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Scott McDonald makes a striking impression Down Under

Scott McDonald has watched fellow Aussie Ange Postecoglou take the English Premier League by storm – and dreams of one day doing the same.

Not just yet though.

For now, the former Socceroos star’s sights are firmly focussed on achieving more glory with Gold Coast Knights after a sparkling start to his career as a Head Coach.

Football Careers client Scott is currently gearing up for the new National Premier League campaign after two seasons of unprecedented success during which he has led Knights to two Championship triumphs and a clean sweep of Queensland trophies in a treble-winning 2022/23 campaign.

His impressive trophy haul – including the NPL Coach of the Year award – has attracted admiring glances from A-League clubs Down Under, but the 40-year-old former Celtic, Motherwell and Middlesbrough striker is in no rush to spread his wings.

He said: “It’s been a really good year for the club, but I still feel that this is just the start of a project here and I believe there’s a lot more we can achieve. I’m lucky to have a great relationship with the owner and I want to play a part in the future development of the club.

“Because of the franchise system in Australia, we can’t get promoted into the A League so we’re already at the highest tier we can possibly reach. That might change in the future. There’s talk about remodelling the league structure and trying to bridge that gap. But for now, the challenge for me is to go again and continue to build on the progress we’ve made in my first two years.

“It’ll be tougher because we’ve lost a few of our top players. A couple of them have moved into the full professional ranks with A League clubs and others have joined bigger clubs with bigger budgets than ours. But I look on that as a real positive – it shows that we are committed to developing players and helping them progress in the game. I want my players to be ambitious and I’d never hold them back.


That is the model for Gold Coast Knights, creating a winning culture and environment, building a strong Academy, giving young players a chance to break into the 1st team and developing a club that the community can be proud of. So far it’s gone really well. We’ve got about 500 to 600 youngsters in the Academy, there’s a real family feel about the club and there’s a strong local pool of talent. The foundations are in place for the future and if I do eventually move on, I want to be sure that I’m leaving with the club in a really good place.

“But I’m not in any hurry to go. As a player, I never set any long-term targets about where I wanted to get to, and I’m the same as a coach. I don’t look too far ahead and that keeps me grounded. I’ve always believed that what you are doing in the here and now will determine what happens in the future. The good work you are doing right now gets you where you want to go.

“I also think I’m still learning my trade as a coach. I’ve experimented with different formations and I’ve enjoyed the challenge of coming up with different shapes and tactics to out-manoeuvre the opposition. I’m not the type who has a Plan A and if it doesn’t work, do Plan A better. I think it’s important to be adaptable and flexible. Football is evolving all the time and you have to keep coming up with new ways to gain an advantage in games.”

McDonald has certainly achieved that in a hugely impressive start to his career in the dugout, but the ruthless and determined streak that took him from a trial stint at Motherwell to domestic and European successes with Celtic and international honours with Australia will always be part of his make-up.

“Of course I’m ambitious to get to the highest level I can,” he says. “If you don’t have those ambitions, what’s the point in doing the job? It’s not in my nature to be content with my lot, I’ll always be hungry for more.

“I’m in a semi-professional league at the moment and, when the time is right, I want to step up to the next level. I look at the likes of Ange Postecoglou and think, could that be me further down the line? I think every coach has those ambitions.

“It’s been really good to see how well Ange has done at both Celtic and Spurs. He’s had to win a lot of people over because he was an unknown quantity in the UK. He didn’t have a playing career in Europe and his coaching roles had all been in Australia and Japan.

“But people in Australia knew just how good he was. He was actually my gaffer with the National Youth Team back in the early 2000s and we went to a couple of World Youth Cups. He then moved on to Brisbane Roar and built probably the best team there’s ever been in Australia. His career continued to go from strength to strength and in Japan he really developed the style of play he’s now become famous for.

“But it took him a long time to get to a top job in Europe. I think he was 54 when he went to Celtic so he’d already had more than 20 years of experience and had been in enough changing rooms to know how to deal with players and get the best out of them.”

