If it’s about quality of play, Kilmarnock are the Rolls Royce of the SPL - Kenny Shiels
The 55-year-old enjoys being praised for his team’s performances as much as he does for their results. Points may win prizes but he also hands them out for artistic merit.
Following a 2-0 home victory over Aberdeen on a day when swirling winds conspired against Killie’s passing game, the Irishman was so upset by the lack of invention on display that he declared: “I feel hollow inside.”
Which helps to explain why, although the Ayrshire club go into tomorrow’s match against visitors St Mirren in eighth place, Shiels insists that his side is the Rolls Royce of Scottish Football.
He is rightly proud of the fact that he and Mixu Paatelainen together decided to bring Barcelona’s tiki-taka style to these shores.
“When it comes to the intelligence of our play and the movement and the good angles that our players consistently make when in possession, I think we’re 100 per cent the best in the SPL at that,” Shiels, right, said.
“I’m not saying we’re the best team in the league but we work hard at training on where our players should be in relation to the ball and to each other.
“However, when it comes to passing and movement and appreciation of positioning, I think there’s no-one better.
“This isn’t an ego thing but it does give you satisfaction when you can do it against good teams. My players feel that as well.
“Other clubs are starting to do it as well: Danny Lennon does his best at St Mirren but we’ve always been the advocates – the Rolls Royce, if you want to call it that – of the best way to play.
“I wouldn’t say for one minute that that we’re better than anyone else but most of the Celtic players said after last weekend’s match that we were the best team they’ve played against this season.
“That was music to my ears, even though we’d lost. Kelvin Wilson, who was a team-mate of Paul Heffernan’s at Notts County, told him that he couldn’t believe how we play the game.
“When you get that feedback from opposing players then it tells you that you’re doing something right.
“Another signal is that our crowds went up last season after Mixu Paatelainen and I made the players adopt this style – I think we were the only club which made a profit. I put myself under pressure to demand a performance as well as the right outcome.”
Shiels credits former Manchester United and Northern Ireland genius George Best and Dutch master Johan Cruyff as being the spiritual fathers of Kilmarnock’s philosophy.
“When I was a kid me and my pals used to get up at five or six o’clock in the morning during the holidays and we’d just play football for 12-15 hours per day,” he said.
“George Best was a big influence on me, as was how the great Dutch team of the 1970s played. The way they interchanged is something I’ve always looked for in my sides.
“I’ve always wanted every player who’s worked under me to improve. That’s the challenge that I’ve set myself.
“Every player under my control will get better. I can look through the current team and say that, from James Fowler to Garry Hay to Manuel Pascali to Liam Kelly to Cammy Bell, every one of them has improved.
“Before them the likes of Conor Sammon, Mehdi Taouil and Frazer Wright all progressed here before moving on to other things.
“That gives me a tremendous challenge and I relish it as much as I do getting results on a Saturday.”