Why MK Dons are the right club for Robbie Neilson

At the time of writing Robbie Neilson is preparing to take his final game as Hearts Head Coach having been down in Milton Keynes to meet Dons chairman Pete Winkleman to discuss their managerial vacancy. He would be naive not to take this opportunity that has presented itself at the most opportune time for the former Scotland international.

The League One outfit is the perfect team for Neilson to build his managerial portfolio down south. This is because the eccentricity property developer does not interfere with team affairs and gives the coaching staff every feasible opportunity to succeed in the job.

It is also the ideal stepping stone to a bigger club for the ambition former defender. It has been the case for previous four incumbents of the post. Martin Allen (Leicester City), Paul Ince (Blackburn Rovers), Roberto di Matteo (West Bromwich Albion) and Karl Robinson (Charlton Athletic).

Everything is in place in Buckinghamshire to rebuild the Dons into a force challenging for the League One playoffs and yo-yoing them back into the Championship.

The youth academy is well run and churning out talented footballers to such an extent that On 9 August 2016 in the EFL Cup versus Newport County, Karl Robinson selected a first-team squad composed of thirteen academy graduates and players, giving eight of those players their full debuts for the club. They won 3-2 at Rodney Parade.

Sam Baldock was the first notable academy graduate and moved to West Ham United for £2.3m. Daniel Powell and Sam’s brother George, both graduated and still play for the first-team.

George Williams went on to play for Fulham and be capped for Wales, Brendan Galloway was signed by Everton while Sheyi Ojo signed for the red side of Mersey and Scotland international Liam Kelly won the League Cup with Kilmarnock.

However, their most high profile example is Dele Alli, who was sold to Tottenham Hotspur for a fee of £5 million. He became Milton Keynes first academy product to play for England.

Stadium mk has the 25th biggest capacity of any club football stadium in England at 30,5000 (that is just 2,000 less seats than Leicester City’s King Power Stadium) and it has the option of being expanded to 45,000, which would make it the ninth biggest.

The ambition in the size of the stadium has also been shown in the size of the proposed training centre for the team and the academy in Cosgrove 15 minutes away from the Stadium mk.

One way or another Neilson’s time is probably winding down at Tynecastle whether it be now or at the end of the season. After a fantastic first season in charge in which he took the Championship by storm, he backed that up with a third place finishing the Premiership and european qualification.

Yet, there was some disgruntlement (unfairly so) as many believed that Craig Levein, the Director of Football was pulling the strings from high above (nonsense). However, Europa League qualification was a disaster, as they were dispatched by what should have been inferior opposition in Maltese outfit Birkirkara.

In the league there has not been an improvement, but actually a slight step back. At this stage last season they were second, just now they are fourth:


In the six exact fixtures from the last campaign to this one, only two have yielded an improved result. That is a 2-2 draw at the Superseal Stadium from the 3-2 defeat against Hamilton, and a three each tie at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium compared to the 2-0 loss.

Considering that he has been in the job for five transfer windows, this is very much his squad, but he is still to settle on an elven that he feels can get results week in and week out. Jamie Walker for example has played as a 3,7,10 and 11 while Arnold Djoum has been a 7,8 and 10. The signing of Conor Sammon always smelt off, and Tony Watt has failed to deliver what he has in Belgium and England in stints. This has only added the ever growing grumbles within Tynecastle.

Finishing second would be an achievement, giving that you would be knocking Aberdeen of their runners-up perch that they have held for the last three seasons, and you would be putting Rangers in their place as a result. However, that would not necessarily wow potential suitors down south. Although, if he was to win the Scottish Cup and deny Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic the treble that would be noteworthy.Alas, that is all ifs and buts, and as good an opportunity as this may not appear in six months time, his reputation may have actually weakened.

Ann Budge seems to be happy enough for Neilson to move on and with loud murmurs that Ian Cathro may be replacing him, it may be a bold footballing move as much as a political one to get some of her detractors back on side. While for Neilson he can leave with his reputation intact and jump at the chance to build something special down in England.

You can follow @MichaelWood_SJ on Twitter.


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