After a thorough and structured search for a new MK Dons manager, chairman Pete Winkelman finally has his man in the form of 36-year-old Robbie Neilson.
Winkelman and his board spent just under six weeks whittling through the hundreds of applications, searching for the man to take the reins at Stadium MK and then, last Friday, it was Heart of Midlothian boss Neilson that was unveiled as the man take the Club forward, alongside his assistant Stevie Crawford.
The chairman couldn’t be happier.
“We aren’t just any old Football Club and I’m pleased we did it the way we did – the Milton Keynes way.” Winkelman told MK Dons PlayerHD. “It has been a roller coaster time and we have taken our time at a very difficult time in the season but we made sure we’ve got the right person for the job.
“We really thought about it and looked into everything but underneath there was always ‘is this going to be possible?’ We made it happen though and I’m hugely excited.”
So what was it about Neilson that tempted Winkelman to make him the Club’s seventh manager.
“He’s the most exciting young manager in the UK, by a country mile. With Stevie too, it’s very much a team there, working hard and against the odds. They are young and hungry but look at what they’ve already done –it was what they’d already done that put them on our radar.
“Winning the Championship in Scotland against Rangers and Hibernian, having just coming out of administration and when you’re a young team, is such a great achievement –they didn’t just win that league, though, they absolutely cantered it with a record points total and record goals scored.
“For me, what’s more impressive is the way they took it on. Hearts are a massive club but, still, to secure a third-place finish in his first season in the Premiership, having not been there before, is another great achievement.”
He added: “They have built up such a fantastic reputation in such a short space of team and that what I’m so proud of is that Milton Keynes and this Club has attracted people of their quality and calibre.
“It was the most difficult of all of our options but Hearts are a good club and they didn’t stand in Robbie’s way. They made it possible and they worked with us to make sure it was as smooth as it could be, given that this is happening in the middle of the season and with one of the biggest games in their season taking place that week.
“I also think that says an awful lot about the calibre of (Robbie Neilson) and Stevie (Crawford) when you could see the class they showed with that game and the respect they showed their Football Club and players, who worked so hard for them in that game
“If they can bring those qualities to MK Dons, then we’ve got some good times ahead.”
Neilson’s first task as manager will, of course, be to improve on the Dons’ current position in the Sky Bet League One table and while Winkelman isn’t expecting a quick fix, the chairman is confident that good times are ahead.
“I think that’s an exciting challenge, especially for our players and they’ve got a top management team to help them.
“This is not a quick fix, this about how we build the Club again. We can’t just turn a switch or click our fingers and expect everything to be okay – we’ve got to adapt and change the way that we do things.
“We’ve done a great job in recent years in getting some pathways and some structure so that people know where they stand and how things work but now is the time to start putting our foot on the gas again.
“Robbie very much a Milton Keynes Dons-type manager and what I hope he can do is bring some success. I wish that for him as well as us, because I respect the chance he’s taken to move from a fantastic position at a club where he’s loved, to come south of the border to fight again.
“You’ve got to have huge respect for somebody who is willing to put their neck on the line for that. What I can sure him and our supporters, is that he’ll every support that I can give him because nothing means more to me than this Football Club.
“But am I sure it’s going to start going in the right direction now? I am.”