Former Celtic reserve boss Willie McStay couldn’t have asked for a tougher start to his new job as manager of Ujpest Dozsa than a Europa League qualifier against Steaua Bucharest.
After less than a month in the job McStay, and his assistant Joe McBride, travel to the Romanian capital hoping to cause a shock that would certainly be noticed around Europe.
Hungarian football has plummeted over the last twenty years whilst pockets of Eastern Europe have flourished with local entrepreneurs pouring their new found wealth into football clubs and attracting players from around the world, particularly from South America.
Steaua have a great European pedigree and last season they played in the group stage of the Champions League against Bayern Munich, Fiorentina and Lyon but despite the difficulties of the tie McStay is looking forward to the challenge of leading his new side into action for the first time.
“Before the draw was made our president said that he wanted to avoid Steaua and Galatasaray but unfortunately we got paired with Steaua,” he admitted.
“It’ll be a very tough challenge for the club, for myself and the players, but we’ve prepared well. I’ve been to watch Steaua against CSKA Sofia and everyone is ready for the match.
“I’ve picked up as much information as possible about them, they have excellent players with good European experience.
“It’s going to be a very hard game for us, totally different to games in the Hungarian league but these ties will quickly given me an idea of the squad and where we need to strengthen.
“There’s not much money available for transfers but my job is to work with the players that we have and put my stamp on their game.
“That will be an attacking passing game but we’re not going to get the chance to do that against Steaua. We’ll have to try and keep it tight and hope to take any chances that we create.”
After over a decade in charge of Celtic’s youth development programme and almost three years managing the Celtic reserve side McStay is enjoying the new challenge of working at the cutting edge of the game in an entirely new environment.
Without quite developing a Schteve McLaren-esque accshent he speaks at a slower pace delivering his words carefully after a few weeks of dealing with a curious local press intrigued by the new man in charge.
Dealing with the media is an essential part of modern management although it can’t be easy handling camera crews from Romanian television channels probing for an insight into his thoughts on how Ujpest will fare against Steaua.
“The language is fine,” he admitted. “All of the players speak or understand English, I’ve got a good interpreter but my delivery has to be different.
“I have to speak slower and doing that you can lose some meaning. I went off into a two minute rant the other week and although I don’t think that the players really understood me the message got across.
“We’ve now got an interpreter that understands football-speak. The language on the training pitch or in the dressing room is different to ordinary language. He knows the phrases and the meanings, small things like that can make a big difference.
“I have to get my views over and feel the reaction of players, that part is difficult but I’m learning their language and the players are getting used to the way that I operate.
“It’s strange but challenging to come to a new country and have to pick things up fast in football terms.
“I’m learning about Ujpest, the other teams in the city and elsewhere in Hungry, finding out how they play, the type of players that we have and how best to use them.
“It’s a huge learning curve but I’m really enjoying it. Everything is new and challenging and I can honestly say that 24 hours isn’t enough hours in the day for me.
“It’ll make me a better coach, I’m learning about a new football culture and having to adapt using the experience that I’ve picked up over the last 15 years.
“Having Joe McBride with me has been invaluable, we know how each other operates and it helps you settle in when there’s someone that you’ve worked with before at the club.
“We’ve got a similar vision for how to play the game and so far everything has gone as well as we could have wished for.”
Scottish managers have scattered themselves around the globe in recent years with Iain Porterfield, Bobby Williamson and Jimmy Bone finding themselves in unusual outposts.
Jobs in Europe have been a rarity with England normally the extent of any coach or managers ambitions.
Taking the leap into the relative unknown of Hungarian football is both a huge challenge but also a risk for McStay who probably had one of the safest jobs in Scottish football with 15 years service at Celtic.
Giving Steaua Bucharest a fright in his first competitive game would certainly launch his managerial career which without doubt will be closely followed by the movers and shakers at his former club.
Joe McHugh writes on Video Celts.