Hull City: Classless treatment of Grant McCann could prove to be big mistake – Stuart Rayner

Recently, Hull City press conferences have been a particularly demoralising experience.

Hull City manager Grant McCann salutes the fans after the final whistle after winning at Bournemouth. Picture: Kieran Cleeves/PA

Two or three times a week, coach Grant McCann would front up on a Zoom call unable to answer the questions people most wanted to ask. That was an answer in itself.

We knew a meaningful reply was not coming but we had to keep asking: Had there been any contact with Hull’s owner-in-waiting (then, since the middle of last week, owner) Acun Ilicali? Was any planned?

Sign up to our daily newsletter

It felt unfair to keep putting McCann through it but we had to keep asking on the off-chance something had changed since the last press conference.

INCOMING: Shota Arveladze Picture: JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images

“I honestly don’t know” became his catchphrase. By the end that was the answer not just to questions about his future or talks with Ilicali but transfers and contract talks with existing players. This was a man being frozen out of Hull’s future left to work out for himself – not that it was difficult – that removing him was somewhere on Ilicali’s to do list.

The treatment of McCann was not just classless, but senseless.

Football managers know the score. Usually the only way to avoid the sack at some point is to jump first. They might be dismissed because they are not doing their job well enough, it might be because those working for them – players, scouts, transfer negotiators – do not, or it might be people just do not take to their manner or style of football. It is, after all, a game of opinions.

They sign up to abuse from frustrated fans, the dissection of the tiniest details of tactics and selection in the media and insecurity because of the glories if they are one of the select few who can get things right. And the money is usually good too.

19 January 2022....... Hull City's new owner Acun Ilicali. Picture: Tony Johnson

New owners often want fresh starts, and given how estranged so many Hull fans became from their club, it was and still is a good idea. It often means new managers, if not immediately, then as soon as the incumbent’s performances dip enough to present an opportunity.

Ilicali said “I wouldn’t be fair or honest if I merely waited for a defeat to change manager” which does him credit, but had he just done McCann the courtesy of communicating with him earlier, an intelligent man like the 41-year-old would surely have understood and accepted the situation.

Before “I honestly don’t know”, “It is what it is” was McCann’s favourite media saying.

When it was announced on Hallowe’en Ilicali’s proposed takeover was in a period of exclusivity there was a strong case for showing McCann the door.

You could argue winning League One the previous season – Hull’s first title for 55 years – had earned patience and he could and did argue performances were better than results. Talismanic midfielder George Honeyman was not long back from surgery, summer loan signing Ryan Longman was injured having initially struggled with the after-effects of Covid-19.

On the other hand, 11 days earlier home fans chanted “You’re getting sacked in the morning,” at McCann after a 2-1 defeat to Peterborough United.

With nine points from 13 games and the team in the relegation zone, things looked grim. McCann found winning over Hull fans even harder than winning matches and seemed as attached to his 4-3-3 formation as an Insulate Britain protestor glued to a motorway.

It felt like hanging onto McCann as the Allam family had after Championship relegation in 2020 would puncture the feel-good mood of a takeover.

But as every supporter who waited until last Wednesday for confirmation of the takeover could tell you, that was a long time ago. Facts on the ground have changed since.

Honeyman got fully fit and playing as he does, Longman now looks like a youngster with a Premier League contract (at Brighton and Hove Albion). The wins started coming, the chants stopped and Hull are 10 points clear of the relegation zone. McCann’s last two wins, over Blackburn Rovers and Bournemouth in the space of half a week, were probably the best of his Hull career.

In the last three months Ilicali has gone from buying a club in need of extensive renovation to one blessed with a team with the building blocks for success. More signings are needed at both ends but a spirit was built in last season’s title-winning season which can be disrupted by too much change too soon.

Not only had McCann earned the right to see the campaign out, replacing him mid-season with a manager in Shota Arveladze who won a lot of trophies in his last job, in Uzbekistan, but has never worked in England is asking a lot of the Georgian.

After last week’s win over Blackburn, Honeyman became the latest player to make it plain through the media how supportive the dressing room was of McCann. During it, he and his team-mates did so on the pitch.

Ilicali wants to use Hull to showcase Turkish talent and there is no point spending millions of pounds on a football club if he does not get to run it the way he wants. But better to keep the foundations now and just spruce the team up a bit – hold off the bulldozers until the summer when there will be chance to rebuild things properly and concentrate now on off-field structures and repairing fractured relationships with supporters.

Sacking McCann is not a mistake Ilicali cannot recover from but it has started his regime on an unfortunate footing.