McDonald, who bagged more than 200 goals in over 600 games during a 20-year career that incorporated spells with Southampton, Motherwell (twice), Celtic, Middlesbrough, Millwall, Dundee United, Partick Thistle and Brisbane Roar, also played under a host of other big-name managers, and rates former Hoops boss Gordon Strachan as the best of them.

He said: “Gordon was the biggest influence on me. From him, I learned the importance of building an atmosphere of trust in a changing room. He was a great man-manger and taught me so much in terms of attitude and principles – the things you need to be successful. He also made us fitter, sharper and better and his training was excellent.

“Ian Holloway at Millwall was another massive influence. He’s a bit of a mad hatter but there’s some genius behind the madness. He’d spent some time in Spain and Portugal and you could see those influences in the style of play he was trying to get us playing at Millwall. He really made me think about the game in a different way and he is probably responsible for getting me hooked on coaching.

“I also played under Tony Mowbray at Celtic and Middlesbrough and we didn’t always see eye-to-eye on a man-management level. But having had time to reflect from my playing days, I do believe he is technically a very good coach and was probably ahead of his time. His sessions and his ideas on how to play were very good and definitely more suited to the modern game.”

However, perhaps the most important managerial figure in Scott’s career was former England captain Terry Butcher, who, as manager of Motherwell in 2004, was willing to take a chance on a homesick 21-year Aussie after he arrived on trial at Fir Park following his release from Southampton.

McDonald, who rewarded him with 45 goals in 125 games, recalled: “I was broken when I went up to Motherwell. I still had confidence in my ability but no one else seemed to. I’d had a few disappointments in England and I was on the verge of giving up and heading home to Australia.

“But Terry saw something in me, put his arm around me after I’d been on trial for a few days and said: ‘I want to sign you – you’re brilliant’. I needed someone to believe in me and that was Terry. It was a ‘sliding doors’ moment for me and I’ll forever be grateful to him. Without Terry and Motherwell, I wouldn’t have had the career I did.”

It was at Motherwell that McDonald created a slice of history that was to shadow him for years afterwards – scoring the final-day double on the now infamous ‘Helicopter Sunday’ that sank Celtic’s title hopes and handed the 2005 SPL Championship to arch-rivals Rangers.

Some Celtic supporters never forgave him, not even after a golden three-year spell in the Hoops which yielded 64 goals in 128 games.

Scott said: “I certainly don’t regret that day. I had been a Celtic fan all my life but my job was to score goals for Motherwell. Those goals catapulted me into the headlines and definitely helped my career.

“Maybe it meant I had to work harder to win over the Celtic fans when I moved there, but that didn’t bother me at all. I thrive when people doubt me – it just makes me all the more determined to prove them wrong.

“In any case, I had a wonderful time at Celtic and that’s where I had the most memorable moments of my career, winning trophies and playing against the likes of Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta and my toughest opponent, Gabriel Milito of Barcelona, on those fantastic European nights at Celtic Park.

“I also got to play alongside a whole host of great players. I’d probably single out Shunsuke Nakamura as the best I’ve played with at club level – in terms of the overall package, he had everything. But Aiden McGeady was also a fantastic talent. Training with him every day and seeing what he could do was unbelievable. On his day he was unplayable and I do believe under the right manager he could have played for a top 6 English club and been a huge success.”

“I had great times at Celtic and I still enjoy going back to the ground whenever I’m back in Glasgow. I did my Pro Licence through the SFA and caught up with a few familiar faces. I was also back for a family holiday recently and met up with Brendan Rodgers, who was kind enough to sit with me in his office and talk about football for an hour. That was a great experience.

“Now, though, it’s all about gearing up for the new season here on the Gold Coast and trying to repeat the success we’ve had over the last year. We’re the team everyone else will be gunning for this time so it’ll be a challenge. But I’m up for it, the staff are up for it, and I know the players will be too.”

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