Football/Soccer

Now is the right time to leave St Johnstone admits Northern Ireland front-runner Tommy Wright

St Johnstone have announced they had parted company with manager Tommy Wright on Saturday. The Ballyclare man had been expected to leave McDiarmid Park at the end of the season. Picture by PA
Josh Luckhurst

Josh Luckhurst

FORMER Northern Ireland goalkeeper Tommy Wright admits leaving St Johnstone was not easy but thinks it is the "right time" as he ended his seven-year tenure as manager.

The Ballyclare man led the Perth side to their first-ever Scottish Cup success in 2014 and guided the club to top six places in the Scottish Premiership four years in-a-row, from 2014-2017.

Wright – who has been installed as favourite to succeed Michael O’Neill in the Northern Ireland hot-seat - took over as manager at McDiarmid Park in June 2013, after initially joining as assistant to Steve Lomas in 2011.

The 56-year-old still had two years left on his current contract but plans were already in place to leave the club at the end of the campaign, and he has decided now is the time to part company during the coronavirus lockdown.

Saints later announced that assistant manager Alec Cleland had been placed in interim charge until further notice.

"It was extremely difficult, obviously being at the club so long I've got a lot of feelings for the club, lots and lots of happy memories and worked with a lot of good people both on the pitch and off the pitch,” said Wright.

"It was something that was being considered for a while, even as far back as at the end of the season when we finished eighth [in 2017-18].

"We sort of made a decision to see if over the next couple of years we could bring the age of the squad down and it might be time for me to move on. Fortunately, we have done that. There have been two good seasons.

"It's been something that I felt that when you are at a club for a long period of time, sometimes there comes a point where you need a break and I do need a break.

"It's a tough job. People don't give you sympathy being in football management, but it's 365 days and 24 hours a day and I just felt that this season, if we did well, it would have been the perfect time for me to leave the club in a really strong position.

"The future is really bright on the pitch. I won't be the one that will take the team forward but I think that could be good, not only for me but for the club and team as well.

"Hopefully, I think it can be a top-six side and in a really good position. It hasn't been an easy decision but I think it is the right time."

Wright reminisced about St Johnstone's only Scottish Cup success to date in 2014 when they defeated Dundee United 2-0 at Hampden Park and the club's adventures in the Europa League qualifying rounds.

"I actually had no doubt that we would win the game," Wright added.

"I just had this feeling that it was written in the stars that it was my first season, 50th game and all that. It just felt that we couldn't lose that game.

"Once we got the second goal, I knew there was no chance we would concede two goals and it was just total relief and you can enjoy it.

"When the final whistle went, it was probably the happiest moment of my life. The disappointment of Europe, which still irks me, is that we got beat to teams [that we should have beaten]. We beat Rosenborg, go out to Minsk; beat Luzern, go out to Trnava.

"If it was the other way round, I don't know if you would get as much satisfaction, but there is always that wee bit of disappointment."

The former Limavady United, Ballymena United and Lisburn Distillery boss insisted he has a good relationship with St Johnstone chairman Steve Brown, and confirmed it was his decision to end his nine-year association with the Saints.

"There hasn't been that many downsides. It's been a great job. I've had great support.

"It's not a normal manager-chairman relationship. He has supported me immensely. During a period earlier this season, which was the worst run, particularly with the timing of it, he never once put me under any pressure.

"And that shows that I had trust in the players and he had the ultimate trust in me as a manager. The relationship is fine. We spoke this week, we spoke over a period of time and it is something that I actually feel that the timing of it is right, right for the club.

"Seven years is a long time to have the same manager. People have to realise that sometimes things come to a natural end."

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Football/Soccer