THERE are no half-measures with Micky Mellon. The new Dundee United manager, poached from Tranmere Rovers, has been settling in to his new role on Tayside as he prepares to lead his team into their first season of top-flight football in four years.

He may not have had much of an opportunity to watch the Terrors in action last season as Robbie Neilson’s side sealed the Championship title but Mellon has been making up for lost time. Every spare minute is used to watch, analyse, dissect and reflect on his new charges and the 48-year-old is working at all hours of the day to gain a firm understanding of just what he has available to him – as sporting director Tony Asghar discovered bright and early one morning.

“Over the last 48 hours I’ve watched Dundee United as long as I’ve opened my eyes,” Mellon said. “That’s all I’ve watched.

“Tony Ashgar was laughing the other day because I phoned him at half five in the morning. I woke up because I had these big crows outside the window and obviously we don’t suffer from much darkness here. I forgot how much daylight there is up here and I couldn’t get to sleep.

“I started watching Dundee United at half five in the morning and I thought, ‘If I’m up, he’s up’ and I gave him a ring. That’s the kind of relationship we have. I was phoning him asking him about this and that because I want to hit the ground running, I work really hard and that’s one of the qualities that I was given as a kid.

“I’ve seen an awful lot of [the players] and know an awful lot about them. I know enough to know what I’ve got on my hands.”

That anecdote led to the burning question on everyone’s lips: did Asghar answer the phone?

“He did because I kept ringing it!” Mellon laughed.

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“He knew that it was something and then he answered the phone and said, ‘Are you alright?’. I explained to him what I wanted and he said, ‘Alright, give me a minute’ so he better get used to that.”

A strong work ethic is a prerequisite for any player working under – or, indeed, sporting director working alongside – Mellon. The 48-year-old, born in Paisley, may have spent the entirety of his working life plying his trade in England until now but he has never forgotten his roots. He comes from a typical working-class west coast family and attributes his determination, his diligence and his respect for others’ past achievements to his upbringing.

“I think the environment that you’re brought up in and the people you’re brought up with massively shape you and influence you, give you qualities as a person that make you what you are,” he said.

“I was certainly brought up very well in an area where everybody who was older than you was called mister and missus and I still do that to this day. I don’t speak to others the way I wouldn’t want to be spoken to. All those qualities that were taught, we pay the penalty for if we don’t stick to them.

“As I’ve grown up, all the managers I’ve worked with – Joe Jordan, Ossie Ardiles, all these kinds of guys – have shaped the way I am as a coach and a person. I’ve been influenced by them all and hopefully I can bring those qualities to these Dundee United players to shape them the way that I was.”

Mellon may have an idea of the impression that he will make on Dundee United but the Tannadice club is already making an impact on him. As an unapologetic football romantic, Mellon can’t help but look around at the pictures on the halls of his new workplace and marvel at the famous nights engraved in United’s past. He clearly has a profound admiration for the achievements of his predecessors and is determined to add a chapter or two of his own in the club’s history book.

“I’ll show you about romance and how much you should love football,” Mellon says, swivelling around. He’s sitting in the media room at Tannadice, where the room is decorated with poster-sized photographs of United’s most famous victories.

Mellon continued: “When I walked into this room – look at that. These pictures, of some of these guys … I could name all of them.

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“For a football romantic to be in charge of a club that they operated for, the Barcelona thing, the players that have played here, is brilliant for me. I’m thrilled.

“I’m not over-awed by it because I’m the manager and I have a job to do but thrilled with the history of the club when you walk around. The football romantic in me is remembering back to the wee guy sitting watching Sportscene, watching it back then and watching these guys play or manage.

“I’m thrilled about that because I love football, I absolutely love football. It’s my life. I have to work hard to make sure my whole life doesn’t revolve around it and my missus would probably tell you that I find that tough. I’m really happy and I’m really composed about it.

“I’m looking forward to meeting everyone again and as I move through the journey of being at the club, I’m very aware of the unbelievable history this club has made and I’m excited about making my own part of that.

“I’m hoping to get our players on the walls here – I want them to try and be a part of all this. That’s important because that would mean we’ve been successful.”

As to what precise form that success would take, Mellon is not getting carried away. His mantra is simple: continuously improve.

He said: “Train well tomorrow. Try and improve on today. There are things I think as a team we have to work towards an outcome.

“So when we get the ball, this is what we’re trying to say to the lads, to sell them the idea of trying to do that and make the game easy for them. Getting them aggressive in certain areas of the pitch, working with the units in the team to find a way that suits us to defend and attack.

“Try and get the first goal, try and get the next goal, try and win. Honest to God, at the minute that is the level of my ambition at the club just now. It will be measured at the end of the season how good we’ve been. That’s what league tables are for. At the minute it’s just about gradual improvement, being patient and trying to find a way of playing that gets us all of those things that gives us a good chance of winning games of football.

“Honestly, that’s how I work and how I think and I won’t lose my focus on being like that. It’s brought me success in the past and I’m sure if I get it right then it will bring me success again.”

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Mellon’s return to Scotland has been a long time coming. After boarding a train at the age of 16, only now has the United manager found an employer north of the border. He turned out for the likes of West Bromwich Albion, Blackpool and Burnley during his playing days and his new role at Tannadice is his first outside of England’s lower leagues.

