You wouldn’t always associate Stuart McCall with being the underdog.
Six Premier League titles, three Scottish Cups and two League Cups certainly tell a story of a player who was accustomed to success. Yet, as a coach, he will be drawing on his experiences as ‘the little guy’ as he plots the downfall of Celtic on Wednesday.
Celtic, narrowly pipped to the SPL crown last weekend, are overwhelming favourites to lift the oldest national trophy in World football, but that’s not something the Steelmen gaffer will be obsessing about.
“There’s definitely a difference in expectation, but football – sport, everywhere – is littered with the underdog rising,” McCall enthused. “I look back on my own career and my Scotland debut; we played Argentina who were the World champions, nobody gave us a prayer, and we beat them 1-0.
“When I was at Bradford, we needed a win against Liverpool who were going for the Champions’ League place – with Owen, Gerrard and all those players – and nobody thought we would win and we managed to get the victory.”
Indeed, the positivity of the ‘Well boss shines through ahead of the showdown with Celtic. Motherwell have, at times this season, shown an undeniable ability to compete with the best Scotland has to offer, and McCall is counting on that being the case against at Hampden.
The whole town is buzzing, and the boss has no intention of taking his charges down the M74 to make up the numbers: “We’re under no illusions about just how tough the match will be. But the one thing we can take heart from is since I’ve come here we have turned in four or five really excellent performances against good quality opposition. We know we have got that in us.
“We’ll have to take our best game to Hampden, but our performances against Rangers in the Co-operative Insurance, against Dundee United here [Fir Park] in the Cup and when we beat Celtic show that we can compete.
“There are a lot of young boys in our dressing room, but the matches in Europe put them in good stead, as did the trips to Hampden, so there should be no danger of stagefright.
“It’s up to the players. They have been outstanding this season and if they can play to their best then we will have a chance of an upset.”
Stuart McCall, speaking at the packed media open day, was also keen to laud the way the town of Motherwell has embraced the forthcoming Final. Bars, streets and cars are decked out in bunting and banners everywhere you look as excitement builds before Saturday.
‘Cup Final fever’ may be a cliché, but it is palpable around Motherwell as 16,000 fans in claret and amber prepare to invade Mount Florida.
That excitement has also taken over the “Well boss, as he looks forward to what he describes as ‘the biggest match of his managerial career.’
“It’s great to be playing in the showpiece of the season; the whole place has been jumping for three or four weeks now and the game just can’t come quickly enough for us.” the 46-year old praised.
“When the tickets came out for sale and we saw thousands of people queuing outside for theirs; that really got the Cup final fever going. Training has been keen and full of quality and I’m delighted to have a full squad to choose from, now it’s just a case of being at our best on Saturday.
“I just want the players to go out there and be the best they can be.”
The Motherwell boss was reluctant to give away any of the details regarding his week of preparation ahead of the Final. The gaffer has praised the fitness levels and intensity of his players ahead of the encounter, and also divulged that he’s a few pounds better off after a flutter on a trip to the bowling with the players.
That mix of work and relaxation will continue in the lead up to the match, as Stuart McCall uses all of his vast experience of Cup Finals north and south of the border to put together the perfect lead-up to the big day.
“We’ve got a couple of things lined up ahead of the game, but that’s between me and the boys in the dressing room,” said McCall, displaying a little reticence regarding his masterplan in the days leading up to the final.
“Our players won’t need motivated, but there are a few things we can work on, especially going into the game as the underdog.
“After all, it’s about belief: knowing that you can do it, believing that you can do it, then doing it.”