life in terms of becoming a more rounded person and better manager.”
Dave Whelan is clearly prepared to give Mackay a second chance, and the new man admits he owes the chairman a debt of gratitude for believing in him.
“I’ve not known him long, but I’ve seen him from afar and when I listened to him on television it’s pretty plain speaking and it makes common sense,” said Mackay.
“He impressed me on Sunday night when I spoke to him about the passion and vision for the football club and what he wants. That’s something I’ve really embraced.
“I know the chairman is someone who has put his life into this football club and speaks so passionately about it. It’s absolutely somebody who I want to work with.
“I want to work hard here, and my whole focus here will be in making sure I do the very best for this football club with every ounce of me being to make sure the club is successful.
“I’ve been out for 11 months, and it’s good to be back at a football club – and good to be back at a football club with a rich history and a chairman who is so passionate about his club and has got a plan moving forward.
“There is a new training ground, which will be a legacy. There are firm roots in the community, something that follows me from my last three or four clubs in terms of the close links.
“I’ve got nothing but pride in sitting here today as the manager of Wigan Athletic, and doing everything I can to make sure everyone at the football club feels inclusiveness and part of it.”
Mackay confirmed he will be keeping the same backroom staff as worked under Uwe Rosler, with Graham Barrow, Eric Black and Mike Pollitt ensuring some degree of continuity is maintained.
The new boss also confirmed every player in the squad will be starting with a clean slate.
“It is a fairly big squad of players, but I’ll go in and assess that when I get in front of them,” he revealed.
“Obviously I’ve seen them from afar and there’s a lot of experience in that dressing room.
“There’s also quality and some young talent coming through that is still to flourish and still to find their best football.
“It’s a squad of players that at the moment you wouldn’t relate with being in the bottom three, so that’s the first thing, that we start to climb the table.
“Eventually we want to bring together a squad of players that can get promotion, because that’s the be all and end all for the football club – to get back to Premier League.
“For that to happen, players, staff, owners, chairman and the fans need to be going in one direction. You don’t just click your fingers and that happens. That takes special times, a lot of hard work, egos being put to one side, and people just deciding to do things for the greater of the club rather than themselves.
“That’s happened here in the past. I remember playing against Paul Jewell’s team when they got promoted, and they had eight years in Premier League under Roberto Martinez.
“That’s something I set out to achieve, and I want to make sure with everything in my power that we make an atmosphere that we enjoy and is helpful and healthy for the club.”