That experience of picking up everything he owned, shoving it in a bag and moving to England at an early age helped Mellon to become the man he is today – and as a result, he says, he has a greater understanding with players who find themselves in a similar position.

He said: “To be put on a train as a 16-year-old and put on a train to England where everything you own in the world is in a bag … when I think back now, it was an unbelievable thing for me to do but it didn’t even faze me. Those were the types of characters that we were back then so I just got on the train and away I went. Of course, the way I am as a person has been shaped by that experience of being down there.

“I empathise a lot with young players and I’ve got a good memory, I can remember being young. I can remember how those young boys feel so I give them time and make sure that they know that I understand what it’s like to be young as a young footballer and the situations that they’re going through. All of that is helping to be a better person and what I believe to be a good manager for the players, in order to keep them improving all the time.”

Mellon says that he has tried to pick up traits from some of his former managers when forming his own coaching philosophy and there are two in particular that stand out. Former Newcastle manager Sam Allardyce, who he worked under Blackpool, and Joe Jordan, who was a team-mate at Bristol City when Mellon was breaking through as a youngster, are his two greatest influences – and Mellon remains close to both to this day.

“Joe Jordan doesn’t need any introduction in Scotland,” Mellon said. “To go to him as a 16, 17-year-old and see the standards that he lived by – his preparation, his lifestyle, how he trained, how he played and how he ran a football club – was a massive eye-opener for me.

“It was a massive learning curve and at that stage of my career I felt that was the only way to run a football club. I’ve carried parts of that forward. I still call him gaffer – I met him not long ago and still called him gaffer – so he’s a brilliant guy, brilliant fella.

“Sam Allardyce is another gaffer, he’s unbelievable. He was way ahead of his time. We were doing things back then when I played for him in terms of training, stuff he was bringing in and eating habits that people were only just starting to do back then – bringing in creatine and things like that into football. Training techniques, sprinting coaches, all this kind of stuff.

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“He was doing analysis 20-odd years ago. I learned from him and still speak to him once or twice a week so he keeps pushing and prodding you to keep improving as well – he still does that with me. I’ve worked with some unbelievable managers, guys who have shaped the way that they play football now like Ossie Ardiles. You take a wee bit from everybody if you’re that type of character. I try to improve myself and be a better manager every day.”

While pleased at the opportunity to return to Scotland, Mellon says that leaving England behind to return to the land of his birth wasn’t something that he had ever planned for. Not because he had a grand vision of his future south of the border, but because he didn’t plan long-term whatsoever.

“I don’t think you really think about that as a manager or a player because things can change so fast,” he said. “Football moves so quick, you’ve got to be adaptive and adjust to it all the time. I just hoped at some stage I would get the opportunity.

“I always thought as a player I would get the chance to come back to Scotland and play but I was always in the Championship in England. It’s a big league and you’re very well paid. I always played for big clubs so the opportunity never really came up at the right time for me to come back to Scotland. It wasn’t about choice or anything but I always had it in my mind that if the right opportunity came.

“If you want to come up to Scotland you want to have an opportunity that’s going to do you justice because I’m coming home. My family is going to be able to see an awful lot of me working for the first time. So I wanted to make sure it was the right opportunity to allow them to see me operate with a really good football club. This one came up and I started to speak to the guys already here and I just knew right away from my experience of being a manager that this was the one.

“It excited me and that’s been confirmed with what the place is like. Even this situation with lockdown, I’ve been made to feel really welcome at a club with fantastic history. It’s great to walk around and see the players I used to watch on the telly. I’m a romantic and I love football. I’m looking forward to meeting those guys and managing the club that they used to play for, for a group of fans that I absolutely know are very passionate and very demanding of a style of play and mentality to represent them. I’ll now look forward to delivering that for them.”

As for what the Arabs should expect from their side in the coming season, Mellon is keeping an open mind. He is not married to one particular formation or philosophy – instead, he likes to see what he has got available to him and then devise a strategy from there. In that sense, he’s a pragmatist.

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“First and foremost you have to see what you’ve got in the building and find the best way for them to win games of football,” Mellon explained. “To keep clean sheets, get the first goal and win games of football.

“You can’t just go in and say ‘I want to play like that’, you’ve got to see what you’ve got in the building to get the best out of the group that you have and I’m starting to see that now. That will be a huge step towards how I want to put a little bit of my personality into it because it doesn’t need a wrecking ball coming in and changing it all, I’ve got the champions.

“I keep reminding them – I had to tell them the other day, ‘you are champions’. With this pause, it’s been so sad for them that they’ve not been able to revel in that. I said to them the other day, ‘I’m delighted to be here, I can’t wait to get working with you. I’m so thrilled at the opportunity to work with the champions’ and you could see them all shuffle. I thought, ‘I’ve just reminded them because they haven’t been able to do it’.

“I’ll be working with the champions but it will be a transition because we’re coming from one league to another. There’s going to be a step up in quality I believe, a step up in intensity, mentality, physicality, all they ‘alities’ and all that. It will be a step up in them all but these boys will be able to adapt and adjust and get better.

“They’ll get the opportunity to do that, step their careers up a level and see where they’re all at as players. Would I have the ability if I had the thought that we were a wee bit short in certain areas in order to give us a better chance of winning games? Yes, I would be able to do that. I’ll patiently look at that and when the opportunity comes or needs to happen then we’ll push the button on that.”